Poor Put-Upon Communists…

Zoe Williams writes

 Lefties over 40 will never call themselves communists because the inevitable conversation about whether or not Stalin was evil is just too tedious. It is a glimpse of what it feels like to be seen, if a Muslim, as an apologist for Isis, but only a glimpse.

Those poor communists. So tired of hearing about “gulag” this and “Katyn” that. But wait a moment. Communist leaders who spilled oceans of blood in the 20th Century included not just Stalin (and Lenin, and Khrushchev) but Rákosi in Hungary, Hoxha in Albania, Bierut in Poland, Mao in China, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Mariam in Ethiopia and Ceausescu in Romania. Being a communist need not entail that one supports mass murder, of course, but self-declared fascists would be condemned on the basis of Hitler even if Mussolini and Pavelić had never existed. I don’t want to launch a red scare any more than a brown scare but the fact that Williams considers even her more extreme ideological brethren so immune from critique says something about the undeserved claims to moral status made by the left.

Isn’t “lefty” an obnoxious word, by the way? It’s both chummy and childish. Say what you like about traditionalists, free marketeers, monarchists and what have you but at least we don’t go around calling each other “righties”.

Posted in History | 2 Comments

Against the Term “Regressive Left”…

The first thing to say about the term “regressive left” is that it rolls off the tongue like a giant hairball. It is unrhythmic, unmusical and wholly unpoetic. The next thing to say is that it is a cringeworthy attempt by liberals to distinguish progressivism from some of the more destructive trends of its modern adherents. When a “regressive leftist” defends Islamism they are not – at least beyond extreme examples – betraying reactionary theocratic sympathies but attempting to smooth over the glaring contradictions of a comically irrational Enlightenment universalism that sees all people as being essentially if not superficially equal in terms of desires, standards and possibilities. Yes, this is regrettable but no more so than the denial by liberals that such contradictions exist in the first place, which inspires them to do silly things like, say, support the “democratisation” of countries with no democratic institutions and no democratic will among their citizens. Also, “regressive left” has come to mean anything than its deployers want. Why are “trigger warnings” regressive? Were books of the 1930s dutifully prefaced by details regarding their potential to provoke trauma? No, this is a progressive move and liberals who describe it as “regressive” are just embarrassed to be conservative.

Posted in Conservatism | 6 Comments

The Alt-Right and the Triumph of Trolling…

Trolling has always existed on the Internet, but it was on 4Chan that it became a fine art. Young, bright and often disaffected teenagers sought out the sensitive, the unstable and the sacred in order to inflame emotions and enjoy the spectacle. Take, for example, the young girl who was subjected to a barrage of insults and whose simple-minded father filmed a video of himself screaming that he had “backtraced” the trolls and would report them to the “cyber police”. “Consequences,” he bellowed, would “never be the same”.

When it comes to the “alt-right” journalists have been playing the role of the father.

The alt-right is smaller than its reputation might suggest. A motley collection of cynical teenagers, eccentric conservatives and opportunistic fascists, its “members”, such as they are, must be no more than a few thousand.

What is the alt-right? Its ideological elements are diffuse – ranging from outright neo-Nazis to anarcho-capitalists – but cohere around opposition to multiculturalism, egalitarianism and political correctness. What distinguishes its members from millions of Trump supporters is less what they think that what they do: troll. Just as young men on 4Chan enjoyed flouting sacred values by, say, laughing at young people who had committed suicide, young men on the blogs and message boards of the alt-right enjoy flouting sacred values such as the taboos against discrimination, racial epithets, historical revisionism and abusiveness. This is not to say that their beliefs are a mere pose but that their energy is the product of the amusement that they find in pissing people off. Just as trolls of old exploited oversensitive and self-involved young men and women, the alt-right targets oversensitive, self-involved journalists and political strategists.

How, in a world where billions are spent on marketing, have a few thousand schoolkids, students, hackers, programmers and self-published authors made themselves so infamous that Hillary Clinton was prompted to devote a speech to them? They ensured that every time media and political insiders opened their Twitter notifications they were met not with praise for their latest articles and adverts but insults that targeted, with experienced precision, not just their sacred values but their self-image. Take the word “cuckservative”: peculiar in content but so rich in provocational connotations, demeaning, as it does, both the political effectiveness and masculine credentials of mainstream conservatives that aggrieved right-leaning journalists to fire off essay after earnest essay on the outrageousness of this spiteful little Twitter trend. As few things endear one to people less than humourlessness and overreaction this just popularised the alt-right.

I suspect that Ms Clinton’s campaigning on this issue had a similar genesis. Her advisers and supporters were so angry about waking every morning to find cartoons of Pepe the Frog doing awful things to them that they were moved to upload an “explainer” insisting that this “cartoon frog is more sinister than you might realize”. It is true, of course, that Pepe is used by white supremacists as an avatar but the genius of the alt-right’s online activism is that their memes are so absurd and mischievous that to complain about them makes you look more silly than they look sinister. A swing voter with no real awareness of cyberculture will assume that Hillary has gone a little mad.

Memes are the future of campaigning, I suppose. It makes me sad, as one who likes to talk about political theory, and who believes in reasonable discourse in politics, but attention spans are too short and people are too tribalistic for much more than slogans, rumours and insults. In this at least the alt-right is ahead of the game.

Posted in America, Media | 9 Comments

In Defence of Winston Churchill…

Had Churchill not led Britain to victory in World War Two he would, or should, have been remembered as a failure. He was perhaps best known for advocating the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, in which tens of thousands of British, French and ANZAC troops were killed. He had spent the 1930s engaged in futile and cruel attempts to keep India and Ireland in the Empire and had damaged himself politically by supporting the disgraced Edward VIII.

Even Churchill’s wartime record is scarred by the consequences of his reckless and hubristic behaviour. He masterminded the failed Norwegian Campaign and at best enabled the horrific Bengal Famine.

Nonetheless, without Churchill’s spirit, courage and confidence we might have crumbled in the face of Nazi success. As avoidable as war may have been early on – at least before the Treaty of Versailles that Churchill correctly opposed – it had become inescapable by the mid-1930s. Without his defiance once he had ascended to power the best that Britain could have hoped for would have been tame submission to a Nazi-dominated Europe, and, much as I loathe the fact the Poles, Czechs and others were left in the hands of the Stalin, they had at least been the genocidal anti-Slavic plans of the national socialists.

There is much to dislike about Churchill, then, but less than you may think from reading Remi Joseph Salisbury’s hatchet job in the Independent. It is full of arrogant mistruths. Churchill failed the Indians dying in the Bengal famine but his role was not “pivotal” and it was not a “genocide”. You would not ship aid to people you were trying to exterminate. He did advocate the use of “poisoned gas” to pacify “uncivilised tribes” but what Salisbury fails to inform us is that his reference was to tear not mustard gas.

Failing to check his own source, never mind assessing others, Salisbury spreads a downright lie when he asserts that Churchill “oversaw the massacre of protestors in Greece”. Not only does the Observer article that he links to make no reference to Churchill supervising the massacre but a correction highlighted at the top of the page retracts its claim that British soldiers were involved in killing. Salisbury’s rotten sourcing continues when he asserts that Churchill argued that “100,000 degenerate Britons should be forcibly sterilised”. Churchill did support eugenics, that much is correct, but Salisbury’s only reference is to an unsourced quote in the hard left magazine Counterpunch and I can find no source elsewhere. That he is so blithe in smearing a much-admired public figure is shameful enough but that the Independent didn’t do the most basic fact-checking is disgraceful. Small wonder that it is collapsing.

Salisbury, I suspect, typed “churchill crimes” and “churchill racism” into Google and referenced whatever he could find, quite regardless of whether it was true or not. He was on a mission to condemn the man and wrote not so much as a sentence on his resistance to Hitler, an achievement that one might think should at least somewhat redeem his reputation as a leader and a man.

“A nation that forgets its past has no future,” Salisbury smugly quotes Churchill as saying. True. But we should remember both its failings and its triumphs. Just as surely as jingoists focus on the latter in promoting their invasions, progressives concentrate on the former in promoting internationalism. A sensible patriot should disdain both.

Posted in Britain, History | Leave a comment

On Harshness Signalling…

The French “burkini” ban is completely pointless – completely pointless, that is, if taken at face value. It will do nothing to combat Islamic jihadism or Islamic totalism – targeting, I suspect, women from more liberal families than many others in France (because they were, after all, allowed to go down to the beach a swim). What it might, and what I suspect that it is meant to do, is convince a few National Front voters that the ruling class is conservative and deserving of support. In what the anonymous commentator FakePlasticTrees calls “harshness signalling” politicians present themselves as being tough, unsentimental and courageous statesmen while doing little to oppose the criminal and ideological trends that would be better dealt with at the border, in “Sensitive Urban Zones” and at Salafi mosques. There have been some efforts in this direction but they have to far more challenging and wide-ranging than this stupid symbolic measure, which will do nothing except discomfit a few women who wanted a swim and open an unneeded front in the culture war.

Posted in Europe, Multiculturalism, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Moral Philosopher

Like Cook or Columbus
You discovered virtue.
Your civilisation.
Your own America.
You have built a palace.
You have taken slave girls.
You have built an empire
Across beautiful sands.

Posted in Poetry | Leave a comment

Getting Rid of Books…

I am on holiday in England, at my parent’s house, and am throwing out some of the old books that I had left with them. I have hundreds here: the result of a childhood and adolescence spent rummaging through charity shops in search of the amusing, provocative and enigmatic. I was something of a book bore, attracted not just to the contents of the things but to the act of buying them: the sense of mystery and history; the smell of cellulose and lignin.

Different books inspire memories of times I spent with them: the dog-eared copy of Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk that I bought for a holiday in Yorkshire, aged 14, and read with a sort of admiring bemusement; Camus’ The Outsider in paperback, which I read in the rehearsal rooms of my local theatre as a troupe of teenage girls devoured Harry Potter; Fred Trueman’s autobiography, passed down to me after the death of a cricket-mad great uncle whose shelves I had long admired.

Other books remind me of old obsessions. There are the huge, grim World War 2 books that I seized as a young boy. There are the cricket books with which I could have paved the field at Lords. There are books by the Chomsky, Pilger, Curtis, Said and Karl Marx, which bring back awkward memories of my teenage leftism. Other books are even more peculiar. I have flirted sympathetically with paranormal research but what did I hope to get out of The Case for Astrology? I have a somewhat pessimistic outlook on life but what attracted me to a book called Why Suicide? And how did I ever get hold of a giant medical encyclopedia from the 1930s? (It says the main harm of smoking is its impact on one’s eyes.)

Some books had a more significant effect on me. I recall a left-wing columnist, at a London book-swap, handing me a copy of John Gray’s anti-humanist Straw Dogs with words of dark but intriguing disapproval. I read it on the train home and felt like I was peering through a window onto a new, fascinating level of perception. I grew almost misty-eyed on seeing my first Calvin and Hobbes anthology: an introduction to a series that did much, and does much, to brighten my existence.

At some point, when I was young, I made a valiant attempt to bring some order to my bookshelves, making sections for “crime”, “humor”, “plays”, “poetry”, “American fiction”, “English fiction”, “world fiction” and “politics” (with “cricket” spilling out across its boundaries). Nonetheless, I wonder if the sheer eclecticism of my reading doomed me to be somewhat dilettantish. Hopping across genres, and between high and low culture, it was easy to form knowledge that was broad yet shallow. I had a great time, though. In my bedroom I could trek about the world, and through its history, meeting all kinds of people, with all kinds of experiences, and all kinds of ideas, from Winston Churchill to Winston Smith, Henry VIII to Humbert Humbert and Jesus to Jim Laker. I would be bored and dull without such a childhood behind me.

Still, what can I part with? Val McDermid can go but Ian Rankin must stay. Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman can be dispatched to the Red Cross but I will keep The Female Eunuch in case I need it for reference. Will I ever read Kierkegaard: The Aesthetic and The Religious? Doubtful, yes. But possible. Possible. Will I ever need my Biggles books again? Probably not. But it’s still hard to let them go.

Posted in Books, Literature, Personal, Uncategorized | 5 Comments