From Brighton through Bangalore to Nagasaki: why Japanese Imperialism?

As an academic person, I have always assumed that I will one day pursue a PhD. I fell into my undergraduate and I stumbled into my Master’s, so it just seemed natural I’d slip into a PhD at some point in my life.

So sitting at a hotel bar in Chamonix at the conclusion of my Master’s year, enjoying a trip with my dad to the French Alps, I started composing the beginnings of a PhD thesis. The bartender was loose with the tequila and the ideas were flowing. I soon crafted the outlines to explore how Western philosophy has attempted to capture the paradoxical phenomenon of freedom in modern, bourgeois society. I thought I had diagnosed a key transition from Rousseau to Hegel, where freedom as an individual was only ever temporarily surrendered for the former (i.e. in moments of great revolution or when dealing with people who absolutely intransigent), whereas freedom for Hegel was only to be found in the most developed form of society, the German state of his day, and required the surrendering of previous notions to fully embrace the present. Continue reading “From Brighton through Bangalore to Nagasaki: why Japanese Imperialism?”


Thoughts on Pankaj Mishra’s ‘From the Ruins of Empire’

This book had attained a mythical status for me far before I had ever read it. Possessing a rather hyperactive mind, endlessly going from one project to another (and exercising complete laziness in actually achieving most of them), my Masters friend Onur introduced this book to me after a brief time discussing Japanese imperialism, saying that “there’s actually a book explaining how the Japanese-Russian war of 1905 completely changed the world.” Such an idea was pure catnip – it combined the theoretical promise of decolonised critical theory, actual historical grounding and also a focus on Japan (again, I was studying Japanese imperialism) – but in my usual distraction I never thought to simply order the book and read it.

Life went on, but the lingering need to buy this book continued, especially after seeing this decent Crash Course World History recap of the book. I actually encountered some years later a copy of another book of Mishra’s, Temptations of the West, which as part travel-writing part historical essay was an edifying glimpse into communal politics and the promise and failures of India’s independent state. Worthy reading, but by no means essential. Continue reading “Thoughts on Pankaj Mishra’s ‘From the Ruins of Empire’”

Socialism, Politics and Revolution: Reading Jacobin Issue #127

I recently purchased a subscription to Jacobin magazine, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that its print version was well worth reading. While I have long appreciated how Jacobin provides its articles online and free of charge, as a strong believer in paid subscriptions it was gratifying to explore the quality of the magazine itself, full of interesting tidbits and bite-size discussions on the side as well as the detailed analysis which Jacobin is famous for.

My first reaction after having read roughly half of Issue #27, The First Red Century, is that there is a slightly stricter editorial line with the content of the magazine than the website. This is to be expected and not necessarily criticised. Jacobin’s contribution to American and global discourse has been profound, providing fertile ground for debate and engagement in a largely accessible format. It is difficult to imagine any website which has helped more in the recent past to popularise left-wing theory and open up the scope for debate. Beyond some obscure ‘social fascist’ accusations, those who disagree with one opinion on Jacobin are genuinely likely to encounter many analyses they respect, across class, race and gender lines. Nonetheless, founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara and recurring columnists such as Vivek Chibber (now editor of sister publication Catalyst) do make their vaguely-Trostkyist worldview clear in what is an interesting if somewhat pessimistic (perhaps appropriately?) review of the progress of socialism since 1917. Continue reading “Socialism, Politics and Revolution: Reading Jacobin Issue #127”

Caste, Race and War: Extracts from Nehru’s Discovery of India

In an attempt to keep myself motivated to read and reflective on my reading, I’m going to start reflecting on extracts from the books I’ve been perusing.

The first is a rather interesting extract from The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru, a book which is immediately startling by its personal tone and by its informal approach to India’s vast and diverse (drink every time you hear that phrase) history and culture. His personal history is fascinating, the death of his wife tragic but dignified, and his experience as a politician pioneering. Yet overall Nehru comes out about as Fabian as you would expect: amazed at history’s breadth, appreciative of if slightly disappointed by religion, very positive towards both the Soviet Union and respectful of Chinese civilisation’s achievements and overall quite critical of his own country’s perceived backwardness. Continue reading “Caste, Race and War: Extracts from Nehru’s Discovery of India”

Departing letter to a world

Written in the international terminal of Bangalore Airport.

A departing letter to a world.

As I write this I am waiting in the international terminal of Bangalore airport. I sit in an overly-fancy cocktail bar, much less patronised than the canteen a hundred metres down the corridor despite offering the same prices. Of course, because this is Bangalore, instead of arriving in a martini glass it instead arrives in a faux-jam jar cup with a straw through the lid. But as I sip my alcoholic sugarwater, I realise how lucky I am to have had the experiences here that I have.

India is a difficult place to write about, for reasons so myriad it is barely worth explaining, as like rummaging through a messy bag, in pulling out one reason you also bring out so many others. I carry no pretension that my experiences of the country are anything other than that of an over-privileged descendant of the very people who exploited India for close to two hundred years, and whose present enjoyment merely fulfils the ideological demands of neoliberal capitalism to enjoy, share, commodify and fulfil myself in the spectre of the Orient. Continue reading “Departing letter to a world”

Some really terrible arguments against Same Sex marriage

So the Australian media has decided that there are these perfectly acceptable opinions on the ‘No’ side of the same sex marriage debate. To be clear: there are acceptable opinions on the ‘No’ side, ones which I really disagree with, but ones which, though implausible, are not out to demonise LGBT peoples or create gay conspiracy theories. This is the substance of the Guardian’s stance on the debate, one I personally agree with.


….and yet. There is a tendency to give these opinions the status of Reasonableness because the bar has been set so low that somebody who makes a cogent argument without claiming the sky is falling in is suddenly elevated to the status of Philosopher-general and is regarded as a serious interlocutor despite their flawed reasoning. And the core tenet of freedom of speech is also the freedom to tell somebody that their arguments are bad. When the ‘No’ campaign complaings about how awfully they’ve been silenced (including some awful if anecdotal examples of genuine abuse), they should remember that having a platform does not remove them from the people in the audience, telling them that their opinion is wrong.


Continue reading “Some really terrible arguments against Same Sex marriage”

Against Welcoming the Trumpocalypse

I write this article with burning passion. I am scared, less by the potential of the world to go to shit, than the calls of some people I know and love who seem to be – for whatever reason – welcoming it. I strongly, viscerally disagree with this perspective. Whether it’s from my own personality and the following is just my attempt to justify it, I’m not yet sure. Still, these are my thoughts.

Continue reading “Against Welcoming the Trumpocalypse”

A Pictorial Theory of the State

This is the first of what will be a series of articles about the State. I feel it is a concept which is far too phenomenal to be understood by theory alone, as academia attempts. Thus I have utilised these goofy cartoons to help us understand clearly just how we experience the state in capitalist society. 

Most of us see the state as something like this.


Continue reading “A Pictorial Theory of the State”

On Referendums, Broken Dreams and Political Realities

I wrote this just prior to Greece’s 2015 referendum upon the budget forced on them by the European Union, where it was overwhelmingly defeated with an emphatic ‘Oxi’ vote. While I could not predict just how emphatic the anti-austerity victory would be, nor the immense betrayal of the people by Syriza leadership (with all the caveats that entails), my point was to argue that referendums are not a signal of democracy’s strength but rather its weakness. The fact it had come to a referendum at all was a sign of how increasingly violent European politics had become. This is an argument which has been only gained currency since.

While Greece’s impending Sunday referendum on a specific set of austerity proposals is being heralded by some as a victory for democracy, it represents nothing less than a defeat for the prospects of a democratic and egalitarian Europe. Far from an active engagement in civic life, a referendum is a violence committed against a people by dividing them into two separate camps in which they are forced to become openly hostile political agents. Not political in the sense of attempting to change and shape the world around them as independent rational actors; not even social in the sense of being able to effectively structure their socioeconomic relations with one another; rather, a referendum pits the population into opposite sides, destined to clash with one another: yes vs. no. Continue reading “On Referendums, Broken Dreams and Political Realities”

Post-Europe: Lenin’s Abyss

I think I should explicitly present what I had rendered only implicit in my last post.

One thing that readily emerges from this pan-European existential crisis relating to the EU (far before Brexit even) is just how small Europe appears today. While in its economic and military might are still significant in real terms, while it still carries part of the banner of universalism – we still think of Europeans as the most people-like people – it is, to a degree, diminished in the face of a world which has learnt to live without Europe. Post-GFC, post Asian Financial Crisis and particularly in climate negotiations, Asian, African and American nations are realising that they have to conceive of a world without waiting for Europe to come to the table.

This is a rather uncomfortable truth, mainly because it is chiefly presented to us by economic elites, power-hungry politicians speaking of ‘Asian centuries’ and autocratic sycophants in newspapers columns. There is no better figure than The New York Times’ most buffoonish of columnists, Thomas Friedman, who best represents this mantra that ‘The World is Flat’ while simultaneously justifying American imperialism globally. Many cultural critics and left-of-centre commentators feel uneasy with this ready acquiescence to the rising power of particularly Asian nations for very real concerns about the nature in which these societies have developed: embracing liberal economic reforms, promoting nationalist culture and often emboldening authoritarian state structures. To extrapolate further, with the increasing cultural competition from non-Western sources – particularly the stratospheric rise of Korean culture within the core of Western metropoles – it is all too easy for a sympathetic Western critic to argue that Asian capitalism has taken the worst aspects of Western consumerist culture without the egalitarian promises of liberal democracy and social democracy which were necessary for it to thrive. Continue reading “Post-Europe: Lenin’s Abyss”