breaking news from the world of ideas

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 17
September 2021

AUKUS is a risky bet on American hegemony

How confident should Australia and the UK be that US dominance will last?

The announcement of the new Pacific AUKUS security triad has naturally given rise to a great deal of technical speculation: on whether the Australians will choose a British or American SSN design, what degree of nuclear infrastructure the Australians will acquire, and what timeframe the partnership will take to materalise. Fundamentally, though, the AUKUS alliance is a political one: a statement not just of Australia’s desire to maintain its autonomy in the face of China — by far its largest single trading partner — but also of its commitment to an American-led international order.

The United States is the greatest single beneficiary of the announcement, in that AUKUS is a major vote of confidence in its ability to win the coming challenge. It is, as a senior Biden administration official announced: ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Thursday, 13
May 2021

Are we on the cusp of a suburban renaissance?

To keep the shires blue, the Government has a delicate balancing act to pull off

Every day, I walk my dog on a route that takes me past Augustus W. Pugin’s Grange, the fantasy medieval house the great Victorian Gothic architect built in Ramsgate for himself and his family. Perched on a clifftop on what was then the edge of town, the Grange would have seemed a bizarre break from the symmetrical ranks of neoclassical townhouses that epitomised the middle-class dream in the 1840s. Asymmetric with pointed gables, a crenellated watchtower, and mullioned windows, the Grange would then have represented a quixotic leap back into the Middle Ages. 

Yet to us, its vernacular form seems immediately familiar: the half-timbered 1930s detached and semi-detached houses that now surround it (like their simplified, tile-hung 1960s descendants) are recognisably the aesthetic children and grandchildren of Pugin’s folly. Indeed, one could argue that the characteristic form of British suburban architecture, the bucolic Merrie England fantasy that sprawls across the edges of every town and city in the country, was born on this Kentish clifftop 180 years ago. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 23
April 2021

Donald Trump: the Weltgeist on Twitter

Unwittingly or otherwise, the former president ushered in a new era

Is it too early to reassess the Trump presidency? Let’s try anyway. Back in 2017, a Der Spiegel journalist asked France’s newly-elected philosopher-president Emmanuel Macron whether he believed in Hegel’s idea of the Weltgeist or “World Spirit,” as embodied in the German philosopher’s encounter with Napoleon riding through the streets of Jena— the “world spirit on horseback” as Hegel termed him. 

“Do you believe that a single person can, in fact, steer history?” asked the journalist.

“No,” responded the Hegel scholar-turned-politician, because:

Hegel viewed the ‘great men’ as instruments of something far greater. It should be said that in referring to him in that way, he wasn’t being particularly nice to Napoleon, because he of course knows that history can always outflank you, that it is always larger than the individual. Hegel believes that an individual can indeed embody the zeitgeist for a moment, but also that the individual isn’t always clear they are doing so.
- Emmanuel Macron, Der Spiegel

Could this be said of Trump, the unwitting force of history against whom Macron was positioned (then, anyway) as the antithesis? No less a thinker than Henry Kissinger seemed to think so, remarking to the Financial Times in 2018 that: ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 16
April 2021

Withdrawal from Afghanistan is the wake up call Britain needs

Perhaps now we will stop slavishly following the US into war

With one excellent speech this week, Joe Biden fulfilled what Donald Trump began, and confirmed America’s withdrawal from its failing war in Afghanistan, to be completed just weeks short of its twentieth anniversary. The war was never intended to be a “multi-generational undertaking,” he emphasised. To the liberal hawks demanding America stay a little longer, as if victory was somehow just around the corner, he asked “when will it be the right moment to leave? One more year, two more years, ten more years? Ten, twenty, thirty billion dollars more above the trillion we’ve already spent?”  ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 26
March 2021

What Greeks can teach Liberals about flags

Greece is a fiercely patriotic country because of its divided history

Yesterday, Greece celebrated its 200th birthday, commemorating the anniversary of the country’s revolt against Ottoman rule which, after a long and bloody decade of war, saw the establishment of the first Greek nation state. On normal independence days, in every town and village in Greece, the blue and white Greek flag flutters from houses, shops, schools and churches.

This special anniversary year, huge Greek flags were raised, with great ceremony, from the Acropolis and across the country, with the island of Santorini raising a gigantic flag by crane as an expression of national pride. Such is Greece, a fiercely patriotic country because of its troubled and divided history, and not despite it. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 19
March 2021

Libya’s broken dream

The country's decade of conflict shows that liberal good intentions only go so far

It’s a strange feeling to measure the passage of your life in other people’s wars. A decade ago, I travelled to Libya as a rookie freelance reporter to cover the progress of the revolution against Gaddafi, an uprising whose success was entirely dependent on the NATO-led intervention initiated exactly 10 years ago. The sense of optimism was infectious, as young Libyans demonstrated in the streets, bedecked the revolutionary capital of Benghazi with their artwork, and dreamed of a brighter future.

In the besieged Western Libyan city of Misrata, I lived with rebels in their command centre as they took their city, street by street, from Gaddafi’s government forces. I followed Misrata’s fighters as they fought their way towards Tripoli through the vast olive groves of Dafniya, taking heavy casualties in bitter trench warfare. In Tripoli, after the dictator’s fall, I covered the breakout of fighting between the victorious militias as they battled to divide the spoils. That was the first warning sign that the fruits of victory would not be a political renaissance, but chaos and misery. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Thursday, 11
March 2021

Paul Kingsnorth: an English visionary’s quiet rebellion

Climate change cannot be halted, he warns us, nor can capitalism be reformed

The novelist Paul Kingsnorth is more than a writer: he is a visionary of a uniquely English type. A long-time environmental activist, Kingsnorth now rejects the modern Green movement as a commodified, technology-fixated expression of the same impulses it was intended to heal. Living with his young family on a smallholding in the West of Ireland, Kingsnorth has emerged as Britain’s foremost critic of industrial modernity, literary heir to a strain of thought that has survived in the English imagination, on both Left and Right, since the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

In his essay-writing, Kingsnorth explores the limitations of our fixation with progress in a world hurtling towards environmental and social collapse. In his novels — particularly the groundbreaking and hallucinatory Buckmaster trilogy — Kingsnorth assumes the voices of three different English men, husbands and fathers, fighting to preserve their world against unwanted change across a timespan stretching from the Norman Conquest to a post-apocalyptic future. (You can read my review of his final Buckmaster novel, Alexandriahere.) ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 5
March 2021

The world’s dangerous dependency on Taiwan

A global shortage of semiconductors could result in full-scale conflict

A year ago, warning about the fragility of globalised supply chains was seen as a fringe concern of cranks unwilling to embrace the inevitable future. To fringe cranks like myself, it’s moderately satisfying to see such concerns suddenly become the main preoccupation of governments across the world. In the process of deglobalising the world economy, they are now rapidly onshoring the production of strategic necessities.

The global shortage of semiconductors — the humble electronic chips that provide the processing power for everything from smartphones to cars — has emerged as one of the biggest headaches for governments worldwide. Like a gambler playing roulette, the free market’s much-vaunted invisible hand stacked up the global production of semiconductors in Taiwan, which in normal times would not be a problem. But what was normal a year ago is now a vanished world. ...  Continue reading

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