War v Terrorism question: the simple answer

They asked: ‘What is the difference between an act of war and an act of terrorism?’ It appears in a list of questions that might be asked at an Oxbridge interview, and it struck me as an odd one because there is a simple, Hobbesian answer. Maybe they do not want Hobbes.

I am glad to forget the interview questions they asked me at Oxford; they are a fiendish and effective way to tease out the character and educated reasoning of a candidate. That is why a question with a short answer does not fit.

War is legal; terrorism is illegal: it is that simple.

War though in a Hobbesian sense is a perpetual state when there is no Common-wealth.

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man. For WARRE, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of Time, is to be considered in the nature of Warre; as it is in the nature of Weather. For as the nature of Foule weather, lyeth not in a showre or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many dayes together: So the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.

Where the Common-wealth (which is to say the state) is established and effective, only the state may use or authorise violence. Therefore authorised violence, whether as simple as arresting a man or as enormous as levying all-out war, belongs to the Sovereign. All private and unauthorised violence offends against the Sovereign and may be punished. Where the Common-wealth is ineffective to keep its subjects in awe then that Warre against every Man is reality.

The legalistic mind in a settled, modern state will argue about whether particular acts by that state are legal or not, drawing on laws established or invented, to condemn or condone acts of war effected by their government. States may have their own constitutional rules and procedures about when head of government may or may not go to war, but those are for the internal laws of the state. International law is not law. The domestic laws of a nation are only as potent as the extent to which the state follows the rule of law in the first place. From the perspective of an outsider faced with an invading army, they are utterly irrelevant. A sovereign may go to war, and that is universal.

With such a short answer available, an interview question asking what is the difference between war and terrorism suggests there is a moral judgment to be made, beyond ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’.

Theologically one can twist and turn about the subject but it comes down to the necessity of their being a sovereign Prince or Common-wealth to maintain the peace, and it is an attribute of indivisible sovereignty that the Sovereign may levy war and maintain by any means internal peace. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and war is indeed Caesar’s. The Romans admittedly though skilled at war, were no good example when it comes to peace and lawfulness of their wars, wracked as they were with rebellion and civil war.

The idea of civil war seems to contradict the idea of war as legal. Hobbes knew all about civil war, having been caught in the turmoil between the King and Parliament. Leviathan must be read in that context, the necessity of civil peace being a thread running through it. Two rival sides able to raise and command armies appear as two states at war.

Terrorism is something very different though. The terrorist strikes, kills, and then may slip back into society. He is not a soldier of a rival society, but is part of the society he attacks. His attack is in fact dependent upon that society for its effect: where there is no settled society there can be no terrorism because murder offends against no law and disrupts nothing. If a half-ton meteor lands in an empty field, it makes a hole but we move on, but if an identical meteor were to fall in a city, it would be a disaster. The shock of a terrorist attack is that it disrupts a society which relies upon its own peace and order to function.

An act of war will cause far more damage than any terrorist attack, if it is done properly, but war is celebrated, and war is, as the action of the Sovereign, the collective act of a nation (whether they like it or not) against an outside foe or an internal foe seeking to destroy that society. The simple answer then remains: war is legal, and terrorism is illegal. Going further, if you must, terrorism must by its nature be the highest of crimes because it is committed by those who are subjects of the laws of a society or who have become part of that society.

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Books

Who are hypocrites?

It is not a word a thinking man should use freely. The unclassifying mind hurls it as an allegation broadly.

In Leviathan, Hobbes uses the term but four times (and once in De Cive), each in the Christian or Jewish religious context. The origin in our language is from the Gospels, in the great sermons in which Jesus condemns those Pharisees and teachers of the law who practise outward signs of piety but fail to live a life of actual sanctity.

That this man, hated of the Pharisees (whose false doctrine and hypocriticall sanctity he had reproved) and by their means, of the People accused of unlawfull seeking for the Kingdome, and crucified, was the true CHRIST, and King promised by God,

The word used in the original Greek that has come down to us is ‘ὑποκριται‘, and that word does not mean what we think it does: it is not a philosophical or theological technical term but is Greek for ‘play-actors’.

Greek drama was very different from ours. Their playwrights were just as skilled, and I would hold out Aristophanes as equal to many of our own, but the performance was of static oration by an actor with a mask in front of his face. The mask, not the actor, was the character, the image or portrait, χαρακτηρ, of the man portrayed (or as the Romans called it, the persona). The origin of the Greek word for a stage actor, ὑποκριτής, is in words for ‘pronounce from under’; in short, to orate from behind a mask.

In the Gospels then, those Pharisees who were all portrayal and no action were ὑποκριται, actors speaking another’s lines from behind a carefully constructed mask.

There will have been many of the Pharisee party in those days who were genuine, who had real love for God and for their neighbour, practising charity and mercy, but it is a lot easier just to put on a show, to set out rules and visibly follow those rules as on a rail along a straight road (even if as a result you pass the needy by on the other side of the road). Today we would call it ‘virtue signalling’.

A life fully according to the law and the prophets, and the Gospel, is impossible. It is easier to whiten the sepulchre so it is at least bright and clean outside as a show for other, and turn your mind from the rottenness within.

Modernity uses the word ‘hypocrite’ too loosely. It is an unanswerable condemnation where any variance from ones pronouncements triggers a tri-syllabic denunciation. Looking back to the origin of the term, restricting it to that context, should restrain the accusing mouth. Anyone can live up to a narrow set of rules he himself has invented and can amend, but how many of those accusers would live up to the standards of the Gospel?

The leading theme of Christianity is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and must struggle towards amending ourselves, seeking an unearned forgiveness. We will not find perfection. We must strive for it. In doing so if we scorn as a hypocrite, as a masked actor, one who is striving but has failed in some respect, it is to speak from behind our own mask.

Condemning others for failings is a positive act nevertheless. If there is no condemnation from others, there is little motive to improve. The prophets condemned others in fierce terms, from Moses all the way to John the Baptist, and accepted it when God condemned them in turn for their own failings. Jesus condemned the wicked, and forgave the penitent. The apostles too had harsh words for sinners. They knew their own imperfections though.

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Books

Hobbes and the Libertarian – 2

The American Constitution is lauded for entrenching liberty, but there is little everyday freedom in the cities of that land. The South African Constitution is at pains to demand personal liberty and equality, but its people live in fear.

America’s prosperity is a factor of their personal freedom as much as it is of the space available to the Americans, and the legendary American work ethic which grows from that personal freedom. There is genuine freedom promised and enjoyed that is greater even than Britons enjoy in may fields, but it remains the case that while I can walk in complete safety, day or night, through any neighbourhood, there are many places in the cities where Americans dare not step from their cars. This displays the libertarian paradox.

In contrast, an example of a truly free society might be the Falkland Islands: crime free, such that no one locks their doors, each islander living without fear from their neighbour or their government. On the other hand, it is a physically constrained society where opportunities are limited, and that is a limit on freedom.

What then is a truly libertarian society?

Hobbes observed that liberty is not to be defined by theory:

There is written on the Turrets of the city of Luca in great characters at this day, the word LIBERTAS; yet no man can thence inferre, that a particular man has more Libertie, or Immunitie from the service of the Commonwealth there, than in Constantinople. Whether a Common-wealth be Monarchicall, or Popular, the Freedome is still the same.

This is to say that under any state, the existence of sovereignty abnegates entirely the natural freedom of the individual to exactly the same degree, whether in a free city of his time like Lucca (or like the Anglosphere nations in our own), or in a vicious tyranny like the Ottoman Empire (or any number of dictatorships in our day). One could say that in London one is just as much under the complete command of the laws as in Peking: it is just that in practice the laws are mostly mild and benevolent in Britain.

Actual personal liberty is not a factor just of the relationship with the state, or Common-wealth in Hobbesian terms, but of fact and sensation. Complete legal liberty is enjoyed where there is no Common-wealth, but then we are prey to every passing stranger, “and the life of man of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short”.

This consideration ensures that the United States of America, for all the promises of their constitution, cannot be a libertarian land. In America merely walking the the downtown areas of the main cities in daylight is fatal: the first-hand stories I have been told by Britons who did not appreciate this would make your hair stand on end. In reaction, policing in America is brutal and occasionally deadly; not as much as the media or activists portray, but breath-taking from an outside view. Outside the cities if crime is low, the Americans may enjoy the liberty their national myth promises.

Undoubtedly the proliferation of guns in America is a major factor. If Commonwealth countries forbid guns, which is an anti-libertarian move, that ban may produce a net increase in liberty.

A theoretical problem for a nominally free but lawless society is Hobbes’s observation on when a sovereign ceases to be worthy of obedience. This comes from what we might call a libertarian understanding of sovereignty, namely that ‘the end of Obedience is Protection’. He asserts:

The Obligation of Subjects to the Soveraign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by Nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no Covenant be relinquished. The Soveraignty is the Soule of the Common-wealth; which once departed from the Body, the members doe no more receive their motion from it. The end of Obedience is Protection; which, wheresoever a man seeth it, either in his own, or in anothers sword, Nature applyeth his obedience to it, and his endeavour to maintaine it. And though Soveraignty, in the intention of them that make it, be immortall; yet is it in its own nature, not only subject to violent death, by forreign war; but also through the ignorance, and passions of men, it hath in it, from the very institution, many seeds of a naturall mortality, by Intestine Discord.

If the state makes itself weak, in the name of freedom, it ceases to do its fundamental duty, namely to protect its subjects. In that case not only can it reduce actual freedom, but it absolves its subjects from any duty of obedience.

A truly libertarian state therefore must retain complete sovereignty, just as much as that of China or any other tyranny, but be distinguished from a tyrant by its actions in using that mighty power for protecting personal freedom, which is the purpose of its having that power.

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Books

To follow knowledge like a sinking star

When I first heard of ‘Odyssean Education’ I immediately thought of Tennyson: “It little profits that an idle king…”, but realisation of why I, of strict scientific upbringing, should turn at once to great literature, that brings the essence of the Odyssean ideal, and it has little to do with Odysseus as he was, or at least as Homer portrays him.

Tennyson’s Odysseus is restless in his craving for self-education:

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

The name though is from Murray Gell-Man, in his “The Quark and the Jaguar”, suggesting the combination of education in the sciences, social sciences and the arts, which come from very differ approaches and priorities. He looked at the ancient dichotomy of the Apollonian and Dionysian – those who follow an analytical, evidence-based approach to matters, and those guided by emotion and instinct; but Gell-Man (a scientist to his boots), adds a third – ‘Odyssean’ which combines them and connects ideas through an overall approach.

….. strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I question whether there is a genuine dichotomy between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. If there is, it need not be inherent and unchanging but cultivated by life experience and the individual’s career discipline. The latter is very important amongst professionals as it defines the norms by which one interacts with strangers, perhaps as an architect or an accountant or a lawyer or journalist or as an administrator, for example, forcing one to analyse the world through the requirements of the job and the common understandings of the profession. It should be no wonder that lawyers lose their imagination or journalists become cynical of everyone’s motives, or actors believe the world can be transformed by a simple rewrite. Perhaps the complexity of interpersonal and commercial relations forces each person to simplify that which they take in by squeezing all experience and reaction into an overgeneralised worldview. It is a way to stay sane, and a way to become narrow.

The Apollonian and the Dionysian are types in Greek tragedy, according to Nietzsche’s analysis of that subject. The Apollonian represents order and logic; his lines are prose monologue and dialogue. The Dionysian represents the chaotic, unbound by respectability or logic; his lines are in verse. The Apollonian suffers and the Dionysian celebrates, perhaps over the same things. The drama is in the interplay between these two. That is all very well in the pretty formulaic world of Greek tragedy, and even works a sort of straight man / funny man routine in Aristophanes, but we face the real world, not the Greek amphitheatre.

Even so, many of us wear masks, like those on the Greek stage. In professional life, the mask is expected: I spend much of my time when dealing with other people trying to get them to drop the mask. (If only they knew how tightly held and deceptive my own is.) Eventually the mask becomes part of you.

The split of personality is genuine, even off-stage. It has been much studied by psychologists, and might even have a hereditary element (something examined in an earlier article here). Like calls to like, and if the civil service, for example, attracts the Apollonian, or conservative, type, then it will recruit only from that type, set tests for entry which can only be passed by that type, and become more and more entrenched in a monoculture.

In education, both types and the many in the middle may thrive and forge their own disciplines. The deeper the education though, the more it will press to one side or the other and produce graduates unable to function otherwise. The boring science student or the louche arts student are not just stereotypes but the necessary outcome of their disciplines.

Those needed for any enterprise truly to thrive are those who fill both sides of the stage: the Odysseans. The Gell-Mann approach, recently championed by Dominic Cummings, seeks to break the dichotomy, to teach pupils to use both sides of the clay of humanity. Systems fail when there is no discipline, and systems fail when there is no imagination: success requires both, but our ideas of education and profession exclude this.

The ideal education should cultivate imagination, originality, bound-breaking, and logic, discipline and respect for order. Personality will choose how far in either direction the individual will wander, but he or she should have an understanding of all sides. If it is impossible to cultivate everyone in this way, it is still necessary that some have that rounded education, ready to follow knowledge like a sinking star. ‘I cannot rest from travel: I will drink life to the lees’. Those who have seen and known; ‘cities of men and manners, climates, councils, governments’, are required in many disciplines. One with such a rounded education must can do better than those who clutch the reins in our day.

It is not to create a knot, an elite caste of Odysseans. They could be infuriating and worse then the rest. It is instead a remodelling of education for all, from which some will benefit more, and we in turn may benefit from their work.

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Books

Gorchfygu’r Wyddfa

No one should fight their battles on Snowdon’s peaceful slopes. Battles of language are best confined to ivory towers and books, not here.

(The slopes do not seem peaceful in the height of summer as a babble of voices crowd to the summit from the Llanberis Path or the Cheats’ Railway, but away from there and then, it is a haven of peace I have long enjoyed as a favourite retreat.)

There is no popular campaign to rename Snowdon, whatever the BBC may have been led to believe: just a loud one by a tiny pressure group named Cymuned. Somehow they have managed to get the Snowdonia National Park Authority to take them seriously – this tells us a great deal about the National Park Authority. If it is ‘national’ it surely belongs to all the British nation, not to driven politicians.

It comes down to a name. Much has been said about names, all of it wrong but it is about romantic dreams, is it not?

The name ‘Snowdon’ is not as old in the written record as Yr Wyddfa is, but is close: it is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1095, and it must have been used long centuries before then. The activists would cast it off as if it were one of those modern inventions which do dot the Welsh coast, but it has a millennium of establishment behind it. Neither is ‘Snowdon’ a purely English name, as its key element ‘dun‘ is Welsh, far older Welsh indeed than the modern, Latin-derived ‘mynydd‘, so perhaps in its suffix the name ‘Snowdon’ can claim seniority in time and genuine Welshness.

I have read arguments about it, from the scholarly to the deranged, and would not dismiss any out of hand. I have read that Yr Wyddfa has preference as the language of the mountain itself, but the villages around speak English as readily as they do Welsh, and the voices spoken on the mountainside and mostly in English, or frequently a gaggle of European tongues – all are welcome. If by this one means the language not of the folk about or upon the mountain but that of the mountain itself, well, in all my time on Snowdon I have never heard it speak a word. If it did, it would speak in a tongue more ancient that mankind itself.

There is no “true name”. Neither, as has been asserted, is ‘Yr Wyddfa’ the original name of this mountain – man has made his home here since those who chipped flints to hunt mammoths here, and Snowdon has cast his long, perhaps cynical, gaze over men, these antlike creatures, for countless ages – a timeless mountain standing for aeons since it burst with lava plumes from the young Earth, and wore into its shape over uncounted ages, and when man arrived late, these creatures living but the blink of a geological eye beneath its slopes, have been in many tribes and tongues, of which even Welsh is but a youngster, a newcomer, and English not too longer after it. Yr Wyddfa the original name? Not even close, not by millennia.

I must ask then where this attempt to banish English comes from, and can only find it not in timeworn local culture but a very recent sub-Marxist ideology that seeks to divide and accuse. There is no enmity between the concepts of Welsh and English: we are all one race, one people of one descent, and both languages are aspects of our common culture. To suppress or insult on one language is to assault the whole of our being and culture.

That there are two languages and two names is part of the wonderous diversity of our land, and long may it continue. The Welsh language is embedded in the names of the landscape, and should endure in the tongues of its people – now we have the technology, it must be harnessed to allow this equal diversity. It has a richness to it, where one tongue shall not dominate or obliterate the other. The authorities are commanded to respect diversity, and here they should indeed: the National Park Authority must give equal respect to Welsh and English, and not treat English as a language to be destroyed. It has as much of a right to be in these hills as its neighbour.

Different languages have different names. When I speak English I call the mountain ‘Snowdon’ and when I am speaking Welsh I call it ‘Yr Wyddfa’, because those are the correct forms of those languages. If we deny that different languages have different names, we deny reality and attack the culture bound up in that language. If we decree from on high that Snowdon may bear one name only, and that the Welsh name because it is in Welsh-speaking Wales, then it follows that a man speaking Welsh may not call London ‘Llundain’, and that if Anglesey in a generation or so becomes majority English-speaking, then the ancient name of Môn must be banished. This is wrong, and would be an insult to the most beautiful language in the world. Likewise banishing ‘Snowdon’ insults the second-most beautiful.

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