Month: January 2024

On Freedom of Navigation

Amidst the present difficulties in transmitting knowledge from one generation of educated people to the next, one principle that seems to have been mislaid is freedom of navigation. This has been laid bare by commentary on the recent Anglo-American operations in the Red Sea against the Houthis. Hence, it is worth offering a short explanation of freedom of navigation: what it is, its history prior to its modern codified universalisation and its defences up to the present.

Before its codification by the United Nations, freedom of navigation was part of customary international law, by its nature quite distinct from how modern international law is established and enforced. It originated in the Dutch Republic’s rule of mare liberum (free seas), coined by influential Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius in 1609, which considered neutral ships and their goods inviolable on the high seas. Naturally, this could benefit trading powers like the Dutch, but came into competition with competing Consolato customs. These were named after the Aragonese Consulate of the Sea, both a body to administer maritime law and a collection of maritime ordinances codified since at least 1494. These rules determined neutral ships could be attacked in times of war to seize enemy goods, but even on enemy ships neutral goods could not be taken. By the seventeenth century, Consolato was often paired with the concept of mare clausum (closed sea), coined in 1635 by English jurist John Selden, which held that areas of the sea could be entirely closed off from foreign shipping. Both principles were supported by the major naval powers of the day, including England, France and Spain.

As was the case with a number of pivotal concepts in European history, mare liberum was often fought for over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, first by the Dutch alone but later by the nascent American Republic and the Russian Empire as a right of neutral states. The cause of freedom of navigation was greatly assisted during this period by the Dutch victory in the Eighty Years’ War against Spain, as well as the later decline of Spain and Portugal as dominant powers who had attempted to apply mare clausum to the New World’s seas. Another conceptual innovation emerged to resolve some discrepancies between the rival customs in 1702, as Dutch jurist Cornelius van Bynkershoek formulated that maritime dominion corresponded with the distance coastal cannons could effectively protect it; the range of the most advanced cannon at the time was three nautical miles. Beyond the Dutch, naval powers still employed the Consolato principle into the nineteenth century against other countries, especially during major conflicts, but this could be superseded in treaties by freedom of navigation. Ultimately, this became the case for all European powers at the end of the Crimean War in the 1856 Declaration of Paris Respecting Maritime Law, which synthesised the two customs into a rule that enemy goods were covered by a neutral flag whilst neutral goods could not be seized on enemy ships. Arguably, this built upon the Congress of Vienna’s grant of freedom of navigation to key European rivers, which constituted multiple states’ new borders and economic arteries, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. The exceptions to the rule outlined by the 1856 declaration were effective blockade and contraband, whereas privateering (in other words, state-sanctioned piracy) was confirmed to be abolished. As Europe proceeded to dominate the world in the nineteenth century, so too did the inviolability of neutral commercial shipping and their freedom to navigate the seas as their juridically innocent business permitted.

Of course, the growth of freedom of navigation did not result in the disappearance of piracy, nor pirate states. For instance, the United States, Sweden and Sicily fought wars against the Barbary corsairs in the early nineteenth century to ensure the freedom of their merchant ships from ransom and enslavement in the Mediterranean, despite only Sicily possessing an obvious interest in the region. In recent weeks, the Houthis have proven themselves to be another such pirate state through their rather indiscriminate attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. In response, Britain and America (with support from several other countries) have attempted to neutralise this threat to freedom of navigation under Operation Prosperity Guardian. In theory, this should be the least controversial Middle Eastern intervention conducted during this century thus far, since the Houthis are plainly violating the neutrality of benign ships under neutral flags. At the time of writing, there is no hint from the intervening powers of the neoconservative adventurism which defined the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor strong intentions to impose changes on Houthi internal affairs beyond the immediate issue at hand. In practice, the war in Israel has entirely toxified any discourse surrounding events in the Red Sea. Instead of realism, one witnesses what is allegedly another instalment of the clash of civilisations. Whatever the merits of Samuel Huntington’s thesis of contemporary world affairs, such hyperbolic reactions to events in the Red Sea overestimate their significance.

If America did not exist, it would be in India or China’s interest to assert freedom of navigation in the region due to its foundational importance to the global economy. Readers should bear in mind that the principle has only a tangential relationship to a nation’s trade policy. Although freedom of navigation is a precondition of free trade, it does not determine the extent to which a ship’s goods are impeded from accessing markets at port, only that the international movement of goods can occur without undue harassment. Perhaps a handful of countries at most could be expected to subsist today to a reasonable standard without substantial trade, an interesting notion in itself but beyond the scope of this article. Likewise, most, if not all, nations lack the naval strength to forcibly guarantee the security of their commercial shipping worldwide, given the sheer volume and frequency of post-containerisation international trade. This means freedom of navigation ought not only to be remembered by readers, but as a matter of historical preference and present necessity defended into the future.

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Open Borders Rely on Political Irrationality

All too often, open-border policy stems from the fact that politics is determined by a class of people with deep-seated illusions about the facts surrounding immigration. Sweden is an ideal example of this pattern. Of all the countries in Europe, Sweden is especially notorious for having welcomed large numbers of refugees it could not properly integrate. In 2015, notes columnist James Traub, the country absorbed 163,000 of them. It has not gone well. Skyrocketing crime rates, mass unemployment among immigrants, and heavy strain on the welfare state have made Swedes weary of incoming foreigners. As a result, writes Traub, even Sweden’s Social Democrats have embraced ‘harsh language’ which used to be monopolised by ‘far-right nativists.’

This year’s November issue of the academic journal Kyklos includes the article Misrepresentation and migration, which explores the causes of that initial Swedish openness to migrants. Authors Anders Kärnä and Patrik Öhberg note that the extreme permissiveness with which migrants were let into the country ran radically counter to the will of the Swedish electorate. Voters’ dissatisfaction brought a right-wing government to power in 2022 and fueled the rise of the hard-right Sweden Democrats. Backlash was so strong that in 2015 the country’s prime minister was forced to make a U-turn and advocate for tougher restrictions after pushing for open borders earlier that year.

So why did the political class initially defy popular opinion to welcome hundreds of thousands of foreigners? Kärnä and Öhberg argue that Swedish politicians held far different views on the subject than their constituents. Polling coducted over the years shows that in every major party other than the Sweden Democrats, politicians were significantly less likely than their constituents to favour accepting fewer refugees until 2018. The authors conclude that pushback from the voting public, including through the emergence of the Sweden Democrats as a political competitor, eventually drove elected officials in other parties to revise their positions. Nevertheless, politicians from two of the three left-wing parties continued to be somewhat more pro-refugee than their constituents in 2018, the last year for which numbers are provided.

Contrary to what one might assume, the disagreement between politicians and voters did not occur because the politicians were better informed than the common people. On the contrary, they were deeply mistaken about the effects of their policies. The authors cite survey data from 2015 and 2017, showing that most Swedish politicians thought the economic impact of accepting refugees was ‘positive in the long run.’ However, they demonstrate that this belief is contradicted by all available peer-reviewed journal articles and by all the expert analyses of the issue which have appeared in official reports by the Swedish government. The existing studies indicated, and still indicate, that refugees are harmful rather than beneficial to Swedish economic performance. In other words, the idea that refugees were good for the economy was a piety which the political class held against all evidence. 

Sweden’s experience is not unique. The immigration debate in the United States  has also been marked by false ideas which politicians continue to hold despite overwhelming evidence against them. As Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies has observed, the notion that immigration can remedy ‘the aging of American society’ continues to be unquestioningly advanced by advocates of open borders even though it is blatantly inconsistent with the facts. The increasing average age of immigrants, their decreasing fertility rates, and the sheer size of the influx which would be required to offset American demographic woes make such a project impracticable.

Kärnä and Öhberg’s paper considers the irrationality of unfettered immigration only from an economic standpoint, but it is harmful in other ways as well. In addition to economic consequences, accepting countless immigrants whose values are incompatible with those of the host society creates sociopolitical problems with no obvious solution.

One such issue is organised crime. The Financial Times reports that, relative to population size, Sweden suffers from the third-highest rate of gun deaths of any EU country. A major cause of this epidemic is ‘[w]ell-established criminal gangs’ which are ‘largely run by second-generation immigrants.’ Sweden’s prime minister has identified ‘irresponsible immigration policy and failed integration’ as the root of the epidemic. Meanwhile, as France 24 details, the Swedish government is currently considering options which would let it deport ‘asylum-seekers and immigrants for substance abuse, association with criminal groups or statements threatening Swedish values.’

The political repercussions of large-scale immigration are also severe, and the presence of people who do not share Western values presents a serious threat. For instance, Sweden’s left-wing parties have dithered in their condemnation of Hamas’s terrorist attack against Israel. ‘If you assume,’ explains journalist Richard Orange, ‘that the 200,000, or perhaps even as many as 250,000, Arabic speakers [in Sweden] are broadly pro-Palestinian, that’s an important voter base.’

Dominik Tarczyński, a Member of the European Parliament from Poland, eloquently addressed the sociopolitical implications of immigration in a September speech. He pointed out that despite receiving no large-scale immigration, Poland was prospering economically, and said the Polish people did not want more migrants. ‘You know why? Because there are zero terrorist attacks in Poland,’ he explained, citing EU statistics.

Europol’s data on terrorism do indeed bear out Tarczyński’s claim. The agency’s Terrorism Situation and Trend Report for 2023 provides a map of the EU showing how many terrorist attacks and ‘arrests on suspicion of terrorism’ each country experienced in 2022. Poland was among the handful of states where none of either occurred. France was arguably the country most affected, with six attacks and 109 arrests, though Italy suffered twelve attacks and carried out 45 arrests. Notably, jihadist terrorism prompted far more arrests than any other kind of terrorism from 2020 to 2022, although leftist and anarchist terrorism accounted for a few more attacks – 44 versus 30. Sweden experienced an attack during this period. Poland did not.

The migrants’ cultural background is the key issue, more so than immigration itself. On another occasion, Tarczyński told leftist televison host Cathy Newman: ‘We took over two million Ukrainians, who are working, who are peaceful in Poland. We will not receive even one Muslim.’ This, he emphasized, was the will of the Polish electorate. If Tarczyński is representative – and he is – then Poland’s immigration policy is based on a realistic understanding of the effects of mass migration as well as on respect for the will of the people. As Kärnä and Öhberg show, both of these considerations failed to inform Swedish immigration policy for most of the 2000s and 2010s, and it is dubious whether they have enough of an impact even today.

Tarczyński’s motto is ‘Be like Poland.’ Swedish politicians should take that advice to heart. To judge by experience, however, it will fall to Sweden’s voters to make them do so.

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Is The Pope Catholic?

Growing up, there was a saying my friends and I were fond of. Whether we were loitering outside a shop or putting our feet on the furniture, if we were challenged on our behaviour, our go-to response would always be ‘it’s a free country’. It didn’t always fly, mind you, but the utterance was common when I was young.

For obvious reasons, you never hear that one anymore. True, the country wasn’t really free then either, but we were not so heavily regulated and wrapped in a straight jacket of stifling laws as we are now. We could employ a bit of denial back then. An impossible comfort today.

We aren’t free. We know it every time we see a prohibiting sign, or try to express an innocent opinion now condemned, or utter one of those forbidden truths in the office which might see us brought before HR. We know it when the Tories let in hundreds of thousands of foreigners after pledging to cut immigration. We know it when the bank accounts we never wanted are plundered to pay for migrant accommodation, wars we don’t understand, and aid to countries with space programs. We know it when we see Christians arrested for praying silently by abortion clinics, or when local governments allow one protest, but not another, during state enforced lockdowns. We aren’t free, and so the old adage had to be retired.

Another popular saying goes, ‘is the Pope Catholic?’, which is used whenever the answer to a question is an unequivocal ‘yes’. You might think that this one is safe, but with the latest news coming out of the Vatican it looks as though we might need to axe that one too, as it has been revealed that Pope Francis has said his priests can now bless same sex relationships. Not the individuals in that relationship, but the same sex couple itself.

Now, I’m not a homophobe (though I’ve been called one), and neither am I a Catholic, but when I heard this news I couldn’t help but wince. I’m not saying homosexuals don’t have their place in the world, they do, though I’m not entirely sure that place is in the Catholic Church. I mean, the Bible is pretty clear on homosexuality, and it doesn’t exactly give a glowing review of the ‘lifestyle’. Like it or not, that’s how it is, and no man is supposed to be able to change that within the Church. Yet the Pope has done just that, seemingly ignoring the very religion of which he is a fairly significant part.

Some less pessimistic souls might say that the Pope is trying to save the Church by moving with the times. If that is the case, he has failed. Cultures, religions, and nations cannot pursue policies of inclusion. They must, if they are to survive, remain exclusive, with a set of rules or criteria which must be met to be counted among their number. I mean, look at what happened to Britain after it pursued the American style of inclusion and decided that being British took nothing more than the right paperwork. It didn’t take long before we weren’t even sure what Britain was anymore. The same will happen to the Catholic Church.

For my part I am not willing to give the Pope the benefit of the doubt on this one. I do not presume him to be a stupid man and therefore must suppose that he knew by trying to move the Church with the times in this manner, he was in turn rendering the Church redundant. I say this because, if the church is simply to bend to modern sensibilities, against the word of God or not, I can see no point in its existence. What’s next, acceptance of abortion?

Perhaps you feel I’m being hysterical, but remember, when gay marriage was passed in this country, it was done under the unofficial but regularly touted slogan of ‘what two consenting adults do in the comfort of their own home should be no one’s business’. We accepted that, and now we have drag queens reading stories to children and surgically altered men with breasts stripping naked on live television. The decline moves fast, and it appears that the Pope has just opened the door to it in the Catholic Church.

If this is not rejected wholesale by those under the Pope, then it is only a matter of time before we see videos of transvestite priests baptising non-binary infants while the two ‘fathers’ watch proudly. And thus, the Catholic Church will be no more. Perhaps that’s the future you want, but somehow I don’t think it’s the future Catholics want.

What we are seeing is another column of the world we knew falling to globohomo, a force which seeks to drape the world in a pall of moral relativism, and which seeks to destroy all spirituality and replace it with consumerism and fabricated, shallow identity. I have my feelings about that, but I’m not offering them here. I’m simply making a prediction. What I will say is this – the next time you ask someone a question and they respond ‘is the Pope Catholic?’, take that as a ‘no’.

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Lord Cameron and the ‘New Majority’

A soft “What the hell” was heard from a reporter as former Prime Minister David Cameron stepped out of the car outside 10 Downing Street on Monday. The significance of the moment was quickly deduced as earlier Suella Braverman was sacked as Home Secretary and former Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had already walked through Britain’s most famous door: Cleverly becomes Home Secretary and Cameron, returning from political oblivion, replaces him as Foreign Secretary.

The appointment of Cameron, who is not an MP in the House of Commons and had to be elevated to a peerage by King Charles III to take office, is not only something no one saw coming. It is also a manifestation that Sunak might lead the Conservatives back in a direction that does not resonate with the voters.

A Look at the Political Realignment

A political realignment has been evident in British politics for just as long as in US politics. And it was the Conservatives’ realigned political approach, which emerged with the Brexit vote in 2016, that gave them a large majority in the 2019 general election.  The landslide victory of Boris Johnson and the Conservatives was ultimately deliverable thanks to a large number of traditional Labour voters who switched in the hope of getting Brexit done.

It showed that there was a large voter base that the Conservatives could not only win over, but also lead them to large majorities. I will call this voter base the ‘New Majority’. This ‘New Majority’ can be sketched as conservative to very conservative when it comes to social issues while supporting economic positions traditionally held by left to center-left parties.

In conservative circles, the realignment towards this ‘New Majority’ is frequently viewed critically, especially by people who were thought leaders in the years before 2016. Primarily because they do not see this new orientation as being conservative, but rather interpret classical liberalism as being conservatism to advocate liberal social policy and economic libertarianism. This interpretation of conservative politics, however, is not only not conservative, but also a formula for guaranteed electoral defeat.

The Case for Conservatism

That this ‘New Majority’ should be the Conservatives’ target voter base and can be turned into a lasting majority is shown in the recent report “The Case for Conservatism” by Gavin Rice and Nick Timothy at Onward. As they put it:

“There is significant political advantage to be gained in a political party moving towards the real centre-ground. A more culturally conservative policy platform would bring the Tory Party nearer to Conservative voters’ social values. Mirroring this, an economic policy platform emphasising greater fairness and security, rather than deregulation and individualism, would bring it closer to the economic values of both Conservative and Labour voters.”

The report shows that there is a major disconnect between Conservative voters’ attitudes to economic and social issues and what the Conservatives are doing in terms of policy. In order to deliver policy that serves the electoral base, the report establishes 12 new core principles that lead to a “form of conservatism that takes long-established insights and principles and applies them to very modern challenges and problems. It argues for a conservatism that is popular and democratic, seeking to serve the whole nation.”

This includes a desire for a more active state, moving away from the old Conservative emphasis on limiting the state as much as possible. Working towards a fairer social contract by doing more for workers and families rather than pursue tax cuts that only benefit the few – an approach that was the beginning of the end for Liz Truss. And for the preservation of the environment, including more action on climate change.

On Suella Braverman

So where does David Cameron fit into this vision? He doesn’t!

Lord Cameron represents the pre-realignment form of the Conservatives, a form that makes policy not for those who find their desires reflected in the Rice and Timothy report but for the liberal elite who have benefited from previous Conservative governments.

Not only that, this appointment must also be seen in the context of the sacking of Suella Braverman. Braverman is a prominent figure who covers many of the concerns of voters who put their faith in the Tories – often for the first time – in 2019. Furthermore, for many people who felt that Rishi Sunak’s policies did not sufficiently address the concerns of the ‘New Majority’, she seemed a possible successor.

She spoke out against mass legal and illegal immigration. The Rice-Timothy report states “Currently, 63% of voters say that inward economic migration is too high” and “Polling conducted for Onward shows that there is a migration-sceptic majority in 75% of parliamentary constituencies.”

She spoke out against multiculturalism. Rice and Timothy’s report cites a Demos study which found that “71% of British adults say they believe that immigration has made the communities where migrants have settled more divided, reaching 78% in high-migration areas.”

And she spoke in defence of national identity. The Rice-Timothy report states, “A 2021 poll found that 61% of voters said they were very or fairly patriotic, compared to just 32% who said they were not very or not at all”.

These three examples alone show that her views are in line with those of the British population and even more so with those of the Conservative voters of 2019, who form part of the ‘New Majority’.

The Meaning of David Cameron’s Appointment

Now Lord Cameron is given a place in the Cabinet, while Braverman is sent back to the backbenches. Although he has not directly replaced her, one has to imagine that the two personnel decisions are viewed hand in hand and show two very different pictures of Conservative politics.

The ‘new majority’ will certainly perceive this as a vindication of pre-2016 policies and refrain from voting Blue in the next general election. One can’t have a former Prime Minister in the Cabinet, especially in one of the Great Offices of State, without them shaping, at least in part, what voters expect from the Party would they vote for them. And in this case, they are likely to see a return of social and economic liberalism, which, as Rice and Timothy show, as a “political outlook represents just 5% of voters”.

Not only that, but the politicians in the Conservative Party who supported Cameron and often held up the Remain banner will feel validated by this and may feel the momentum in the party shifting back towards them. Now people such as former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine are saying that Rishi Sunak should even consider bringing someone like George Osborne back into the cabinet, or at least letting him work on the levelling-up agenda.

What does this appointment tell potential voters? As Matt Goodwin puts it, “It’s telling them the Tories would much rather return to the pre-Brexit liberal Cameroon era of 2010-2015 than reinvent and renew themselves around the post-Brexit realignment, that they are simply incapable of reinventing who they are.”

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What is the Point of the Turner Prize?

Picture the scene. Strings of tattered bunting, the concrete shaft of a half-built pillar. At the centre of it all a pile of red and black folders, supplanted by a pair of flagpoles bearing faded Union Jacks. A length of striped tape lies beside them on the floor like the shed integument of a snake, and everywhere you look you see road barriers, twisted, contorted, lopsided. If it weren’t for the fact that the setting of the scene is Towner Eastbourne art gallery, you’d think a car had crashed through it. And you probably wouldn’t blame the driver.

This isn’t the aftermath of a riot or the contents of a disorganised storage room. In fact it is Jesse Darling’s winning submission for the 2023 Turner Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious art awards. The prize was established to honour the ‘innovative and controversial’ works of J.M.W. Turner, although in the thirty-nine years since its inauguration, none of the winning submissions have evoked the sublime beauty of Turner’s paintings.

There are no facts when it comes to art, only opinions. The judges, who lauded the exhibition for ‘unsettl[ing] perceived notions of labour, class, Britishness and power’, seem to have glimpsed something profound beyond the shallow display of metal and tape. Or they may simply have considered it the least worst submission in a shortlist which included some accomplished but otherwise unremarkable charcoal sketches, an oratorio about the COVID-19 pandemic and a few pipes.

It may be that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. But there is a distinction to be made between works of art whose beauty is universally accepted, and those which fail to find acclaim beyond a small demographic of urban, middle-class bohemians. According to a YouGov poll, an unsurprising 97% of the British public consider the Mona Lisa to be a work of art. That figure drops to 78% for Picasso’s Guernica, 41% for Jackson Pollock’s Number 5, and just 12% for Tracey Emin’s My Bed. That 12% of society, however, represents those among us most likely to work in art galleries and institutions, and to hold the most latitudinarian definition of ‘art’.

For ordinary people, the chief criterion for art is, and always has been, beauty. But like the other humanities, the 20th century saw the art world succumb to the nebulous web of ‘discourse’, with a corresponding shift away from aesthetic merits and towards political ends. Pieces like Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain – an upturned porcelain urinal – proved that works of art could shoot to fame precisely on account of their capacity to disturb and agitate audiences. As philosopher Roger Scruton described it, ‘According to many critics writing today a work of art justifies itself by announcing itself as a visitor from the future. The value of art is a shock value.’ The fact that shock, fear and revulsion create more powerful reactions than the sense of joy, calm or awe one feels when looking at a Rosetti or a Caravaggio is an unfortunate fact of human nature, and remains as true today as it did a hundred years ago. In much the same way that a news stories about declining global poverty rates or deaths from malaria will receive less attention than stories about melting ice caps or rising CO2 emissions, a truly beautiful artwork will receive less attention in the media than something which irks, irritates and offends. 

In the opening chapter of The Picture of Dorian Gray, when Basil Hallward reveals the eponymous portrait to his friend Lord Henry, he confesses to feeling reservations about exhibiting the work despite it being, in Henry’s estimation, his masterpiece. ‘There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about,’ Lord Henry reprimands him, ‘and that is not being talked about.’ The sentiment is triply true in the age of social media. Indeed, the term ‘ragebait’ started appearing online in the months following Mark Leckey’s winning submission for the Turner Prize in 2008, an exhibition which featured a glow-in-the-dark stick figure and a naked mannequin on a toilet. Like Dorian Gray, the more the art world thirsts for attention, the more hideous the art itself will become.

The quickest route to attention is politics. At the award ceremony for this year’s Turner Prize, Darling pulled from his pocket a Palestinian flag, ‘Because there’s a genocide going on and I wanted to say something about it on the BBC.’ In his acceptance speech, he lambasted the late Margaret Thatcher for ‘pav[ing] the way for the greatest trick the Tories ever played, which is to convince working people in Britain that studying, self expression and what the broadsheet supplements describe as “culture” is only for certain people in Britain from certain socio-economic backgrounds. I just want to say don’t buy in, it’s for everyone’. The irony is that all the money in the world wouldn’t fix the problems currently afflicting the art scene. If the custodians of modern art want to democratise their vocation, and make culture available to ordinary people, they should follow the example of Turner – and produce something worth looking at.

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The Post-Polar Moment


Abstract: Nations and intergovernmental organisations must consider the real possibility of moving into a world without a global hegemon. The core assumptions that underpin realist thought can directly be challenged by presenting an alternative approach to non-polarity. This could be through questioning what might occur if nations moved from a world in which polarity remains a major tool for understanding interstate relations and security matters. Further work is necessary to explore the full implications of what entering a non-polar world could mean and possible outcomes for such events.

Problem statement: What would global security look like without competition between key global players such as the People’s Republic of China and the United States?

So what?: Nations and intergovernmental organisations should prepare for the real possibility that the international community could be moving into a world without a global hegemon or world order. As such, they should recognise the potential for a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape and are urged to strategically acknowledge the importance of what this would mean. More research is still needed to explore the implications for and of this moving forward.

Geopolitical Fluidity

Humankind has moved rapidly from a period of relatively controlled geopolitical dominance towards a more fluid and unpredictable situation. This has posed a question to global leadership: what would it mean to be leaderless, and what role could anarchy play in such matters? Examining the assumptions that make up most of the academic discourse within International Relations and Security Studies remains important in trying to tackle said dilemma.

From this geopolitical fluidity, the transition from U.S.-led geopolitical dominance, shown in the ‘unipolar moment’, to that of either bipolarity or multipolarity has come about. This re-emergence, however, has not directly focused on an unexplored possibility that could explain the evolving trends that might occur. Humankind is entering a post-polar world out of the emergence of a leaderless world structure. There is the possibility, too, that neither the U.S. nor the the People’s Republic of China become the sole global superpower which then dominates the world and its structures”. The likelihood of this occurring remains relatively high, as explored further on. Put differently, “it is entirely possibly that within the next two decades, international relations could be entering a period of no singular global superpower at all”.

Humankind is entering a post-polar world out of the emergence of a leaderless world structure.

The Non-Polar Moment

The most traditional forms of realism propose three forms of polar systems. These are unipolar, bipolar, or multipolar (The Big Three). There is a strong possibility that we as a global community are transitioning into a fourth and separate world system. This fourth and relatively unexplored world system could mean that anything that enables the opportunity for either a superpower or regional power to establish itself will not be able to occur in the foreseeable future.

It can also historically be explained by the end of the Cold War and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, which led to the emergence of the U.S. as the leading superpower within global politics. For lack of better words, it was a generational image of a defining dominant nation within both international relations and security circles. From this, it was widely acknowledged and regarded that Krauthammer coined the’ unipolar moment’ in the aftermath of the Cold War. This meant that there was a period when the U.S. was the sole dominant centre of global power/polarity. This unipolar moment is more accurately considered part of a much larger ‘global power moment’.

This global power moment is in reference to the time period mentioned above, which entailed the ability for nations to directly and accurately project their power abroad or outside their region. This ability to project power will presumably but steadily decline in the following decades due to the subsequent decrease in the three core vectors of human development (Demography, Technology and Ideology). When combined, one could argue that the three polar systems allowed for the creation of the global power moment itself. Specifically, that would be from the start of the 19th until the end of the 20th century. Following that line of thought, the future was affected by the three aforementioned pillars somewhat like this:

  1. Demography: this means having a strongly structured and or growing population, one that allows a nation to act expansively towards other states and use those human resources to achieve its political goals.
  2. Technology: the rise of scientific innovations, allowing stronger military actions to happen against other nations. To date, it has granted nations the ability to directly project power abroad, which, before this, would have only been able to occur locally or at a regional level.
  3. Ideology: the third core vector of human development. That means the development of philosophies that justify the creation of a distinct mindset or “zeitgeist” that culturally explains a nation’s actions.

These three core vectors of development are built into a general human trend and assumption of ‘more’, within this great power moment. Existing systems are built into the understanding of more people, more technology development, and more growth, along with possessing generated ideologies that rationalise such actions. What this does, in turn, is help define a linear progression of human history and help develop an understanding of interstate relations.

Existing systems are built into the understanding of more people, more technology development, and more growth, along with possessing generated ideologies that rationalise such actions.

Nevertheless, this understanding is currently considered insufficient; the justification for this is based on developing a fourth vector to help comprehend power distribution. This vector is that of non-polarity, meaning a non-power-centred world structure. From this, the idea or concept of non-polarity is not original. Previously, it was deconstructed by Haass, Manning and Stuenkel, and, in their context, refers to a direct absence of global polarity within any of the Big Three polar systems.

Prior academics have shown that non-polarity is the absence of absolute power being asserted within a place and time but continues to exist within other big three polar systems. The current world diverges from the idea of multipolar in one core way. There are several centres of power, many of which are non-state actors. As a result, power and polarity can be found in many different areas and within many different actors. This argument expands on Strange’s (1996) contributions, who disputed that polarity was transferring from nations to global marketplaces and non-state actors.

A notable example is non-state players who act against more established powers, these can include terrorist and insurgent groups/organisations. Non-polarity itself being “a world dominated not by one or two or even several states but rather by dozens of actors possessing and exercising various kinds of power”. From this, a more adequate understanding of non-polarity is required. Additionally, it should be argued that non-polarity is rather a direct lack of centres of power that can exist and arise from nations. Because of this, this feature of non-polarity infers the minimisation of a nation’s ability to meaningfully engage in structural competition, which in turn describes a state of post-polarity realism presenting itself.

Humans are presented with the idea of a ‘non-polar moment’, which comes out of the above-stated direct lack of polarity. The non-polar moment inverts the meaning of the unipolar moment found with the U.S. in the aftermath of the Cold War, which was part of the wider period of Pax Americana (after WWII). This contrasts with the traditional idea: instead of having a singular hegemonic power that dominates power distribution across global politics, there is no direct power source to assert itself within the system. Conceptually, this non-polar moment could be viewed as a system where states are placed into a situation in which they are limited to being able to act outwardly. A reason why they could be limited is the demographic constraints being placed on a nation from being able to strategically influence another nation, alongside maintaining an ideology that allows nations to justify such actions.

The non-polar moment inverts the meaning of the unipolar moment found with the U.S. in the aftermath of the Cold War, which was part of the wider period of Pax Americana.

The outcomes of such a world have not been fully studied, with the global community moving from a system to one without any distributors of power or ability to influence other nations. In fact, assuming these structural conditions, -that nations need to acquire hegemony and are themselves perpetually stunted-, the scenario is similar to having a ladder that is missing its first few steps. From this, one can also see this structural condition as the contrast to a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ situation, with the great power reduction. Because of this, the non-polar moment could symbolise the next, fourth stage for nations to transition to part of a much wider post-polarity form of realism that could develop.

The implications for this highlight a relevant gap within the current literature, the need to examine both the key structural and unit-level conditions that currently are present. This is what it might mean to be part of a wider ‘a global tribe without a leader’, something which a form of post-polarity realism might suggest.

A Global Tribe Without a Leader

To examine the circumstances for which post-polarity realism can occur, one must examine the conditions that define realism itself. Traditionally, for realism, the behaviours of states are as follows:

  1. States act according to their self-interests;
  2. States are rational in nature; and
  3. States pursue power to help ensure their own survival.

What this shows is that there are several structures from within the Big Three polar systems. Kopalyan argues that the world structure transitions between the different stages. This can be shown by moving between interstate relations as bipolar towards multipolar, done by both nations and governments, which allows nations to re-establish themselves in accordance with their structural conditions within the world system. Kopalyan then continues to identify the absence of a consistent conceptualisation of non-polarity. This absence demonstrates a direct need for clarity and structured responses to the question of non-polarity.

As such, the transition between systems to non-polarity, to and from post-polarity will probably occur. The reason for this is the general decline in three core vectors of human development, which are part of complex unit-level structural factors occurring within states. The structural factors themselves are not helpful towards creating or maintaining any of the Big Three world systems. Ultimately, what this represents is a general decline in global stability itself which is occurring. An example of this is the reduction of international intergovernmental organisations across the globe and their inability to adequately manage or solve major structural issues like Climate Change, which affects all nations across the international community.

Firstly, this can be explained demographically because most nations currently live with below-replacement (and sub-replacement) fertility rates. In some cases, they have even entered a state of terminal demographic decline. This is best symbolised in nations like Japan, Russia, and the PRC, which have terminal demographics alongside most of the European continent. The continuation of such outcomes also affects other nations outside of this traditional image, with nations like Thailand and Türkiye suffering similar issues. Contrasted globally, one can compare it to the dramatic inverse fertility rates found within Sub-Saharan Africa.

Secondly, with technology, one can observe a high level of development which has produced a widespread benefit for nations. Nevertheless, it has also contributed to a decline in the preservation of being able to transition between the Big Three systems. Technological developments have produced obstacles to generating coherence between governments and their citizenry. For example, social media allows for the generation of mass misinformation that can be used to create issues within nations from other countries and non-state actors. Additionally, it has meant that nations are placed permanently into a state of insecurity because of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The results mean there can never be any true sense or permanence in the idea of security due to the effects of WMDs and their spillover effects. Subsequently, technological development has placed economic hurdles for nations within the current world order through record levels of debt, which has placed further strain on the validity of the current global economic system in being able to maintain itself.

Technological developments have produced obstacles to generating coherence between governments and their citizenry.

The final core vector of human development is ideology and its decline. This has been shown with a reduction in the growth of new ideologies and philosophies used to understand and address world issues. This is an extension of scholars like Toynbee and Spengler, whose literature has also claimed that ideologically, the world has witnessed a general reduction in abstract thought and problem-solving. This ideological decline has most substantially occurred in the Western World.

The outcomes of the reduction in these human development vectors demonstrate a potential next stage in global restructuring. Unfortunately, only little data can be sourced to explain what a global world order could look like without a proverbial ‘king on the throne’ exists. Nearly all acquired data is built into a ‘traditional’ understanding of a realist world order. This understanding is largely correct. Nevertheless, the core assumption built into our post-WWII consensus is out of date.

This is the concept that we as nations will continue falling back into and transitioning between the traditional Big Three polar systems. This indeed contrasts with moving into a fourth non-polar world structure. Traditionally, states have transitioned between the Big Three world systems. This can only occur when all three vectors of human development are positive, when now, in reality, all three are in decline.

This is not to take away from realism as a cornerstone theoretical approach to understanding and explaining state behaviour. Realism and its core tenets are still correct on a conceptual and theoretical level and will remain so. Indeed, what unites all branches of realism is this core assumption of civilisation from within the system and that it will directly affect polarity. These structures are assumed to remain in place, presenting one major question. This question is shown upon investigating the current bipolar connection between both major superpowers, in this case, between the U.S. and the PRC. Kissinger argues that “almost as if according to some natural law, in every century, there seems to emerge a country with the power, the will, and the intellectual and moral impetus to shape the entire international system per its own values.” It can be seen in the direct aftermath of the declining U.S., which is moving away from the unipolar moment it found itself in during the 1990s, into a more insecure and complex multipolar present. This present currently defines Sino-U.S. relations and has set the tone for most conversations about the future of global politics. Such a worldview encapsulates how academics have traditionally viewed bipolar strategic competition, with one side winning and the other losing. This bipolarity between these superpowers has often left the question of which will eventually dominate the other. Will the U.S. curtail and contain a rising PRC, or will the PRC come out as the global hegemon overstepping U.S. supremacy?

Realism and its core tenets are still correct on a conceptual and theoretical level and will remain so. Indeed, what unites all branches of realism is this core assumption of civilisation from within the system and that it will directly affect polarity.

Consequently and presently, there remains a distinct possibility that both superpowers could collapse together or separately within a short period of each other. This collapse is regardless of their nation’s relative power or economic interdependence. It could rather be:

  1. The PRC could easily decline because of several core factors. Demographically, the nation’s one-child policy has dramatically reduced the population. The results could place great strain on the nation’s viability. Politically, there is a very real chance that there could be major internal strife due to competing factional elements within the central government. Economically, housing debt could cause an economic crash to occur.
  2. For the U.S., this same could occur. The nation has its own economic issues and internal political problems. This, in turn, might also place great pressure on the future viability of the country moving forward.

Still, the implications for both nations remain deeply complex and fluid as to what will ultimately occur. From this, any definite outcomes currently remain unclear and speculative.

Within most traditional Western circles, the conclusion for the bipolar competition will only result in a transition towards either of the two remaining world systems. Either one power becomes hegemonic, resulting in unipolarity, or, in contrast, as nations move into a multipolar system, where several powers vie for security. Nevertheless, this transition cannot currently occur if both superpowers within the bipolar system collapse at the same time. This is regardless of whether their respective collapses are connected or not. As both superpowers are in a relative decline, they themselves contribute to a total decline of power across the world system. From this, with the rise of global interdependence between states, when a superpower collapses, it has long-term implications for the other superpower and those caught in between. If both superpowers collapse, it would give us a world system with no definitive power centre and a global tribe without a leader.

This decline would go beyond being in a state of ‘posthegemony’, where there is a singular or bipolar superpower, the core source of polarity amongst nations, towards that of a non-polar world. This means a transition into a world without the ability to develop an organised world system from a full hegemonic collapse. With the collapse of bipolarity and the inability to transition towards either of the traditional remaining world systems, as previously mentioned, this would be like all nations being perpetually stunted in their ability to develop, like a ladder with the first ten steps missing. All nations would collectively struggle to get up the first few steps back into some form of structural normalcy. It could, for decades, prevent any attempt to transition back into the traditional realm of the Big Three world systems.

With the collapse of bipolarity and the inability to transition towards either of the traditional remaining world systems, as previously mentioned, this would be like all nations being perpetually stunted in their ability to develop, like a ladder with the first ten steps missing.

The result/consequence of any collapse directly caused by a link between economic, demographic and political failings would become a global death spiral, potentially dragging nearly all other nations down with its collapse. That considered another question would arise: if we as an international community structurally face a non-polar moment on a theoretical level, what might the aftermath look like for states and interstate relations?

Rising and Falling Powers

This aspect of how the international community and academia view the international sphere could yield a vital understanding of what may happen within the next few years and likely decades, will need to constantly reassess the core assumptions behind our pre-existing thoughts. One core assumption is that nations are either rising or falling. However, it may be worth remembering that it is entirely possible that both bipolar powers could easily decline significantly at any point, for multiple different reasons and factors. The outcomes would have substantial implications for the world as a whole.

It may be worth remembering that it is entirely possible that both bipolar powers could easily decline significantly at any point, for multiple different reasons and factors.

Ultimately, it implies that the international community will need to reevaluate how issues like polarity are viewed, and continue to explore the possibility of entering a fourth polar world – non-polar – and address the possibility that some form of post-polarity realism might begin to conceptualise. Nations and intergovernmental organisations should, at the least, attempt to consider or acclimatise to the real possibility of transforming into a world without a global hegemon or world order.

This article was originally published in The Defence Horizon Journal, an academic and professional-led journal dedicated to the study of defence and security-related topics. The original post can be read here.

Photo Credit.

Ride (read) or Die: 2023 Book Report (Part III)

Following on from last years experiment of attempting to read at least 10 pages of a book a day to increase my reading, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and wished to continue my reading journey in 2023. About halfway through last year, a friend of mine suggested to me that the 10 pages target could be detrimental to my overall reading, as it would encourage me to simply put the book down after just 10 pages (something I later realised it was doing). This year, I chose to do away with the 10 pages target and have decided to just make a pledge to read every day. In the first week of the year, I have already read considerably faster than last year, so I think perhaps my friend was on to something.

I also realised, reading back on last years review scores, that I was a very generous reviewer. I think this was because I did not have enough experience to know what made a book good or bad. I hope that my reviews can be more reflective of the overall reading experience this year.

Book 11: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Read from: 28/10/2023 to 28/11/2023

Rating: 3/5

I had seen this book pushed quite heavily online before by certain influencers and I was always curious to see what it was about. Robert Greene appears to have written a considerable number of these types of books, so I was very intrigued to know what the fuss was. I thought the book was fine but definitely lacking in some areas.

The book is essentially a series of lessons regarding how to better navigate life in a more Machiavellian way to attain power. Some of the ideas put forward are genuinely very interesting, and it was nice to have certain topics explained a certain way. Other areas seemed a bit obvious and repetitive which was annoying whilst trying to get through the book.

A lot of Greene’s rules essentially boil down to ‘don’t tell other people what you are up to’, which I suppose is a pretty good rule to follow if you are hunting power. But there are only so many times you can hear that ‘rule’ phrased differently before you start getting bored.

Greene backs up his claims with a plethora of anecdotes which I mostly enjoyed. He fell into the same trap as before, however, in that a lot of the anecdotes start to blend into one after a while – especially after using the same anecdote repeatedly. If I never hear the name ‘Charles Talleyrand’ again it will still be too soon! I only become disillusioned with Greene’s anecdotes after he started discussing the English civil war – an area of his anecdotes I was much more versed in than revolutionary France or Renaissance Italy. He made some obvious oversimplifications which annoyed me and made me question the legitimacy of some of his other tales to back up his ideas. I don’t think that this invalidates what he was saying, I just wish he had left less up to speculation regarding whether or not he actually knew the history.

Overall, a good book which I would still recommend. His insight is useful, and this would be a pretty good primer for Machiavellian style thinking. I would say, however, that you should stick to the audiobook over the actual paperback – it will make it easier to digest.

Book 12: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Read from: 06/11/2023 to 09/11/2023

Rating: 5/5

I was strolling through Belfast on a trip there recently, when I picked up this book at a Waterstones for my flight home. Something short to keep me occupied and also increase my book tally on Goodreads before the end of the year. Sure enough, on my (very short) flight back to Newcastle the same day, I ploughed through about a third of it. I found it very difficult to put down and ignore, as I have my other books recently.

As the title suggests, the book tells the story of one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich – a prisoner at a Soviet Gulag in the early 1950s. It takes you through his agonising routine right from the moment he wakes up to when he finally goes to sleep again. It details the way in which he navigates the trials and tribulations of life in the Siberian gulag he is currently imprisoned in, and the many interactions he has with the other prisoners. The book is too short to summarise without spoiling the whole thing, so I won’t do that. I would highly recommend that you take the time to just read it instead.

There was something extremely biting about the way that this was written. The author, Solzhenitsyn, was a prisoner in a gulag for eight years, so he had a considerable amount of his own experience to draw from when writing this book. His main character, Ivan, is incredibly relatable and felt very human. Not necessarily a good or a bad person, just someone trying to survive and make the best out of a bad situation. Going so far as to describe his day as ‘a good one’ simply because he was able to get slightly more food after doing some favours for other inmates; routinely breaking minor rules to make his life easier, working cordially with his inmates, and doing everything possible to do as little work as possible for as much reward as he could.

Every aspect of the story felt very believable and not exaggerated; I never felt as though I was having the wool pulled over my eyes by what is, essentially, a piece of anti-communist propaganda. He describes the guards as harsh but lazy, the other inmates are not depicted as saints, but as a wide array of people with different motives and agendas – a very real and convincing story.

The book is very well written and was a genuinely fascinating insight into gulag life, an area which I have always been interested in but never researched much. It is a genuine ‘must-read’ for anyone interested in that aspect of Stalinist Russia and the early-cold-war Soviet system of punishment. It is also a delightfully short book and reads very easily. As I said before, I would thoroughly recommend reading this.

Book 13: Star by Yukio Mishima

Read from: 21/11/2023 to 22/11/2023

Rating: 5/5

I read two books by Yukio Mishima last year, and he is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. I was enticed to buy this book from the moment I saw it; a short story by Mishima is often a treat and I was not at all disappointed by this one.

The story revolves around the main character Rikio, a young Japanese actor in the prime of his career, and his ugly assistant and lover Kayo. The story revolves around his struggle with fame and the fleeting nature of his career; it also spends a fair amount of time touching on the absurdity of the film industry in Japan in the 1960s and 70’s (something which Mishima was personally accustomed to) and how Rikio navigates it as best as he can.

Due to the relatively short nature of the book, writing too long of a review would spoil it. However, I will say that I was absolutely entranced by Mishima’s style of writing and his amazing ability to describe some of the more vulgar elements of life (masturbation, sex, drug abuse, etc) in such a poetic and charming way. His powerful use of metaphor continues to amaze me with every book of his that I read. His characters feel painfully real, and his skill at describing scenes and people in such brevity are fantastic.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in getting into Mishima and Japanese fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Book 14: The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

Read from: 23/11/2023 to 27/11/2023

Rating: 5/5

Much like many other ‘American Classics’, the Call of Cthulhu is one of those books which seems to have considerable prominence in online circles solely due to the fact that large amounts of American teenagers are forced to read it at High School. As I am not (and never have been) an American teenager, I have had very little exposure to Lovecraft’s short stories besides the occasional reference on television or through conversations with American’s online. I must say, however, I was thoroughly impressed by this book and Lovecraft’s writing style.

The book is written from the perspective of a young man going through the notes of his dead relative, a university professor who seems to have stumbled on some kind of conspiracy regarding an ancient god-like figure, Cthulu, who drives people to madness. The story details, from the authors point of view, how he came to discover his uncle’s notes and the journey he went on to validate their authenticity. At the start of the book, he is quite the cynical sceptic; by the end of his journey, he is a terrified believer who wishes that his works are never found and is constantly paranoid that he will be murdered for what he has uncovered – that Cthulu is indeed real and that his very brief appearance made many ‘sensitive young men’ (artists, architects etc) all around the world go mad.

I am not a fan of horror films; I find them quite unpleasant. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading horror. The writer has no opportunity to shoehorn in cheap ‘jump scares’ and low budget special effects. Horror fiction has to be well written and, instead of a brief thrill, creates a genuine sense of dread. I could feel my own arm hairs pricking up with goosebumps whilst reading it.

I genuinely really enjoyed this book, and will be reading more of HP Lovecraft’s works in the future. A good read and a good introduction to his style of writing and short stories.

Book 15: The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft

Read from: 27/11/2023 to 29/12/2023

Rating: 5/5

This was my final book of 2023 and was purchased alongside ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. I would have finished it much quicker if it weren’t for the many various Christmas festivities that fall at this time of year which has significantly impeded my reading progress.

The book follows the story of a young student who is touring the old towns and villages of the New England coast during a gap year in his studies. During his travels, he comes across the town of Innsmouth whilst making his way to Arkham. The town is shunned by the locals of the surrounding villages and is falling into a very ruinous state. During his visit, he meets an old drunkard who explains to him that the town is infested with fish-people who worship ancient eldritch gods and sacrifice people to the sea.

Due to its short length, to say any more about the plot would spoil it. However, I found the story very gripping and exceedingly exciting. I felt genuinely frightened during much of the latter half of the book and thoroughly enjoyed the way the town and its people were portrayed. Lovecraft does an excellent job at thrilling the reader and the book is worthy of the praise it receives.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in classic American fiction or someone interested in the works of Lovecraft specially. However, I would say that it would probably be better to read ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ first, as this book is referenced quite heavily near the middle and end of Shadow over Innsmouth.

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Ride (read) or Die: 2023 Book Report (Part II)

Following on from last years experiment of attempting to read at least 10 pages of a book a day to increase my reading, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and wished to continue my reading journey in 2023. About halfway through last year, a friend of mine suggested to me that the 10 pages target could be detrimental to my overall reading, as it would encourage me to simply put the book down after just 10 pages (something I later realised it was doing). This year, I chose to do away with the 10 pages target and have decided to just make a pledge to read every day. In the first week of the year, I have already read considerably faster than last year, so I think perhaps my friend was on to something.

I also realised, reading back on last years review scores, that I was a very generous reviewer. I think this was because I did not have enough experience to know what made a book good or bad. I hope that my reviews can be more reflective of the overall reading experience this year.

Book 6: Memoirs of a Kamikaze by Kazuo Odachi

Read from: 20/02/2023 to 23/04/2023

Rating: 5/5

I only came upon this book by accident whilst watching a video essay about Kamikaze pilots during the second world war. It was used as source material for the video, and was referenced frequently throughout. The gripping title alone was enough to get me interested in the story, and at the time I was in a bit of a frenzy of purchasing Japanese authored books (this can be seen in the chunk of Japanese books I reviews last year). Certain to say, I was amazed at the quality of this book, and the incredibly interesting story that it told.

The book was written by Kazuo Odachi, a now 96-year-old former Japanese fighter pilot who, after almost 70 years of silence on the matter, decided to tell his story in becoming a Kamikaze. The book details his childhood, and how growing up in a rural area of Japan meant that his main amusement was laying in tall grasses watching pilots train at the local aerodrome. At this age he would also discover the Japanese martial art of Keno, something which he talks about at great length in the latter half of the book, and clearly has had a huge impact of him. When the war began, he was still only a boy, and so he was only able to join up quite close to the end of the war. A very gifted young man, he was selected to become a fighter pilot, and would spend considerably time in the pacific engaged in various fighting missions.

Kazuo explains how, as the war began to turn against Japan, he – along with many of his friends – were forced to volunteer to become kamikaze pilots. He explains in painful detail the events which unfolded around them, and how they were powerless to decline the request to engage in suicide missions. Much mystery surrounds the motivations of Kamnikaze pilots, but Kazuo repeatedly states that no one actually wanted to be made to do it, but felt that it was the right course of action to preserve Japan and keep the country safe. He reflects on this a lot in the later half of this book, and states repeatedly that he lives his life to the fullest in honour of the men who gave their lives before him. Flying 8 unsuccessful Kamikaze missions (more common then you would think), Kazuo also goes over how lucky he feels to be alive and how easily it could have been him dead instead.

The second half of the book covers his life post-war, his time as a policeman and dealing with Tokyo’s criminal gangs. He also talks in great depth of his love of Kendo, and how he still continues to practice the martial art, even in his advanced old age.

I really enjoyed this book, it gave a very insightful view into a point in history which is cloaked in misinformation and ignorance of understanding. Kazuo eloquently and expertly paints a vivid picture of his experiences, and does not shy away from his more controversial opinions on the events that unfolded in his time before, during, and after the war.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Japan, the second world war, and especially anyone who wishes to know more about the motivations and feelings of the young boys sent off to die in Kamikaze missions. I would posit that it is also helpful in understanding the mindset of those people who commit contemporary suicide attacks today. An excellent read!

Book 7: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Read from: 23/04/2023 to 04/05/2023

Rating: 4/5

I found this book at the bottom of my brother’s old school bag whilst we were cleaning out the attic, safe to say it had been left there for quite a long time, probably around 5 years at this point. I am remarkably pleased that I came upon this old schoolroom copy because it came with a handy study/reading guide alongside it which added more historical and literary context to what was being said. I am glad for this because, as I am sure you can understand, a lot of what Shakespeare writes is not always easy to decipher given the differences between contemporary modern English and Tudor English – lots of ‘thys’, ‘thous’, and ‘thees’ can get a bit tedious after a while. If you’re going to try and read this, and you aren’t fluent in Tudor English, I would recommend finding a copy that comes with a study guide.

A thrilling tale with many twists and turns, Macbeth showcases Shakespeare’s ability to subvert the expectations of the reader (or viewer, as this is supposed to be a theatrical performance, not really a novel). The tale of Macbeth is based in medieval Scotland, and follows the titular Macbeth and his wife, as he navigates his options after being promised that he, but not his children, would become King of Scotland by three witches. Driven mad by their prediction, Macbeth’s attempts to secure Kingship and then ensure that his hypothetical children do proceed to be monarchs themselves, have tragic results. In a futile attempt to both secure and then change his own destiny, he betrays himself and everyone around him.

I wont spoil any major details of the story, at the very least because you were probably taught them at school at one point or another. I would instead like to talk briefly about the importance of this book for the English literary tradition and culture which it represents. Indeed, we often take for granted just how much of our contemporary understanding of ‘what makes a good plotline’ comes from Shakespeare and his influences at the time. The mans work stands high above contemporary work of its time, and it would be easy to forget just how ahead of his time he really was. His work stands as a testament to his genius, and to this day still casts a large shadow over what we consider a good or bad story. This is remarkably impressive for a man who lived a half a millennia ago.

Reading Macbeth, much like reading any of Shakespeare is a lot like learning Latin. You might not enjoy it; it’s very confusing; and a lot of the time you are left wondering what in the world anyone is talking about; but at the very least, it can give you a good and grounded understanding of the history of your own language, where certain tropes come from, and how you could use them yourself more often in your own speech.

Overall, I would recommend this book. I am disappointed that I never got to study it at school, and I am glad that I have been able to read it now instead.

Book 8: The History of the Spurn Point Lighthouses by G de Boer

Read from: 04/05/2023 to 18/05/2023

Rating: 4/5

I appreciate just how incredibly niche and uninteresting this book must seem to the average reader. I would argue that it is even less relevant than the ‘Trans-Siberian Rail Guide’ book which I read and reviewed last year (which was written to give directions to western travellers boarding the now obsolete Soviet railway system). However, as someone who actually lives very close to Spurn Point with a keen interest in lighthouses (yes, I am that boring) I found it quite an interesting read.

The book, as the title suggests, details the history of the various lighthouse projects which took place on the Spurn Point (for those who don’t know, this is a large sand bank at the mouth of the Humber estuary) from the early 1600’s to the 1960’s (when the book was written).

I completely understand why this seems uninteresting at first glance; but the book, almost accidentally, ends up discussing more about the complex social and legal situations in place in Britain in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries than it does about the lighthouses themselves.

The book details the true stories of the various warring factions in British maritime trade politics: the three Trinity House guilds (London, Hull, and Newcastle); sea captains; wealthy merchants; land developers; fleets of solicitors; ambitious venture capitalists; the fading aristocracy; parliamentary meddlers; and even the King of England (not to forget Cromwell of course). It provides a genuinely interesting insight into all of these interest groups and their constant struggle for control over the land and waterways of England, framed nicely around the construction of a highly controversial lighthouse in a rather uncontroversial part of Britain.

Perhaps you aren’t particularly interested in the history of lighthouses on Spurn Point, but if you would like to learn a little bit more about the seemingly ridiculous and overcomplicated nature of competing factions in Britain from the 1600s onwards, I would sincerely recommend this book. It’s short, it refuses to ramble on endlessly, and it has some genuinely amusing moments tucked away inside.

Book 9: Dune (Dune #1) by Frank Herbert

Read from: 18/05/2023 to 22/06/2023

Rating: 5/5

A couple of years ago my dad mentioned that he was really excited to see the new Dune film that was coming out… I was amazed by this statement – my father has never expressed any interest in any film made after 1990, and I was absolutely shocked to see him genuinely excited about a new film. After a bit of prodding, I discovered that the Dune series were his favourite books, and that he still had all his original copies stuffed away in the loft somewhere. Intrigued by this revelation, I watched the Dune film when it came out, and also thoroughly enjoyed it.

A few months later, after seeing how much I had enjoyed the film, I was bought a copy by a friend, and it had been sitting on the shelf at home ever since. I have an immediate disgust reaction to long books, they remind me too much of the musty yellow paged old tomes on my grandmas book case which I was forced to read as a child to ‘practice my grammar’. Perpetually worried that, once I started reading it, it would take me months to complete, I was overjoyed when I found myself unable to put the book down. It was a thoroughly brilliant read, and I cannot recommend it enough.

The book is set in the very distant future, where man has conquered much of the known universe, and a neo-feudal system has been established to govern it. Computers which mimic humans (referred to as ‘thinking machines’) have been completely abolished, and humanity relies heavily on a drug-like substance known as ‘spice melange’ to achieve a heightened state of clairvoyance to navigate the stars. Three main power structures exist in the setting: The Emperor (an all powerful ruler), The Lansraad (a group of all the noble houses), and The Spacing Guild (an organisation of space navigators). They control shares in the ‘CHOAM Company’ which is the main source of the ‘spice’ which can only be found on the desert planet Arrakis.

Duke Leto Atreides is forced by the emperor to govern Arrakis and take it out of the control of his bitter rival, Baron Harkonen. After arriving, it becomes clear that he has been put into a trap, and the forces of the Harkonens are very much still in place on the planet. Leto’s son, Paul, must work with the planet’s natives, the Fremen, to defeat the Harkonens and secure the future of his noble house.

I could write pages and pages more about this story, but I have no intention of spoiling the plot for you. This book is fantastic and had me totally gripped by it for the month I was reading it. It lives up to the hype and is absolutely fantastic, definitely one worth reading.

Book 10: How to be a Conservative by Sir Roger Scruton

Read from: 23/06/2023 to 31/12/2023

Rating: 3/5

If you truly enjoy political theory and are interested in learning about small-c conservatism, I would recommend the book. Scruton clearly and (somewhat) briefly lays out the case for it here. He uses it to discuss the truths in Socialism, Capitalism, and conservatism – which he seems to perceive as a middle ground between the two.

This book took me almost 6 months to read because large sections of it are painfully boring. I was devastated by how much of a slog fest this piece has been to get through. After finding myself unable to pick this book up, I let myself slide and just started reading the other books in my collection at the same time instead – something I have never done before.

I had the same reaction reading Marx and other political theory books last year and in the past. I just couldn’t bring myself to carry on. I find the subject extremely boring. I think my personal issue lies in the fact that these types of work are by no means fictitious but are also not truly non-fiction. Theory seems to lie in a cursed middle ground of quasi-non-fiction which I just don’t care for.

Some aspects of the book are genuinely very interesting – Scruton discusses his time in Communist Czechoslovakia before the collapse of the USSR dodging the StB secret police and giving lecturers to disenfranchised ‘pro-democracy’ students in attics; which was an insightful moment. He talks a lot about the importance of good aesthetics and beauty in public life, which was a refreshing chapter to read through. Unfortunately, the rest of the book comes across as a bit of a snooze-fest. He himself admits that it is difficult to make conservatism sexy, and this book is certainly a confirmation of that.

As stated at the beginning, I would recommend the book if you are genuinely passionate about political theory. Otherwise, it might be best to give it a miss. A friend of mine joked with my whilst I was reading it that “It’s a great book to quote from, not one to actually read”, and I think he is more or less correct about this.

This is the second installment in a three-part series. Follow The Mallard for part three!

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Ride (read) or Die: 2023 Book Report (Part I)

Following on from last year’s experiment of attempting to read at least 10 pages of a book a day to increase my reading, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and wished to continue my reading journey in 2023. About halfway through last year, a friend of mine suggested to me that the 10 pages target could be detrimental to my overall reading, as it would encourage me to simply put the book down after just 10 pages (something I later realised it was doing). This year, I chose to do away with the 10 pages target and have decided to just make a pledge to read every day. In the first week of the year, I have already read considerably faster than last year, so I think perhaps my friend was on to something.

I also realised, reading back on last years review scores, that I was a very generous reviewer. I think this was because I did not have enough experience to know what made a book good or bad. I hope that my reviews can be more reflective of the overall reading experience this year.

Book 1: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Read from: 01/01/2023 to 08/01/2023

Rating: 4/5

When I was about 12 years old, I read 1984. Perhaps a bit too young to fully grasp the meaning of the book, I was still obsessed by it. I fell in love the ‘alternative history’ genre, which is why I am so surprised that I did not read this book sooner. Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ gave me a great deal of nostalgia for my younger reading days. It brought back that same feeling of intrigue and dread which I had felt whilst reading Orwell’s work.

The book is set in the distant future, about 600 years after Henry Ford developed the assembly line and mass production. Ford is revered as a sort of semi-deity amongst the population, who regularly use his name instead of ‘God’. A society which praises stability and predictability above all else, no one knows of passion or love, no one is born naturally (instead being birthed through artificial methods), and a rigorous caste system is enforced by making some people stupid, and some people clever during the artificial birth process – alphas sit at the top, and epsilons at the very bottom. Children are ‘conditioned’ to be extremely comfortable with the roles they have been given in life, and to actively avoid intermingling and seeking activities the controllers of the world deem wrong. Sex is easily acquired, and children are encouraged to engage in ‘erotic activities’ with each other from a very early age. People live shorter but considerably happier lives with little to no unpleasant experiences, and regularly take ‘soma’, a near perfect drug with no hangover or negative side effects.

One of the main characters of the book, Bernard Marx, is a misfit. A designated Alpha, he is considerably shorter than his peers, and has been marked out because of this (as shortness is linked to being a member of a lower caste). He doesn’t understand why he is unhappy with the system around him, but he feels uneasy about it. For example, he has a strong attraction to another alpha, Lenina Crowne, but doesn’t understand why. He is skirting along the fringes of ideas like monogamy and chastity but can’t quite explain why he would want this.

Bernard takes Lenina to a ‘Savage Reserve’ (an area designated as not worth developing), and accidentally meets with a man called John who, through no fault of his own, has been stuck on this savage reservation, with the actual savages, since birth. Bernard takes the savage back to civilisation to attempt to learn more from him and his strange ideas about love, modesty, romance, and passion.

I really enjoyed the literary devices employed by Huxley in the book. His writing style is straight forward and relatively easy to follow. Sometimes it felt a bit too straight forward, however, with only one predictable twist and an ending which felt a bit flat and unexciting. Still, however, it was a pleasant read which conveyed the stories message (that a world free from want and sacrifice is not necessarily a good one) in a way that was subtle and very interesting. Overall, a book that I would thoroughly recommend.

Book 2: Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger

Read from: 08/01/2023 to 14/02/2023

Rating: 5/5

This book was given to me by a very good friend. He had, by some miracle, found this 1941 copy in a second-hand bookshop. Knowing that I was desperate to get my hands on an original translation copy of Storm of Steel before I had sullied myself by reading a more contemporary translation, he bought it for me to read.

What a superb book. What a fascinating read. Ernst Junger takes us on an incredible journey through his experiences in the first world war as a young officer in the German army with immense attention to detail and a spectacular writing ability. Alongside his more general accounts of the fighting, Ernst interweaves his own thoughts on the state of warfare, the reasoning behind conflict, and the virtue in soldiering. Ernst does not shy away from declaring that taking part in the first world war was one of the most foundational and important experiences of his life. He seems to have genuinely enjoyed his time as a soldier and was sincerely disappointed at Germany’s surrender. His rationale behind these beliefs are interesting, and he goes in to great detail to explain his personal philosophy around conflict, and why he believes that soldiering is inherently a good thing.

Not only does Ernst make haste to convince you of the benefits of being a soldier, but he also goes into detail to describe what makes a good person, or more specifically, a good man. Ernst talks a lot of honour, courage, and honesty in his writing. He speaks of his enemies, the English and French, in high esteem, and tells the reader that he tried to keep his own men in good standards. He discusses the importance of valour and of dying with courage (he himself never surrendered and was wounded multiple times). His philosophy on this is very interesting and has been a very jarring counter to the mainstream ‘war is bad’ angle that is taken by other accounts of World War One.

The general structure of the book is good. Ernst tries to remain as consistent as possible with his timing and pacing. However, due to the nature of a book about a war, it is not always possible to keep pacing at a consistent rate. This is understandable and does not detract from the book. Just be aware that there are moments when nothing is happening which are suddenly punctuated by moments in which everything seems to be happening.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in the first world war. It has been an exciting and amazing read which has proven to be a favourite of the year so far. Thank you again to my friend Andrew for buying it for me, I appreciate it very much.

Book 3: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Read from: 14/02/2023 to 19/02/2023

Rating: 3/5

I only know about this book from various niche references and jokes on twitter. I assume this is one of those books that is compulsory for American High School students to read (as they seem to be the type most frequently discussing it online and in the review sections). The concept of the story interested me – a man becoming a bug, how absurd? But I really had no bias going into this book. I normally understand at least a little bit about the books I am reading before I read them, but I had absolutely no clue what I was getting into when I read this.

Kafka is known for his absurdist and transformative pieces of work, and I can understand why this short story has become his most famous. The book focusses on the story of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who wakes up one morning to discover he has transformed into a giant bug. You would assume at this point that more context would be given, but no. Kafka doesn’t supply us with anything else – only the knowledge that Gregor is now a bug and must live as a bug. Being the sole breadwinner for his parents and sister, his metamorphosis causes immediate problems for all of them, and forces his relatives to actually go out and find work in order to support themselves for a change. All while this is happening, Gregor is stuck at home and simply crawls around, as a bug would. Gregor becomes completely dehumanised whilst his family struggle and cope with their new situation, eventually not even being referred to as ‘Gregor’ but simply as a monster.

The book’s theme is heavily centred on the idea of dehumanisation and alienation. Gregor is beloved and revered by his parents and sister because he earns a very good salary and keeps them well. As soon as he is no longer able to do that (Kafka using the transformation into a bug as a metaphor for ‘becoming useless’) his family still care for him but grow to despise him as they are forced to take up all of the work that he once did to support them. His family, however, do become stronger without him. Suddenly forced into the ‘real world’ again matures them all. His father takes up a respectable job and literally becomes stronger and healthier. His sister matures and develops into a ‘full woman’, and his mother is able to cope with the grief and stress of life at home again in a less pathetic way. Overall, the experience is not entirely bad for the family. Kafka is using this to reflect how dependence can make a person weak, and having the rug finally pulled from under them can improve their lot.

The book is extremely short and can be read in a few hours if you were really desperate to finish it. Kafka is know for his novellas and short stories, and this is no exception. Overall I liked the book but I felt no great connection to it. It was ‘fine’. I often found myself bored by it and couldn’t be bothered to continue reading. Kafka’s writing style is not my favourite in this piece of work. Overall I would recommend it (especially if you want to get the kudos for reading a classic novella in a short amount of time), but I would say that you shouldn’t expect something breath-taking, its an alright book. I hope the next few short stories I read of his are a bit more engaging.

Book 4: In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka

Read from: 19/02/2023 to 19/02/2023

Rating: 4/5

I only own this book because my copy of ‘The Metamorphosis’ came with it as well (along with ‘The Judgement). Kafka’s stories are very short, so it makes sense that they would bundle them all together like this, and I am glad that I can get a few different stories all together in one book.

This story is a very narrow one. A nameless visitor to a nameless penal colony is being shown around a piece of equipment by a nameless officer whilst a nameless soldier and a nameless condemned man watch on. The officer goes on to explain that this piece of equipment is a torture and execution device which was created by the penal colony’s previous commandant who is now dead. The officer laments the condition of the machine and says that executions have become very unpopular after the commandant’s death, and he is the sole advocate for it now (with promises that a silent majority still agrees with him).

The officer is desperately excited to explain how the machine works in excruciating detail. He is extremely persistent in explaining to the visitor why it is so important and why it is an effective method of punishment.

The overall meaning of this book is difficult to grasp specifically, but can be read in different ways. It can be potentially read as a critique of totalitarianism, with the officer taking the law into his own hands and becoming a tyrant. The book can also be read as an analogy to the Old and New Testament (the old commandant being an analogy for God in the Old Testament and the new commandant being an analogy for God in the New Testament). Another common reading of the book is that it is a critique of carrying out acts which no longer have meaning or relevance to the bitter end – few people like the machine, so why does the officer continue to use it?

This book is very short and can be comfortably read in a day. I preferred this book to The Metamorphosis. I am not sure why, I just felt more inclined to want to read it. The flow of the story is more readable, and I found the characters and their plots more engaging, hence the 4 out of 5 star rating instead of a 3. If you’re looking for a short classic, I would recommend it.

Book 5: The Judgement: A Story for F. by Franz Kafka

Read from: 19/02/2023 to 20/02/2023

Rating: 4/5

Much like the previous book, I only read this because it was at the back of my copy of ‘The Metamorphosis’. This is a very short story, the shortest of the three that I have read so far. Owing to that, please don’t expect a long review as there is not a great deal to talk about.

The book is very narrow and focusses on only two main characters, a son and his father. The son is in the process of inviting his friend, who lives in Russia, to attend his wedding. His father, who is clearly senile and afraid of being forgotten by his son, has a very strange reaction to this – initially claiming he doesn’t know the Russian friend, before finally admitting that he does know him and then claiming that he, in fact, is a far better friend to the Russian than his son is.

It is difficult for me to explain this book more fully without giving too much away, as it is such a short story. But I do find it very odd. Kafka’s style of writing and his general themes continue to boggle and confuse me, but I am glad for this – it is quite refreshing to read things which are so absurd and strange.

The more I read his work, the more I become interested in Kafka. When I first started reading him, I was quite put off. I found his style very rough and difficult to ease in to. But, after getting more acquainted with his work, I’m actually starting to enjoy the lunacy. I have a much better grasp on what ‘Kafkaesque’ means now, and I would be more than happy to read more of his work in the future.

Overall, a good book which can be read in less than an hour. If you were interested in getting into Kafka, this is a good one to start with given its shortness. After doing some research, I also discovered that Kafka himself thought that this was one of his best pieces of work – yet another reason to read this if you wanted to ‘get into’ Kafka.

This is the first installment in a three-part series. Follow The Mallard for part two!

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