February 21, 2013

Freedom to starve

In a terrible sign of the aging process, my mind went blank when I was trying to remember the name of a liberal political and legal theorist in a lecture this morning, when given his death this week the only name that circled round in my head was Ronald Dworkin.

I was, of course, thinking of Jeremy Waldron. Check out Chapter 13 in his collected papers, called ‘Homelessness and the Issue of Freedom’.

And no, you’re right, “Waldron” doesn’t start with “B”. Age is a terrible thing.

November 21, 2011

Westphalia Peace Treaty

A source (Heywood 2007) in one of the core readings of the literature on the state writes about a certain ‘Westphalia Peace Treaty’ that was allegedly formalised in 1648.

This is factually incorrect and makes it obvious that the author writing about it has never actually read the original text. This is because there is more than one treaty that was signed at the peace conference. There were in fact two treaties – the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück – that constituted the peace agreement. The peace that was signed however never really was. The Great Plague of Vienna hit the city in 1679 and soon thereafter the Turks were found at the city gates.

The importance of this event is furthermore very open for debate. Why, for example, do political scientists not focus on the Treaty of Tordesillas (translation http://avalon.law.yale.edu/15th_century/mod001.asp) or the Peace of Augsburg (translation of fragment: http://pages.uoregon.edu/sshoemak/323/texts/augsburg.htm) or even the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689? Surely such treaties had an equally if not more important effect on the historical development of the nation state?

The importance of such treaties are all embedded in a much more overarching concept of mathematically defined territorial borders. Why then, the question begs, not focus on the Cartesian rupture from Greek geometry or the historical development of spatial-politics more generally?


A. Heywood (2007) Politics: Chapter 5 (pp. 89-106). Basingstoke: Palgrave.

For more on the nation state and the myth of 1648, see:

- Osiander, A. (2001), “Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Westphalian Myth”, International Organization 55 (2), pp. 251–287
- Teschke, B. (2009) “The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics, and the Making of Modern International Relations”. London: Verso.

October 11, 2011

Immigrants must pass test on British history, says David Cameron

This might be an interesting discussion theme especially with reference to your first assignment for the Introduction to Politics module

The article (link below) discusses David Cameron’s idea to give greater emphasis to British history in the so-called and already existent “Citizenship Test”. Candidates (or immigrants) must pass this test to become Britons.

The Telegraph article writes that the greater role given to British history in the test “basically means [that] future candidates will be tested on the Roman Conquest, Boadicea, the Norman Conquest, Magna Carta and King John, the Wars of Roses, Elizabeth 1, English Civil War, the Battle of Britain, Churchill and how we ‘encouraged a national spirit of resistance in [the] UK’ in World War Two” (emphasis added).

It is perhaps interesting to note that the preferred historian of the Conservative Party is (Harvard-based) Niall Ferguson who in 2010 was announced to overhaul history in schools for the conservative government. Some argue that Ferguson’s work is an apology for Western (and perhaps especially British) imperialism. It is yet unclear however if Ferguson will be personally involved in the drafting of the history test itself.

How will such a test impact the construction of British history? Will the emphasis on a specific interpretation of history lead to greater chauvinism? And if so, is this a good or a bad thing? What are the potential consequences for other interpretations of British history and what would this mean (if anything) for the recognition of other other histories and/ or cultures?

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/8818650/Immigrants-must-pass-test-on-British-history-says-David-Cameron.html

May 12, 2011

AV post–mortem

Writing about web page http://johnrparkinson.wordpress.com

I’ve written a post-mortem of the AV referendum on my personal blog – check the link above for details.

April 21, 2011

Cutting through the fog on the AV referendum

Politics students wanting to go beyond the deliberate distortions and lies of the UK’s voting system referendum campaign could do worse than check out this blog: http://gowers.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/is-av-better-than-fptp/

It’s written by a mathematician, but despite that gives a clear, readable and methodical guide to the facts and fallacies of both sides’ claims.

One issue it is weak on is lessons from the practice of the Alternative Vote. As an occasional Australian, I’d have pointed you in the direction of comprehensive analyses of the Australian practice, but alas, there are none recent and therefore available online through the Warwick library. Instead, check out this comment from Professor Leach in Economics:

See also a Political Studies Association briefing paper by Alan Renwick at Reading: http://www.psa.ac.uk/PSAPubs/TheAlternativeVoteBriefingPaper.pdf

Also have a look at Sanders, David et al. 2010, ‘Simulating the effects of the Alternative Vote in the 2010 UK General Election,’ Parliamentary Affairs 64(1):5, and then my colleague David Hugh-Jones’s response, available under ‘Working Papers’ at

Finally, I’m going to do something I never normally do: express a clear political preference to my students. I don’t normally do this because I’m trying to train you to think through evidence yourselves, not simply to use me as a proxy for what to think or not to think. However, in this case the publicly-available evidence being provided by the No camp is so strikingly manipulative and scare-mongering that I feel it my duty to say so. I will be voting “Yes”, not because I think AV is the best system there is – I’m a supporter of mixed member proportional systems, as in Scotland, Germany, New Zealand and elsewhere – but because I think that First Past the Post (or single-member plurality) voting is quite obviously the worst of the lot.

Lest anyone in the Yes camp get too excited about that last paragraph, you too should be ashamed – the Nick Griffin ads are beneath you.

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  • PS: I just took the official practice test and failed! 67%. And that's after passing twice in the la… by on this entry
  • Nice ideas Marijn and Ben. While it's impossible to do the official Life in the UK Test online – we … by on this entry
  • maybe something we could discuss here as well is how and why this "Citizenship Test" is political. O… by Ben Jacoby on this entry
  • Thanks for those comments folks. In further reponse to Gordon, may I add that comparing the effects … by on this entry
  • To the above: that's complete rubbish. The very fact that the three main parties in this country off… by Tom on this entry

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