Background Reading

This section will be a collection of articles that I highly recommend for various reasons. The idea is to give readers a starting point to learn about and understand the various issues spoken about on this blog. If you are unable to access an article, feel free to contact me via email or twitter (links on the front page) and I may be able to sort you out.

Also, if you have anything to recommend, please let me know! Either privately, or in the comments on this page.

The page is divided into the following topics:

  1. Economics, politics, philosophy and social issues
  2. Jews and antisemitism
  3. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the Middle East, Islamism and terrorism
  4. Other

1. Economics, politics, philosophy and social issues

Not Fade Away: Against the Myth of American Decline

Robert Kagan, Brookings Institute

Many today (2012) have been saying kaddish for post-GFC America in the “Asian Century”. Kagan has taken these claims apart piece by piece, explaining all of the reasons why this is not true and America is going nowhere fast.

Marxists’ Apartment A Microcosm Of Why Marxism Doesn’t Work

 The Onion, 13 November 2002

Yes, this is satire and yes, this piece is probably the shortest on this page by far, but this it is still probably the best explanation that I have ever seen of why socialism doesn’t work.

Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times

17 August 2012, Matt Ridley in Wired
In this piece, Ridley deconstructs a history of apocalyptic soothsayers and scientific alarmism. The message is very clear: be sceptical of people who say that the world is about to end. This is a very important lesson to learn for anyone concerned with the current climate change debate. Remember: global catastrophes make great headlines, but very rarely do they ever eventuate.

Politics and the English Language

George Orwell

In this seminal essay, Orwell explains why language matters and how poor English significantly detracts from important arguments. Yes, it had some mistakes and contradictions and yes, his “rules” are not quite so absolute as he made out, but this is still an essential read for anyone contributing to a political debate in English.

Grand Racist Party?

The politics and philosophy of racism — 22 August 2012, WW HOUSTON in The Economist

Houston very succinctly covers a few of my core ideological beliefs concerning racism and left-right politics. As he explains, there is a tendency amongst those who are at least nominally ‘progressive’ to assume that everyone who disagrees with them is inherently racist, yet their ideology is rooted in exactly the kind of collectivism that leads to racism.

But—I’m a Conservative!

April 1940, Peter Viereck in The Atlantic

A young Peter Viereck won an essay competition in 1940 with the prize of having an article published in the coveted Atlantic magazine, entitled ‘The Future of Liberalism’. Viereck, however, did not consider himself a liberal, and so instead wrote this impassioned defence of conservatism.

Viereck later denounced what the conservative movement in America became, and in return was cast from the fold — yet, to me, this essay makes an extremely strong argument for Viereck’s view of the world: radical revolution is almost inevitably a catastrophe; our current society is the best society that humanity has been able to implement to date and it would be foolish to throw that away because it is not perfect — progress can be made, but must be done so conservatively; our values are important; the rule of law is important; vigilance is the price of liberty and no group of people should ever be given too much power; and, above all, ‘the state as a whole is never greater than the sum of its separate individuals’.

2. Jews and antisemitism


Robert D. Kaplan’s deification of John J. Mearsheimer in The Atlantic last week shows that the authors of The Israel Lobby are winning
Adam Kirsch in Tablet

Kirsch was responding to a January 2012 piece in The Atlantic by Robert Kaplan, which glorified American political scientist John Mearsheimer, despite his antisemitic record. What Kirsch ended up producing was probably the best article that I have seen explaining what has been dubbed “the new antisemitism”. He explains the impact of Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby, co-authored with Steven Walt, and how the ideas behind an “Israel Lobby” or “Jewish Lobby” influencing American policy has made old antisemitic tropes acceptable in modern discourse.

Chip Berlet interviews David Hirsh on Contemporary Antisemitism and Conspiracy Theory

September 6, 2012 — David Hirsh in Engage Online.

I do not have much more to say about this interview than that it is the most informative, comprehensive overview of antisemitism in the modern world that I have ever seen and you should go and read it now.

3. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the Middle East, Islamism and terrorism

Fear Itself

Learning to live in the age of terrorism
Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post

In this 2004 investigative piece, Weingarten went to Jerusalem at the hight of the 2nd Palestinian Intifada to discover exactly how Israelis responded to ongoing terrorism and how it affected their mentality. This is ESSENTIAL reading for anyone trying to understand the Arab/Israeli conflict and why Israelis act how they act – it has not been so long since suicide bombings were an everyday occurrence, and the mentality that they created is fresh in Israeli minds.

Among the Settlers

Will they destroy Israel?
Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker

Another 2004 piece, but this time showing the flip-side of Israeli society. Goldberg profiled the Israeli settler movement, documenting its single-minded fundamentalist motivations and its disproportionate influence in the Israeli political system.

Darkness in Palestine

Michael Totten

Totten is possibly the best journalist in the Middle East, he never fails to give an incredible insight into how different groups feel and what is going on on the ground. This piece of 2011 reporting is no different. He explains it all – the settlers, the Palestinians, the Israeli Arabs – every side is given some reflection and some representation.

The Flight of The Intellectuals

Based on the essay Who’s Afraid of Tariq Ramadan?
Paul Berman, originally published in The New Republic

I will start out with a disclaimer: I have not read this essay (which is available for free HERE for those of you who can’t be bothered signing up to The New Republic or buying the book). That said, the book that the essay turned into gives by far the best background on Islamism that I have ever read, so I assume that the essay would to similar. Berman follows the development of Islamist thought from post-Ottoman Arabia through to 21st Century Europe, including its ties with Nazi Germany, its struggles with and eventual triumph over Arab Nationalism and its translation into the modern liberal lexicon.

Palestine – ‘Occupation Incorporated’

Tim Marshall in Sky News

No one ever confronts this, but it’s a huge issue. Palestinians are never going to have an independent state as long as they continue to be… dependent. They depend on foreign aid for 30% of their GDP, they depend on foreign-funded organisations for jobs, they depend on foreign welfare for food and housing. This is everything that is wrong with a welfare state but on a mass scale and not a state. See Marshall’s article for more information.

Getting Bin Laden

What happened that night in Abbottabad.
Nicholas Schmidle in The New Yorker

After almost 10 long years of searching, the US finally found Bin Laden, sending Seal team 6 to take-out the world’s most wanted man. Nicholas Shmidle wrote about the whole thing. This is probably going to be one of the most definitive articles of our time, at least until the movie comes along. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d recommend doing that.

4. Other

Joseph Kony’s Long Walk To, and From, Hell

Graeme Wood in The National

There were a lot of articles being linked to and commented on during the #StopKony viral phenomenon, but this one seemed to be largely overlooked for some reason. That is a huge loss for everyone concerned, Wood has given both the best strategic overview and the best human reporting that I have seen on Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.

Why I Blog

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic

I disagree with Sullivan on almost anything Israel-related, but otherwise I tend to see eye-to-eye with him on most issues. Blogging is no exception, in this 2008 article, he gave a very impressive examination into the nature of blogging as an artform, why people like doing it, why it’s attractive and where it fits into the broader creative process.

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