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« Faith and politics | Main | Realpolitik bites »

June 04, 2008


The Admiral

I never really know with types like this whether it is a) cowardice/self-preservation at any cost, b)an active collaboration with the "enemy of my enemy" i.e the "west" or just a sort of limp "lets meet in the middle" human resources type compromise.

The lack of self-awareness also puzzles me and ultimately makes me suspicious. I don't believe that otherwise intelligent people could genuinely not understand the contradictions of positions like this.

Sadly, this leads me to conclude that they are either extremely stupid or, to varying degrees, malevolent.

Barry Meislin

Cowardice disguised as prudence, defended as pragmatism, emerging as the highest, most principled moral stance possible... ultimately only providing, assuming one can remain impervious to any sense of utter shame (not difficult, apparently), a very temporary state of self-preservation.

Churchill had something to say about these kind of principled delusions.


Does your fellow feeling for the Danes extend to their immigration policies, largely dictated at the present time by the right wing Dansk Folkeparti ?
I think we should be told, considering that this site links to the leading open borders advocate, Phillipe Legrain.


The idea that the more dogmatic or entrenched a belief system is, the more deference we should display towards it, is truly odd.

Surely it should be the other way round.


Sadly, the colonel Blimp cartoons never go out of date.


There are those who believe that people's deepest feelings and beliefs should be accorded respect, and those who consider that people's deepest beliefs are fair game for hostile and derisive criticism. I am of the second camp.

I disagree. This isn't the principal division. Rather, it is that there are those who think people's deepest feelings and beliefs should be protected from offence by law and then there are those of us who don't. Anything beyond this is politically irrelevant. Your version tends to slide towards the rather weird idea that liberals have some kind of duty to offend. People's deepest feelings are 'fair game'? What - like the deep feeling people would experience if their mother's grave was desecrated, for example? I know you don't really mean this so it should be expressed another way, I feel.

Liam Murray

It's hard to better 'Shuggy's' point really.

And in the sentence he highlights you set up a false dichotomy - you can (and in my view often should) accord respect to somebody's 'deepest feelings and beliefs' while still being free to level firm, fair and balanced criticism. The two aren't mutually exclusive.

I'm a little puzzled as to why you'd want to champion 'hostile and derisive criticism' so enthusiastically? It's appropriate sometimes of course, and even sometimes in respect of a religious belief. But the notion that ALL religious beliefs are deserving of it is just silly.

Oliver Kamm

Thank you both for the usefully clarifying comments. I meant what I said. I do not consider that the principal division on the issue concerns the resort to law or coercion. That would imply a position that many political and religious opinion formers did in fact hold at the time of the Rushdie affair: that Rushdie had done wrong, that those he had offended were entitled to have their feelings respected, but that the sentence was disproportionate to the offence. My view was, and remains, that there is nothing intrinsically wrong in offensive speech.

Liam Murray

I agree there's nothing 'intrinsically wrong' in offensive speech and it should never be subject to legal censure.

But that's an entirely different point to the one in your post - the subtle advocacy of 'hostile' or 'derisive' comments towards people of faith. Common civility should be a bar to that..

Quentin George

That's not what Oliver actually said, Liam. You should read his post again.

"those who consider that people's deepest beliefs are fair game for hostile and derisive criticism. I am of the second camp."

That's different to what you are claiming Oliver is promoting.

Liam Murray

Mmm - not sure I am misreading that Quentin.

Oliver's claiming to be among those who 'consider people's deepest beliefs fair game for hostile and derisive criticism'. Like Oliver I don't believe the law should prohibit such criticism but that's not the same thing as describing such beliefs as 'fair game' - that strikes me as a lazy rhetorical way of making the same point but actually sanctioning something else entirely, something uncivil and unnecessary.

As I said - it's basically subtle advocacy for bad manners.

That said I'm prepared to concede we may be into semantics here since I do agree with the broad thrust of Oliver piece.

Snorri Godhi

Actually, there are divisions in liberal societies which in my opinion are deeper than that. For instance, there is a 4-way division between those who think that culture does not matter (the libertarians); those who believe that all cultures are equal, except that liberal and capitalist cultures are less equal than others (the "progressives"); those who postulate that their culture is superior to all others, irrespective of the evidence (the nationalists and theocrats); and those who believe that not all cultures are equal, but it is an empirical question, unlikely to be definitely settled, which culture is better at promoting long life expectancy, material welfare, freedom, and happiness. This last group includes Tocqueville, Max Weber, and Martin Wiener (as well as me, if that is relevant).

Niels Christensen

Mark I'm sorry to tell you that the danish emmigration policy enjoy strong support from nearly all political parties in Denmark, and the reasons why is of course that the public support is strong.
But that doesn't mean that they agree with Dansk Folkeparti's stance against muslims.


Thanks for clarifying that the Dansk Folkeparti's firm line on immigration is also endorsed by the other parties, including that of PM Rasmussen.
On this subject then Oliver's characterisation of him as 'the closest thing to a Blairite political leader anywhere' is clearly about as off target as it could be.

Niels Christensen

Mark, in regard to the immigration subject, you have to keep in mind at least three points where the danish welfare society differs somewhat from the british.
The Danish society is the most heavily taxed society in the world (if you are looking at the personal taxes), secondly the female participation in the workplace is among the highest, if not highest in the western world, and thirdly we are a small country with a strong and rather equalitarian civil society.
Justly (or unjustly) in the nineties the impression grew that not all our new citizens shared the values behind point two and three, and therefore of course had difficulties to participate in the first point. As a new book ( Hans Rasmussen ‘Tid til forvandling’) documents Mr. Rasmussen in contrast to his predeces-sor Mr. Ellemann accepted that the only way a Blairite vision of the welfare state could be secured was to implement a strong emigration policy especially regarding family reunion. It’s worth remembering that the immigration to the Denmark never before has been on a level as last year.
But we will se how things develop; we have currently an unemployment rate which is as close to zero as possible. It could be a reminder of things to come

Snorri Godhi

Niels: allow me to say that your 3 points have nothing to do with welfare (not directly, that is).

Here are two facts which I believe are much more relevant.

First, welfare spending in Denmark is not much more than in the UK, when you do the accounting properly (see the work of Willem Adema for that).

Second, Denmark spends a few percent of GDP on the welfare police. That is proportionally about as much as the USA spends on the military (including Iraq and Afghanistan).

From these two facts, I infer that the welfare police is the only reason why there are fewer social problems in Denmark than in the UK.

Chris Wolf

When are you going to publish the Jyllands-Posten cartoons on your blog?

(Mr) Kellie Strøm

Snorri Godhi, I'm curious as to what figures you're referring to. I'm not familiar with William Adema's work. From a very brief search I found this from him -
- which clearly shows a higher level of spending in Denmark on family welfare and services in Denmark than in the UK. Interestingly Denmark's spend is much more on services than direct cash support. I would think that spending by the Danish welfare state on childcare is directly relevant to the proportion of women in the workforce, as mentioned by Niels.

Not included in that document is spending on housing, and differences in property prices might make comparison difficult, but my own experience of social housing in Denmark in the late '80s was that the standard far outstripped anything I have seen since in the UK.

Snorri Godhi

Hi Kellie: here is a short article by Willem Adema. It is a bit poor in figures, but the basic concept is there: Denmark appears to pay more in social benefits, but it takes a lot of those benefits back in taxes; the UK (like the USA) does not.

More figures are to be found in Adema's article in the OECD Observer, vol.211, april/may 1998, pp. 20--23 (apparently not online). The figures there are from 1993, and show that social spending after taxes is almost the same in Denmark and the UK. (I expect that the trend after 1993 has been for more social spending in the UK and less spending in Denmark, but I don't really know.)

I remember seeing the figure for the welfare police in The Economist, but there were no references, and I would not know where to look. If anybody can give more information, I'd be grateful.

I don't know about social housing, but from several years' personal experience, I believe that housing in general is better in Denmark than in England, but worse in both countries than in the Netherlands or Estonia.


You rightly draw attention to the rigourous line Danish immigration laws take on the family reunion route.For example Danish citizens or resident foreigners are only allowed to import a foreign spouse if both the Danish sponsor and fiance/e are over 24 years of age.
This is in marked contrast to the Blairite policies followed on this side of the North Sea. The first adjustment the Blair government made on immigration was to abolish the 'primary purpose' rule, which for a few years after 1997 enabled pretty well unrestricted immigration of teenaged non English speaking fiance/es into the UK, primarily from south Asia.This was not exactly a policy designed to assist social cohesion, to put it mildly.

Niels Christensen

Mark and others.
It's no doubt that the special danish tax system,with very high personal tax ( + high consumer tax, and our speciality a special high tax on cars) make's comparisons with other OECD countries rather difficult.But the strong empassis on personal tax, has the consequence that the population really feels that they own the welfare state, and they feel responsibility for keeping it. As a liberal commentator wrote some months ago Denmarks is more DDR than DDR ever was - mayby ?. The disadventage of this system is that it take's two incomes to keep a decent family on ordinary wages.
Now the family reunion rule ( the '24' years rule) is interesting because it raise the question about the means a society can use to regulate certain subcultures way of living and lifecycles.The reason behind the laws was twofolds : firstly to limit immigration, but secondly to enforce that young muslims did achieve education/vocational training and a foothold in the labour market before marrying (just like 'the danish' do).
It's clearly an obstacle for many muslims. If the succeds remain to be seen. A preleminary research paper supports that the rule has had an impact especially on securing the girls an education.

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