Ben Stanley was born in Cardiff in 1979. He lived in Bahrain as a child and returned to the UK in the late 1980s to live near Middlesbrough. After studying at the Universities of Warwick and Durham he moved to Warsaw, where he taught English for three years. He returned to the UK in 2005 to do a doctorate on the emergence of Polish populist parties that was awarded by the University of Essex in 2010. Since then Ben has worked in Bratislava and Warsaw, where he currently resides. From September 2013 onwards he will be a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellow at the Sussex European Institute. He blogs at Polish Party Politics.
Why do you blog? > To keep track of – and order my thoughts about – events in Polish party politics.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Post little and often. Advice that anybody checking my blog of late can see I have not heeded.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Leszek Kołakowski, Giovanni Sartori, John Stuart Mill, Michael Oakeshott.
What are you reading at the moment? > A Tale of Two Cultures: Qualitative and Quantitative Research in the Social Sciences by Gary Goertz and James Mahoney. Recommended reading for all methodological imperialists in the social sciences.
Who are your cultural heroes? > Warren Zevon, Stina Nordenstam, Randy Newman, Emmylou Harris, T.S. Eliot, Brian Wilson, Graham Greene, Elliott Smith, Philip Larkin, Jason Isbell, Sandy Denny.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman.
What is your favourite poem? > 'Aubade' by Philip Larkin.
What is your favourite movie? > My Life As A Dog.
What is your favourite song? > 'Wouldn’t It Be Nice', by The Beach Boys.
Who is your favourite composer? > Mahler.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > I used to be in favour of a ban on prostitution on the grounds that it invariably involves the objectification and exploitation of women (yes, I know there are male prostitutes, but it is largely an issue about the status of women). However, I realized that I was making the unwarranted assumption that all women cannot exercise their own volition in this case. I cannot ignore the voices of that minority of women - and I am sure it is a minority - who explain why they have chosen of their own free will to become prostitutes. I have come to the conclusion that the duty of a liberal is to oppose those who would deprive women of their right to exercise consent - however those women would construe it.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > The libertarian idea that selfishness is not only natural but good, while altruism is unnatural and damaging to society. Both conditions are natural, and both are important.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > Albert Hirschman's The Rhetoric of Reaction not only taught me how to understand why I am not a conservative but also impressed upon me the need to be vigilant that my liberalism should not descend into a smug faith in the inexorable victory of progressive values.
Who are your political heroes? > Roy Jenkins, Jacek Kuroń and David Lloyd George. I am not particularly keen on many of Peter Tatchell's ideological preferences, but courage is essential in politics, and Tatchell's courage - both moral and physical - is exemplary.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > 'Don't burn down committees - form your own.' (Jacek Kuroń)
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Assuming my country is currently Poland, I would repeal the obscenely restrictive abortion laws immediately.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > The combined, conflicted and combustive forces of the anti-Enlightenment.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > I wouldn't be a liberal if I didn't believe humans were capable of bettering themselves. However, that will depend on whether the right choices are made. I find anti-scientism particularly worrying for this reason.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Come to terms as early as possible with the overwhelming probability that your life is going to be fairly mediocre. Otherwise you will never be satisfied with anything.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > I find it hard to imagine that I would last long enough in a relationship with someone who had strongly authoritarian views for it to get to the 'long-term relationship' stage, let alone marriage.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > The ability to change one's mind after being apprised of contrary facts.
Do you have any prejudices you're willing to acknowledge? > I am prejudiced against people who think anti-intellectualism is a virtue - I actively avoid their company.
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Fishing. I'd rather sit by the river with a book and a beer and spare myself the purchase of expensive equipment.
Who would play you in the movie about your life? > Philip Seymour Hoffman.
What do you like doing in your spare time? > Idly playing guitar and drinking beer, only one of which I do with any real proficiency.
What talent would you most like to have? > The ability to play the guitar like Richard Thompson.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Dave Allen.
Who are your sporting heroes? > J.P.R. Williams, Paul Scholes, Shane Warne, and the 1996 US women's gymnastics team.
How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > I would build a house, amass a collection of vintage Telecasters and travel to the many places I have not yet seen.
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > Jacek Kuroń, Eleanor Roosevelt and Warren Zevon.
[A list of all the normblog profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]