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Vexed Reviews

Vexed by James Mumford


Ethics Beyond Political Tribes

James Mumford

3.38 out of 5

3 reviews

Imprint: Bloomsbury Continuum
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication date: 5 Mar 2020
ISBN: 9781472966346
  • The ObserverBook of the Week
3 stars out of 5
John Harris
23 Feb 2020

"this book is a plea for nuance and ambivalence, in a world that often seems to be in danger of mislaying both"

When Vexed hits its stride, Mumford demonstrates an admirable ability to zero in on things too often missing from political conversations. His chapter on assisted dying moves from a description of how old people are increasingly seen as a burden, through the fetishisation of property, which means that selling a home to pay for care is often seen as a kind of offence against decency, and on to how those things might affect the self-perception of someone who wished to end their life prematurely, despite their apparent informed consent. After reading and rereading this part of the book, I think I remain convinced of the case for assisted dying, but I would not be able to collapse my thoughts into any kind of pat piece of commentary, let alone a tweet


3 stars out of 5
27 Mar 2020

"Mumford’s prescription for overcoming sectarianism is ethical commitment"

It starts with the author complaining he doesn’t want to have to go all in with either the ideological camps of left or right. There follow six lively, well-argued chapters critiquing left liberals for their predisposition to support sexual freedom, assisted dying and technological transhumanism, and the right for its resistance to gun control, alleviating poverty and the rehabilitation of offenders. Like most political critiques, Mumford can’t help occasionally caricaturising opinions he dislikes. 

4 stars out of 5
Ian Critchley
1 Mar 2020

"he leads us through some complex moral mazes with admirable clarity"

Mumford seeks to expose the contradictions inherent in these package deals, exploring topics such as abortion, environmentalism and criminal justice. If, for example, US conservatives believe in the sanctity of life, how can they also oppose gun control? Similarly, the left struggles to square its anti-consumerist,pro-sexual liberation beliefs with apps such as Tinder, where “sexual consumerism” is a central feature. To break out of these entrenched positions we need “moral imagination”, the ability to see ourselves in the shoes of those we might consider strangers. I’m not entirely convinced we fall into the categories of left or right as neatly as Mumford suggests.