Two New Pieces…

I had a new piece and a newish piece published yesterday. The first was for Areo magazine and was titled “Why Your Friend’s Politics Shouldn’t Make You Mad”…

Think twice, then, before lowering your opinion of a friend based on whatever policies they happen to endorse. Their ideas on healthcare should not be half as important to your friendship as their willingness to help you if you get sick. Their beliefs on law and order say much less about them than how much they will stick up for you if you are being intimidated. Their attitude towards a politician matters less than their attitude towards the people they know. Actions, as the durable phrase informs us, speak louder than words.

The second was an updated piece published at The Gerasites called “The Vicar of Glibley”…

I mention this because it illustrates Fraser’s habit of plastering quasi-theological, cod-philosophical rationalisations on his moral and aesthetic instincts. Floating in a kind of spiritual self-righteousness he rarely analyses their complexities and contradictions, or attempts to find his place in a coherent tradition.

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Posted in Blog, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Cemetery

We are not truly brave.
Not yet. Around the graves,
We gather up the leaves
And let ourselves believe
In good orderly death.
Savouring Beckett’s breath
We think are the trees,
Which quaver in the breeze.

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Recent Writings…

Three more pieces for Bombs and Dollars:

What Good is Going to University Anyway?
Israel, Eastern Europe and an Alliance of Nationalisms
Inheritance Tax and the Overton Window

Posted in Blog, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Curious World of Owen Jones…

*Cross posted from Bombs and Dollars*

Owen Jones is one of the most successful writers in Britain yet he does not actually like writing. “I never wanted to be a writer,” he has written, “I don’t particularly enjoy writing, in lots of ways I’m not a very good writer.” The honesty is endearing. Still, how grim to see one of our most renowned columnists admit that writing is “a means to an end”. Where is the love of language that inspired such commentators as Mencken, Waugh, Hitchens and Cockburn? What does it say about the reading public that a man for whom writing is a mere propaganda tool has reached such heights?

Jones appeared almost from nowhere, with a slim, fresh-faced appearance and cheerful, down-to-Earth style that earned him a following above of that of wordier, angrier leftist commentators. His books Chavs and The Establishment became bestsellers and he is one of if not the biggest attraction of The Guardian with his videos and columns.

The honesty that I mentioned is real and admirable. The problem is that it exposes weaknesses that – well – are not. The greatest of these is a shallowness of reflection. In one column that addressed religion, Jones offered familiar prejudicial criticisms of theistic truth claims before admitting that while these were “questions that the more patient Christian has time for”, “it wasn’t simply he couldn’t believe in God; he didn’t want to either”. That is true for many people. It takes self-awareness to admit it. Yet the fact remains that it displays unreflective bias and incuriosity that should embarrass any influential public figure.

The same column went on to address “Islamophobia”, a theme that Jones has returned to many times over the years. Why, he asked himself, was he not a more voluble critic of political Islam? Well, “polls show that support for political Islamism is tiny among Britain’s Muslims”. What is “political Islamism”? That is like “imperialist colonialism”, or “adult pornography”. Still, even bypassing this rhetorical quirk, Jones was wrong. In a 2006 poll as much as 40% of British Muslims supported sharia law. A 2016 survey found similar results. “Terrorism is being dealt with by the security services,” Jones continued, “And a few articles by me isn’t really going to contribute very much.” Well, articles don’t contribute very much. That is true. But would he say the same about white supremacist terrorism? Of course not.

As terrorism has left a bloody trail across Europe, Jones has shifted to writing on the foreign policy blunders that have made it worse. He admits, almost from the corner of his mouth, that there is “a murderous ideology” that inspires ISIS but prefers to focus on material conditions that, he claims, enabled its growth. He would have no respect for anyone who reacted to the spread of neo-Nazism with commentary on unemployment and political correctness, with no analysis of its supremacist, annihilationist ideas. Why is it acceptable here? Because, for Jones, the world is the people against the Establishment and apart from a few terrorists and despots Muslims are firmly on the former side.

Jones is a revolutionary. A polite, well-dressed, well-spoken revolutionary, of course, but a revolutionary nonetheless. His progressive fervour became insufferable after the surprise success of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Schadenfreude was to expected, but Jones’ gloating was absurd. “In your face, Enoch,” he tweeted after an African Caribbean Labour candidate won Powell’s former seat. In a world where liberalism has become the norm, progressives are reduced to insulting the long dead. “Britain’s social order is bankrupt,” he wrote this week, “And will have to be replaced.” This would sound almost entertaining if his preferred candidate was not leading the polls.

The problem is that Jones’ judgement offers us no reason to believe that his “social order” would be preferable the status quo. He was an enthusiastic advocate of the government of Hugo Chavez – claiming that the nation showed “you can lead a progressive popular government” – yet has grown quiet on the subject since Venezuala slid into poverty and unrest.

Well, everyone makes mistakes. But I fear that Jones does not have the intellectual tools to stop making them. There is that incuriosity. That unwillingness to explore that which he does even want to understand. In one column, for example, he complained that when he had debated Nigel Farage on why poorer children tended to worse than “their more affluent peers” in school the UKIP man had suggested that genes “might play a role”. “I winced,” Jones wrote. This was apparently “political poison”. Well, the interplay of genes and poverty on intelligence is a complex subject. Anyone claiming that inherent or environmental traits are singularly influential is ignorant and presumptuous. But the mere suggestion is “poison”? Who can know what Farage actually said but Jones’ phrasing is downright anti-intellectual.

Then there is the question of loyalties. Jones is one of many leftists who have tried to build a vague form of patriotism on “a great tradition of struggle and dissent” that includes such minor movements as the Diggers. What his politics have to do with a small group of Protestant agrarians who thought that Britain should be reclaimed from Norman conquerors is unclear, but when he lionises the “sacrifice of our ancestors” without mentioning men who fought and died to protect Britain from, say, Napoleon or Hitler it is obnoxious. Such events, firmly supported by kings and prime ministers, would undermine his anti-establishment narrative. Beyond such fantasies, Jones has that romantic universalism which projects a mirage of sameness and solidarity from his personal experiences and personal preferences. He also has the left.

I do not hate Jones. Indeed, it would surprise me if he is not a good son, friend and neighbour. He seems nice, open and honest. But he is a tribal thinker who internalised leftism as a self-proclaimed “fourth-generation socialist” and appears to have never questioned its creed. He is more faithful than a religious believer.

In one column he mentioned a professor of literature who “hopes that she has brought up her two sons as feminists but…realises that there is countervailing pressure in the playground, at school, on the football pitch”. The idea that there is any kind of intellectual alternative did not occur to him.

Britain is hurting. It is hurting as it feels the pinch of austerity. It is hurting as it feels the blows of terrorism. It is hurting as it looks on the incompetence and cowardice of government. I understand why people have looked to the left as an alternative. Yet I fear that it is selling them a bill of goods; one that seems appealing but is empty and destructive. Owen does not like to write. That is not the gravest sin. What is worse is that he does not seem to like to think.

Posted in Britain, Media | 3 Comments

Recent Writings…

I wrote four articles for different websites:

Posted in Conservatism, Libertarianism, Mental Health | 2 Comments

Out of Touch Conservatives…

Right wingers often mock the left for how removed its values are from the concerns of common men. What Corbyn’s success has proved (as, to some extent, did Trump’s) is that right wing values can also be out of touch.

Opinion polls have shown time and again that the British public is far to the right socially – supporting massive cuts to immigration and an end to parole for murderers – and far to the left economically – backing the renationalisation of the railways and an increased minimum wage of £10 an hour.

The average British person over the age of 25 would be a one-nation socialist. Corbyn and his team – vastly exceeding my estimation of their political nous – appreciated this and downplayed their support for immigration and minority affairs in favour of a campaign built around public services. It paid off.

Beliefs are not wrong because they are unpopular. An opinion could be held by one man and yet be right. But I think Conservatives overestimated the extent to which the public cares about their cherished ideas of economic liberalism.

Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, reacted to Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal to seize the empty mansions of millionaires to house the homeless victims of the Greenfell Tower fire by saying that it would represent “the abolition of property rights” and was “genuinely frightening”. Later, he observed that this inspired “more abuse than anything I’ve ever tweeted”.

One can’t draw too much from this. Online pile-ons are often engineered by extremists. But I would bet half my head that if Britons were polled on who they agreed with more, most would choose the Labour man. They houses are empty! They don’t need them! They aren’t going to stay! As it happens, I agree with Pollard that the rule should be upheld but I still think that the average Briton cares about “property rights” largely when he sees somebody taking his stuff. As an abstraction it is worth far less.

Again, I am not so much of a democrat that I think public opinion need determine justice. But if Conservatives want to win back the voters they have to get “outside the bubble” and appreciate people’s “legitimate concerns”.

Posted in Britain, Conservatism, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

An Election Post-Mortem…

Solipsistically I feel compelled to ask myself what I got right and wrong about the election. I was mostly wrong. At first, of course, I thought Corbyn was bound to lose and that the only questioned that remained was the scale of his defeat. The idea that the youth vote could swing it for him, I insisted, was downright comical. As the campaign progressed, my doubts flowered. I said that the Conservatives were “in disarray; as strong and stable as a bloated drunk”; that Corbyn had “measurably improved as a politician”; that I thought the youth vote would rise significantly and that the result was “very much in question”. Still, I predicted that the Conservatives would win a majority, just as I had predicted that Leave lose and just as I had predicted that Clinton would triumph. It had to happen didn’t it? It had to. Well, it didn’t.

Granted, Corbyn did lose. The Conservatives won. But if a football team was 4-0 up at half time and somehow managed to scrape a 4-3 win against their younger, hungrier opponents (in which half their players fell out with each other and their captain all but refused to take the field) is that a win? Technically, perhaps, but trivially.

The Conservatives were pathetic. They articulated no inspiring vision for the future but rambled incoherently on about Brexit. They avoided questions more than they answered them. They attacked Corbyn with shrill, slapdash abandon rather than efficient, measured ruthlessness, which made seem him more sympathetic to disaffected youngsters who liked the idea of free tuition and had no memories of the IRA. Some, like the ever ubiquitous Nigel Farage, argue that May was not enthusiastic enough about Brexit but this is where I sympathise with the Prime Minister. No one is sure about the consequences of the damn thing. Enthusiasm is for the most optimistic ideologues and even if one such ideologue did have popular appeal – which is dubious enough now the dust has settled – it would backfire on them if the economy took a hit. Brexit has reduced the right to monomania, even when, quite apart from the troubles that it causes, it does little or nothing to solve problems of housing, education, social care, jihadism and non-EU immigration. Those are the problems the Conservatives should have been tackling. Those are the problems that the public most want solves. As it is, May’s only policy that will be remembered is the “dementia tax”, while her worthless soundbites – “Brexit means Brexit”, “strong and stable” – will pop up, perhaps, on some future TV trivia show.

What a time. Brexit won. Trump won. Corbyn could have won. The most unsurprising election was that of France, where Macron’s neoliberal managerialism prevailed over Le Pen and Melenchon, but even then the dude was a political outsider leading a party he had fashioned for himself. Common wisdom has proved to be more common than wise and thousands of politicians, journalists and operatives from the supposed “centre” of politics have had their bland assumptions violently discredited.

What comes now? Right wing populism, as in the Trump campaign? Left wing populism, as per Corbynism? Desperate attempts by our managerial elites to cling onto whatever positions they have left? Well, all this and more, my friends. The future is one of division, conflict and desperation.

And uncertainty, of course. We should all be uncertain. We should treasure what we have, while, unlike Ms Clinton and Ms May, preparing to respond to new, dangerous phenomena. That, at least, is what makes me a conservative – though not, clearly, a Conservative.

Posted in Britain | 5 Comments