By their fruits ye shall know them

The Saif Gaddafi story (intro here) runs, and runs.As a reminder, Saif is Daddy's son who is currently (March 11th) saying "It's time for liberation. It's time for action", meaning "we're using tanks, rocket launchers and the air force to wipe out the revolution". Earlier, while the military were bombarding the population of Tripoli, he spoke on state TV saying "From now on the army will play a vital role in keeping law and order and returning to normalcy at whatever cost". The Guardian describes him as "the current face of his father's bloody response to protests". It's good to see that all that LSE training is paying off in teaching dictators' kids how to speak proper. At least when the next atrocity is threatened (or the previous one denied) the international media won't be making fun of the way he speaks (unlike his poor benighted father).

So, here's a quick honour roll of those wonderful international experts who had such insight into the realities of power (and who continue to make a living as experts):

Professor David Held, credited in Saif's PhD thesis as one of his mentors and someone who described Saif as a friend, said "I came to know a young man who was increasingly liberal in his values, committed to reform and transparent government. He was absolutely committed to constitutional reform and an introduction to a law in his country to guarantee civil society the autonomy and the protection of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly & freedom of association". Previously he had said "Saif is committed to resolving contentious international issues through dialogue, debate and peaceful negotiations". (Perhaps this only applied to international issues.)

After getting the PhD, that kind Dr Gaddafi subsequently pledged £1.5 million to Held's "Centre for the Study of Global Governance". The LSE has been embarrassed enough not to take any more than the £300,000 it has already spent on "civil society organisations in north Africa".

Held claims a certain amount of expertise and understanding in the matter: he is Graham Wallas Professor of Political Science and co-director of the LSE's Centre for the Study of Global Governance, about to start teaching on an English-language masters in International Relations at Rome. His books include Progressive foreign policy: new directions for the UK, Globalization / Anti-globalization, Global governance and public accountability, and many other titles suggesting that he knows something about the world: in fact the LSE's "Research and expertise" pages present him as a specialist in "globalisation; democratisation; modern political theory; global politics; democracy; global governance; modern social theory".

It would, of course, be too much to hope for that he might have the common decency to admit that his "expertise" in these areas doesn't extend to being able to understand the first thing about dictators.

Professor (and Baron - I kid you not) Anthony Giddens, ex-director of the LSE, who took two trips to Libya to meet Daddy, organised by the government's PR company Monitor in 2006 and 2007 (he has refused to comment on the money involved, but Monitor submitted a $3m budget including $450,000 for a "vis­itor programme" to cover "hon­oraria for vis­itors … trav­el cost of vis­its to Libya including special arrange­ments, debrief costs and fol­low-up costs").

After visit number 1 Giddens wrote articles for New Statesman, La Repubblica and El Pai saying what a nice man Gaddafi is: "I get the strong sense [his 'conversion' to decent liberal values] is authentic and there is a lot of motive power behind it".

On visit number 2, he sat in a panel of three thinkers with Daddy and Benjamin Barber (author of that profd book Jihad vs McWorld) chaired by Sir David Frost (how nice!) Back home, he wrote for the Guardian that Libya "could end up as the Norway of North Africa".

Beyond Left and Right argued that "a reconstituted radical politics" (this is in the lead-up to unveiling the Third Way) should

  1. repair damaged solidarities
  2. recognize the centrality of life politics
  3. accept that active trust implies generative politics
  4. embrace dialogic democracy
  5. rethink the welfare state
  6. confront violence

Just like Daddy's torture chambers, then.

Giddens has also written about The new egalitarianism, The progressive manifesto: new ideas for the centre-left, The global third way (perhaps this is what he was looking for in Gaddafi - a Libyan counterpoint to Tony Blair?), Politics, sociology and social theory and many other texts too numerous to count. Quite the expert, all told. No doubt it was his intellectual eminence (rather than his willingness to put it at the service of the powerful) which got him made a baron.

He also sells humungous quantities of books through Polity Press, which he co-founded with Held (see above). His own Sociology is a poorly-written dumbing down of the subject (we should, of course, discount those wicked rumours which say that it is mostly ghost-written by postgrads), but is nevertheless used by lazy academics throughout these islands and loved by students who find that it doesn't push them to think in the slightest. One wonders will those who weren't put off the man by his willingness to act as Tony Blair's intellectual henchman be put off by his willingness to do the same for Gaddafi?

Professor Robert Putnam teaches at Harvard's John F Kennedy School of Government and directs Manchester University's Graduate Summer Programme in Social Change. Like Giddens, Putnam has form in this area: his first book Making democracy work: civic traditions in modern Italy was slated by specialists for presenting the problems of southern Italy as being all to do with the wrong kind of culture and nothing to do with internal colonialism, economic inequality or oppression. Italy was too far away to make a career with, though, and what really made his name was an article and then a book entitled Bowling alone, which won him an invite to meet Bill Clinton (and, in a slightly less grandiose league, Bertie Ahern). The book has the great merit (for neoliberals) of proposing that the real problem in the modern world is not power or poverty but the fact that people don't volunteer enough or see enough of their neighbours.

His other titles include The comparative study of political elites, Democracies in flux, and Age of Obama. It comes as no surprise that Putnam is also laden down with honours for his wisdom, insight and willingness to make convenient noises: medals, honorary degrees, prizes for his contributions to political science, etc.

Lest we forget, Junior's (plagiarised) thesis, for which the LSE gave him a PhD, was entitled "The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance Institutions: From ‘Soft Power’ to Collective Decision-Making".

The easiest thing for elites is to learn how to make the right noises: let's waffle on about civil society, active citizenship, governance, participation and consultation ... and carry on doing exactly what we've always done. The easiest thing for academics is to take the money, celebrate the status of associating with the powerful, and be delighted when they pick up on the buzz words the academics are trying to sell them.

Of course, it's particularly easy for people whose careers are bound up with power and money: if you can't tell what kind of person Tony Blair or Bertie Ahern are from reading the newspapers, how are you going to get it right with Gaddafi junior?

... or as the man said, "Do men gather forth grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit."

Rather more common sense, practicality and ethical understanding on the part of "Topple the Tyrants" who've just occupied Junior's London pad. The house can be viewed here in its pre-occupation state. House of the day, and just under £10,000 a week. Truly the rich and powerful are not like you and me.

A final thought: Allison Jaggar notes (in Feminist politics and human nature) that in liberal theory we are more closely identified with our minds than our bodies. She concludes from this that selling your mind for money should be rather more problematic to liberals than physical prostitution.  Somehow, though, good liberals never seem to have huge problems with people who make their careers out of defending the indefensible: unless of course the indefensible is on the left, and it is done out of conviction and against the stream rather than in return for money, power and status.