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This conversation was inspired by the works of Steve Stewart-Williams principally his book The Ape that Understood the Universe and his Twitter feed. We talk about the nature versus nurture debate, design, the importance of copying, the woke fraternity, Breton fishing boats, the caveman inside us, Richard Dawkins, the importance (or otherwise) of music (and, by extension other forms of culture) before moving on to the horrors of modern architecture and the horrors of Nissen huts in the Winter of 1963.

Brian Quotes

“It could well be that in Malaysia they are more scornful of this sort of thing than we are in the Anglo-Saxon world.”

“Obesity is not exactly a problem they had on the ancient plains of Africa or wherever it is we did our evolving.”

“…humans are, even now, evolving into the culture that humans have created.”

“One of the problems you have if you work from first principles is you have to re-think absolutely everything and you fail to re-think absolutely everything successfully.”

“That was a big pretence by the architectural profession that they had nothing to do with it, ‘Oh, that was the planners.’ Rubbish! They were absolutely up to their necks in this.”

“There’s a sort of labour theory of value that applies to decoration isn’t there? And if it’s just thrashed out by a machine it kind of loses its meaning.”

Notes

  1. The Ape that Understood the Universe.
  2. Brian has posted several times on this subject. Here are a few:
    1. What women look for in men.
    2. Breton fishing boats.
    3. The evolution of language.
    4. Nurture Only is wrong.
  3. Stewart-Williams appears to be an associate professor at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus.
  4. It appears that our youthful tank crews were singing something called the Panzerlied which is a new one on me.
  5. Kenneth Clark did indeed hold concerts at a then painting-less National Gallery.
  6. Did Britain and Germany have the same national anthem in the First World War? Pretty much.
  7. For Ayn Rand’s views on architecture see the movie The Fountainhead (or even read the book if you’ve got the patience.)
  8. The Great Eastern. Did it have to be that size? To sail to Australia without stopping to re-fuel, yes.
  9.  Quinlan Terry.
  10.  I was quite wrong, Design as Outcome is not on the Brian Micklethwait Archive just yet. But it is here.
  11. Brutalist architecture or wartime Nazi bunker? I'll leave you to decide:

NaziBunker.jpg

NationalTheatre.jpg

Enoch Powell was a prominent politician in the 1960s and 1970s. He is best known for his views on immigation although he was also friendly towards libertarian ideas especially on economics. While a large part of our chat is inevitably taken up with immigration we also discuss Margaret Thatcher, Steve Baker and the end of Empire.

Brian quotes

"He regards office as a trivial thing by comparison [with ideas]."

"He [Powell] probably would have submitted it to a bigger publisher, the bigger publisher would have said 'Do you think you could tone this down?' and the answer was 'No!'"

Notes

  1. Simon Heffer’s biography 
  2. Powell’s history of the House of Lords 
  3. Powell and King’s Langley. I can’t find any subsequent reference to his theory so I have no idea whether it has become accepted or not.
  4. Powell resigned from the Macmillan government in January 1958.
  5. The substance of the House of Lords reform that both Conservative and Labour backbenchers could object to was the amount of front bench patronage involved.
  6. He became professor at the University of Sydney in 1937.
  7. His Wikipedia entry lists well over 30 writings. Some are books, some papers and some collections of speeches. 
  8. Powell was elected as an Ulster Unionist in the October 1974 election.
  9. East of Suez.
  10. There is some evidence to suggest that Blair used immigration to rig elections.
  11. Our diversity podcast.
  12. After the Falklands War, Powell had this to say in the House of Commons, “Is the right hon Lady aware, that the report has now been received from the public analyst on a certain substance recently subject to analysis and that I have obtained a copy of the report? It shows that the substance under test consisted of ferrous matter of the highest quality, that is of exceptional tensile strength, is highly resistant to wear and tear and to stress, and may be used with advantage for all national purposes?” The words were framed and hung in her office.
  13. The story about Powell and his Indian colleague appears on p.95 of Heffer.

This conversation came about from the observation made by both of us that on the big issues of the day whether they be Brexit, Trump or lockdowns, libertarians find themselves on either side of the divide - often vociferously so. Can libertarians be effective when they are so divided?

Sadly, we never really manage to answer this question. We do, however, manage to spend time talking about the importance of prosperity, the differences between active socialists and active libertarians, women orchestra conductors and the growth of the Anglosphere.

Right at the end we mention silences. There were plenty during the recording as the two of us (mainly me) gathered our thoughts. These have now been removed.

Brian quotes

“Libertarianism is a statement about how the world is.”

“If you by going on holiday and spread the plague you might as well be waving a machine gun in the air and firing it.”

“Optimism is a good technique”

Notes

  1. Kristian Niemitz 
  2. Anton Howes 
  3. One of Brian’s postings on Steve Stewart-Williams 
  4. What J K Rowling has to say 
  5. Perry de Havilland gets banned
  6. Brian on Chris Tame 
  7. I have been unable to find the speech by Brezhnev.
  8. J P Floru 
  9. Mancur Olsen

 

At least that was the intention. Unfortunately, (or should that be "fortunately"?) we tended to get side-tracked - perhaps because it is a depressing subject, perhaps for other reasons. The main side track was the economics of the Royal Marsden Hospital which would appear to be quite good.

Notes

  1. Brian on NHS diagnosis v NHS treatment 
  2. The Machine 
  3. The Brian Micklethwait Archive
  4. Brian on charities
  5. Overheating Samsungs
  6. LG does indeed stand for Lucky-Goldstar
  7. The Five Stages of Grief (that aren't)
  8. The Mask
  9. Monorails
  10. Francis Fukuyama and the end of history
  11. Does Communist China hold sham elections? Yes it does.
  12. Google cars
  13. Brian on robot trucks

Luckily the introduction is on the recording so I don’t have to introduce the subject here (well, that’s how it seems to me.) However, there are notes to be done so here goes:

  1. Findlay Dunachie
  2. Brian's blog posting on the books he's been reading. 
  3. Anton Howes
  4. The Kink 
  5. Lilburne was imprisoned but he was not executed.
  6. I haven’t been able to find a date for when the word “inventor” came into the language.
  7. This chart seems to indicate that literacy rates in Britain were similar to those in Germany and Sweden in 1750. Of course, these are estimates. After all, who was counting?
  8. Luther had 95 theses.
  9. I think Brian is referring to the German Peasants’ War of the 1520s.
  10. “There are doubts as to the extent of George Stephenson's literacy. Most of his letters were written by secretaries or his son Robert, but signed by George Stephenson himself. “
  11. On the subject of the destruction of the Song’s ocean-going ships I can find precious little - nay, disturbingly little - evidence for this especially on Wikipedia. There were “Treasure voyages” but they were in the Ming period. Some say the ships were destroyed but Wikipedia is silent.
  12. The Duke of Northumberland’s River would appear to have been built well before the 1700. Well before the English Civil War even. 
  13. The Bridgewater Canal was indeed commissioned by an aristocrat (a duke as it happens) and opened in 1761; bang, slap in the middle of the period we are talking about. 
  14. Sudha Shenoy 
  15. Emmanuel Todd 

If you know Brian Micklethwait you will know that he is a big fan of French anthropologist/sociologist Emmanuel Todd and has been for a long time. The name frequently crops up in our recorded conversations. What Todd believes, in essence, is that family structure has a big impact on politics. Some 13 years ago, Brian and I sat down to discuss his ideas. One of Brian’s greatest hopes is that he can find a critique of Todd’s ideas. Did he ever find one? He doesn’t seem to have done so. 

The latest podcast with Brian Micklethwait rather put me in mind of another podcast I recorded some 9 years ago with Antoine Clarke. This was ostensibly about the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 but it quickly became about the whole history of Franco-German animosity. And none the worse it was for that!

Anyway, after a bit of rootling around for it I eventually found it. And then I found it again here. Well worth a listen I’d say.

I may republish some more of these in due course.

For a long time in the English-speaking world the French military has been regarded as a bit of a joke. Words and phrases like “defeatism”, “Maginot LIne”, “red trousers” and “cult of the offensive” get bandied about. The more I study the subject - and I by no means claim to be an expert - the less I believe this. It seems to me that in the Second World War the French army was quite good, just unlucky. In the First it was pretty bad but not for the reasons we think. 

In the course of our conversation we cover Napoleon and, of course, Hitler, the German preparations for war, the fall of empire, American independence, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, American anti-Americanism, the break-up of successful coalitions, French art and the move from war to watercolours, Emmanuel Todd, counter-factual history. 

Notes

  1. In the victorious 100 days offensive the British took 48% of the prisoners and 42% of the guns. The French took 36% of the prisoners and 28% of the guns. So, the French weren’t doing nothing.
  2. Simon House Lost Opportunity
  3. In the Middle Ages 1 in 4 Europeans was a Frenchman. This proportion has been declining ever since especially since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
  4. Dreyfus Affair 
  5. Boulanger 
  6. Findlay Dounachie's LA pamphlet 
  7. Foch was the commander of all the Allied armies in 1918 
  8. On that comment about the French PM asking Haig about the merits of the Nivelle Offensive I have got confused. He was asked by the French War Minister about the merits of Nivelle before the offensive began (24/3/17). He was asked by the French Prime Minister about the merits of other French generals after the offensive began (26/4/17).
  9. Do the French remember the Battle of the Ardennes? Yes, but not particularly well. There is a Battle of the Ardennes page on French Wikipedia but it took a while for me to find. 
  10. According to David Fraser’s biography of Alan Brooke (p137), the review of French troops took place in the presence of General Corap who Brooke found complacent. Unfortunately, this was written after the Fall of France. 
  11. For more on Germany’s High Command and their plot to oust Hitler in 1938
  12. This would appear to be the battle between Caesar and Pompey that Brian was referring to.
  13. Dien Bien Phu was a bit bigger than I thought but nothing like the scale of the First World War.
  14. “Only” 80,000 British soldiers surrendered at Singapore 
  15. There may have been as many as 40,000 French civilian dead in the Normandy Campaign.
  16. Here is de Gaulle after Paris was liberated. My French may be rusty but I am pretty sure there is no mention of either Britain or America. 
  17. This is the book by Ross King that Brian mentions 
  18. David’s portrait of Napoleon 
  19. The French word for “sympathy” is “sympathie”.
  20. I can’t find any evidence that Haig was sceptical about the Nivelle Offensive

 

As I write, Britain and a whole host of other countries are in lockdown. Although there has been a loosening of arrangements in recent weeks, at its outset people were asked/told to stay indoors and go out as little as possible. Many people had - and continue to have - a large proportion of their wages paid by the state.

Brian and I talk about this crisis which has now been going on for 10 weeks. Did I say talk? Meander might be a better way of putting it. We talk about safety, analogies with war, Ludwig Erhard, the capitalism-needs-war argument and even child-rearing. We agree - thus making for a dull conversation - that there are a great deal of unknowns and it is thus difficult to be sure of anything.

Where we disagree is on whether the baked-into-the-cake economic collapse is a good thing or a bad thing. Being an Austrian purist I say that the economy is built on foundations of sand and the sooner it collapses the better. Brian is not so sure. But we agree - dullsville once again - that the way out is the same way the West Germans chose in the late 1940s. Whether or not we get that is another thing.

Notes

  1. Ludwig Erhard 
  2. I may have been wrong about the ironwork 

  3. Here is an example of what price control does 

  4. I think this is the J.P.Floru book Brian is referring to 

  5. It occurs to me that the great crisp surplus may have been due to the great party shortage and not to a mass conversion to the benefits of healthy eating.

 

When I was about 5 years old I received my first piggy bank. It was in the shape of a globe. My first question was "Where is Britain?". My second question was "Where is Vietnam?" The reason was because I had heard the word again and again and so, therefore, I felt it must be awfully important.

In 1955 Vietnam was divided between Communist North and non-Communist South. In the early 1960s an insurgency began with the aim to force the South to become part of the North. In 1965, the US, under President Johnson put in ground troops. The war became very divisive. By 1973, the US, by now under Nixon had withdrawn all its ground troops having seen some 58,000 of them killed (that's about 30 a day). In 1975 - Nixon having been forced to resign as a consequence of the Watergate scandal - the North invaded and the South fell. Immediately afterwards Cambodia and Laos also fell to Communist forces of one sort or another.

This podcast stems from my watching a documentary on the Vietnam War on PBS. I didn't like it much. And I decided to do some checking to see if there was an alternative point of view. There was.

My essential argument is that just about everything you have heard about Vietnam is wrong and that by 1972 the US had engineered a situation where South Vietnam could be defended at acceptable cost. That "victory" was then squandered by Congress.

Brian was a young adult in the 1960s and given that his generation was all anti-War etc I expected that he would have plenty to say from first-hand experience. I was wrong. But that doesn't stop us.

I begin by outlining how I see the war. We go on to have a discussion about the Johnson administration's approach to the war, the role of the left, the role of the media and the role of what Brian calls "anti-anti-communists", John Paul Vann and the ramifications of the fall of South Vietnam. I outline the argument that the war may not have been a complete waste.

Towards the end I speculate whether our tiring of Iraq has led us to miss something quite important and we discuss nation building.

Notes
=====

  1. That stuff about the end of Black Lives Matter? Whoops!

  2. A lot of my information has come from Vietnam Veterans for Truthful History.

  3. The boat people 

  4. Dien Bien Phu 

  5. Case-Church 

  6. Nixon was President from 1969 to 1974. Henry Kissinger was his National Security Adviser.

  7. Watergate 

  8. I mention a South Vietnamese commander who wanted to invade the North - or at least take some of it. Try as I might I can't find a reference.

  9. Doctrine of gradualism 

  10. Richard Pipes The Russian Revolution 
  11. Carthago delenda est 

  12. Why MacArthur was sacked 

  13. Statements from Johnson and Nixon about the purpose of the war. This one from Johnson seems plain enough. This one from Nixon, if anything, seems less resolute

  14. My Lai 

  15. Tet Offensive 

  16. Hue Massacre as an example of VietCong thuggery 

  17. Lee Kwan Yew on the Domino Theory (as reported) 

  18. It would appear that Thailand was never under significant threat despite numerous border clashes with Vietnamese forces

  19. Vietcong a Northern creation  

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