The Slow Decline of the Loomer Generation…

The worst chapter in Christopher Hitchens’ patchy memoir Hitch-22 concerned his literary friendships. Packed with detailed accounts of booze-sodden lunches, and agonising explanations of in-jokes, it could have been summed up in five short words: you had to be there. Few if any of us can retell old drinking stories in a manner than is even sufferable, and a touch of nostalgia near what would turn out to be the end of his life can be understood, but if it left a sour aftertaste it was because the circle of friends that Hitchens held so dear had been an influential clique in British literature, and often, sadly, to its detriment. I call them the Loomers.

The Loomers included Hitchens, Martin Amis, Ian McEwen, Salman Rushdie, Craig Raine and Clive James. I call them “the Loomers” both because they have loomed over British letters and because they were all literary boomers, born around the end of World War Two and coming of age in the late sixties and early seventies. All were charismatic men with eye-catching prose and poems. All were critics and editors. All were fiercely ambitious.

In describing the Loomers as something of a clique I am by no means succumbing to conspiracy theory. They were described as such in Hitchens’ autobiography, and Martin Amis’ memoiristic Experience. Craig Raine’s long poem A La Recherche du Temps Perdu makes reference to “mutual friends/the Martins, Julians and Ians.” Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan that is. One doubts an obscure “Phil” or “Brian” would have earned a mention.

Now, the Loomers are in their senescence. Amis has been promising a novel about Saul Bellow, Philip Larkin and Christopher Hitchens, which has created the buzz of a dead housefly. Ian McEwan has produced a series of clever books which have produced diminishing returns. Rushdie’s last novel barely made a dent in the public consciousness. Unpopularity need not reflect quality. Amis might create a masterpiece for all we know. Yet how did a group of writers who were so famous end up with such indifference?

I should pause to make it clear that if I criticise collective tendencies of this clique I am by no means reducing its individual members to those features. The Polish football team has a problem with goalscoring but Robert Lewandowski does not. The Loomers’ novelists have had a problem crafting memorable characters but Martin Amis’ John Self remains one of the finest comic creations of the last century. Nonetheless, private and professional collegiality, and similarities, between the Loomers make them a just subject for generalisations.

One of the two main problems with the Loomers has been their often pompous attitude towards style, where linguistic cleverness has often been elevated above linguistic power. In his essay “A Criticism of Life” Craig Raine singled out as an exemplar of good prose Marianne Moore’s comparison of the top of a fir tree with “an emerald turkey foot.” This, he said, allows us to “see the fir tree more stereoscopically than before.” It does not. In fact, it diminishes the readers’ appreciation of the tree. With all due respect to Moore, the phrase has the novelty and cleverness that Loomers admire but is symbolically inapt. An “emerald turkey foot” is a comical image that degrades the dignity of a grand old fir. In another essay, Raine chided Bruce Chatwin for inaccuracy in saying that in winter “the frozen leaves of foxgloves dropped like dead donkey’s ears” but even if this is less accurate as a comparison of likenesses, which it is not by much, it has far more symbolic power.

What is clever has too often replaced what is effective. Thomas Mallon criticised Amis for calling Stalin’s slaughter a “census-slashing deformity” because the phrase was “a squawking bird perched on the cenotaph” (it was also too abstract, and reused after its appearance in Koba the Dread.) It was nothing more than a distraction.

I have no intention of defending stylistic clichés. The world could do without hearing of another “moody silence” or “heartfelt sob”. But the veritable holy war the Loomers have conducted against the hackneyed image has been far too narrow, pedantic and self-regarding. In an essay on the youthful Amis, Hitchens writes:

If one employed a lazy or stale phrase, it would be rubbed in—no, it would be incisively *emphasized—*with a curl of that mighty lip and an ironic gesture. If one committed the offense in print—I remember once writing “no mean achievement” in an article—the rebuke might come in note form, or by one’s being handed a copy of the article with a penciled underlining. He could take this vigilance to almost parodic lengths. The words “ruggedly handsome features” appear on the first page of 1984, and for a while Martin declined to go any further into the book. (“The man can’t write worth a damn.”)

Hitchens uses this to emphasise Amis’ love of language but while I have no doubt that this love exists it is also suggests to me a certain attachment to lording it over other people.

When Craig Raine reads Ian McEwan’s drafts, it has been reported, he scribbles “FLF” in the margins to remind the author of Enduring Love and Atonement of when he tried to use the phrase “flickering log fire” in one of his books. It is a sweet little routine. Yet I think the mortification that the memory of this lapse is implied to evoke symbolises the narrow attitude towards “style” that the Loomers have maintained. “All writing is a campaign against cliche,” Amis has suggested, “Not just cliches of the pen but cliches of the mind and cliches of the heart.” Fair enough. But contra the sub-Nabokovian theme of his work – where it is claimed that “cliché spreads inwards from the language of [a] book to its heart” – there is no necessary link between the three. Just a cough might or might not be a symptom of illness, a stylistic cliché might or might not be a symptom of imaginative or observational ineptitude. A scene around around a fireplace that refers to a “flickering log fire” might have more substantial characters, incisive dialogue, wittier allusions et cetera than a scene which refers to, I don’t know, “the mewling tiger cub on the hearth.”

While Amis and Raine have preached that style is substance, the Loomers have increasingly sought to be substantial. “He isn’t content to be a good writer,” wrote Tibor Fischer in a famously hostile review of Amis’ Yellow Dog, “He wants to be profound; the drawback to profundity is that it’s like being funny, either you are or you aren’t.” This was somewhat unfair. Amis can be profound when he is being funny, as in Money, or even the underrated The Information. When he tries to be profound, however, rather than allowing profundity to emerge through his wit, he has been neither. In Koba the Dread or The Second Plane – about communism and jihadism respectively – one faces a terrible combination of humourless self-importance and superficiality.

Amis is not alone. Ian McEwan writes powerfully, insightfully and interestingly about human relationships, but when he turned his hand to politics in Saturday the result was a lot of chin-stroking bourgeois moralism. Salman Rushdie wrote great novels about India but when he tried to do the same about the United States in The Golden House the result was a mess. The problem, I think, is not that these men are incapable of tackling great themes but that they set out, ex nihilo, with the aim of tackling them and the product is inorganic and ill-considered. They have wanted to define their age; to be on the cultural and ideological frontlines – like Orwell, Koestler and Bellow – yet have displayed more ambition than inspiration.

Their politics have not helped. Christopher Hitchens’ transition from full-throated Trotskyism to full-throated neoconservatism has been well-documented and his friends have followed suit, if, in some cases, in a waterier way. “Hussein was running a regime beyond evil,” Clive James mused in 2013, justifying his support for the invasion of Iraq, “What have you got to do with places like that?” Not make them worse. McEwan (like Amis and Rushdie) did not support the invasion but Saturday was disfigured by a lot of handwringing about anti-war protesters not being solemn enough, as if this would have made the slightest difference to anyone.

Rushdie earned a great deal of admiration for his courage during the hideous, fanatical backlash against his book The Satanic Verses, and his friends were admirable in sticking up for him. Nonetheless, it is regrettable that Islam became the great cause they had been looking for, not because they were bigoted (as critics from Terry Eagleton to the current author in his callow days often alleged) but because they were unable to understand or contextualise its influence on the modern world. I think they wanted political Islam to be their communism – an elitist ideology that was inflicted on the masses – but the invasion of Iraq and the death spiral of the Arab Spring proved that wrong. Martin Amis’ inelegant claim that he was not an Islamophobe but an Islamismophobe obscured the fact that there is no clear difference between the two, Muhammad, after all, being a religiously inspired statesman.

The desire to be, like the great authors who came before them, combatants in a showdown between liberalism and a force of tyranny has blinded Loomers to the tensions with liberalism itself, and with admirable exceptions – like Amis’ Money and The Pregnant Widow – they have had almost nothing to say about social stratification, consumerism, gender, mass migration and the Internet. To be sure, their books might be a haven from the identity politicking of progressives but their bland liberalism offers no defence against it.

The decline of the Loomers is not cause to cheer. Their successors have often been worse. Yet this has, to some extent, been no coincidence. The Loomers have not bridged the gap between tradition and modernity, but tried to float across on wings of ephemeral style and plunged, grousing, into the abyss.

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Minor Self Indulgence…

This is extremely, possibly excessively self-indulgent but I wanted to collect some of my favourite pieces from 2018. If one writes a lot one often forgets past articles and allows them to drift into the dark, unlovely wastelands of the Internet. These are some pieces I would not abandon.

1.Reading Chatwin in Silesia“, Front Porch Republic.

I’m very proud of this piece, for integrating my interest in the local and communal with my love of my hometown.

2.Poland at a Hundred Years of Independence“, American Affairs.

I tend not to write about Polish politics, both because my expertise is limited and because I have no wish to tell Poles what to do, but in this piece I think I offered clear analysis, which is often lacking elsewhere.

3.Confessions of a Jet-Set Conservative“, University Bookman.

Writing hatchet jobs is always fun, and filleting Max Boot’s lamentable if accidentally insightful cri de coeur for conservatism was especially so.

4.In Memory of the Spanish Flu“, Quillette.

This might have been one of the least read articles in Quillette‘s history, but the Spanish Flu is a historical phenomenon that deserves more attention, for the sake of its victims and its implications.

5.A Manifesto for Classical Liberalism“, Jacobite.

This was a mean little satire, but it made me laugh to write it, and laugh harder when people took it seriously.

6.What Conservatism Isn’t“, Arc Digital.

I don’t have a clear enough worldview to write a statement of principles but in writing what I disagree with I think I shed some light on my beliefs.

7.In Defence of Male Stoicism“, Quillette.

On what I think is an underappreciated psychological perspective.

8. ““Anti-Imperialism” and Apologetics for Murder“, Quillette.

Exploring the newly relevant history of left-wing third worldism.

9.The Architecture of Annihilation“, Wandering Near Sawtry.

No one wanted to publish this essay on futurism, urbanism and AI but I was quite proud of it.

10. “The Curious Case of Ron Unz“, The Spectator USA.

The “point and splutter” school of journalism is rather sordid but I thought the case of Mr Unz, a Jewish millionaire who attributes what he thinks was the invention of the Holocaust, the assassinations of JFK and RFK and the alleged “inside job” that was 9/11 to Jewish people was exceptionally interesting, and was glad I managed to explore and address his views without a lot of ad hominem attacks or intrusiveness.

Thank you for reading in 2018. Have a lovely Christmas.

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Reflections on Poland’s Independence Day March…

As we inched, with more than two hundred thousand Poles, from Rondo Dmowskiego to the national stadium, my companions checked their phones to see what lies the Western media were telling. “Two hundred thousand Nazis,” one of them chuckled, “That is what they’ll say.”

Well, there was no Nazism that I saw. The most extreme signs and slogans that caused international outrage last year were from a tiny group of neopagan Aryan supremacists who are as representative of the Polish right, never mind Poland, as a peace-loving pacifist was representative of the Mongols.

Still, for a celebration of the hundredth anniversary of national independence, the atmosphere was charged with confrontation. To be sure, most of the marchers were smiling men, women and children, kitted out in white and red shirts, scarfs, hats and jumpers. One father, with his son scurrying about his feet, struck up a conversation after hearing us speaking English. “You’re doing a good job with that flag,” one of my companions noted, nodding at the giant white and red banner he was wielding. “We’re trying to do a good job,” he grinned, “For our country.”

Nonetheless, some attendees were not so celebratory. Gangs of young men scaled the bus shelters that lined the route and bellowed slogans. Foreign journalists might have been baffled by their targets – which included the liberal TV channel TVN and the murderous Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera – but their sheer ferocity did seem out of place. “Young men and their testosterone,” a Polish companion shrugged.

“Wake up Poland and return to God,” one banner read. Another bore a hammer and sickle with a strike through it. To be clear, these sentiments are by no means obnoxious, let alone “extremist”, in themselves. What was obvious, though, was that cultural decay and political oppression were perceived by many marchers not as forces that had been defeated but as powerful enemies to be overthrown. Some marchers were celebrating. Some marchers were demonstrating.

The organisation of the march had been chaotic. The Mayor of Warsaw had banned the nationalist coalition Ruch Narodowy (the National Movement) from marching but a court had overturned her decision. The government had decided to cooperate with the nationalists in organising two slightly separate marches: an official march leading a larger nationalist march.

The nationalist coalition has been lazily described (including by this author) as “fascist”. This is neither true nor wholly untrue. Members of Ruch Narodowy who emerged from the all but defunct League of Polish Families can be more comparable, in ideology, to Salazar than Mussolini, and are too Catholic and conservative for fascism. Other elements, as illustrated by the presence of the explicitly neofascist Italian Forza Nuova party, are more liable to think fascism would have been tolerable if not admirable had it not been for Hitler’s anti-Slavic tendencies. It is morbidly ironic that Polish troops were honouring their forefathers as the ideological descendants of the people they did so much to defeat in the Italian Campaign lurked nearby.

The nationalists have never had electoral success. What they have is organisational prowess. They boast a vanguard of largely young and male supporters who respond to clear, antagonistic, anti-establishment rhetoric, and, due to national pride and testosterone-fuelled machismo, can be counted on to turn out for major demonstrations. Appealing to a wider audience demands a more substantive and inclusive ideology, and more sophisticated campaigning, and it demands that these goals be achieved without the coalition splintering. This is not impossible, but it is difficult.

If anything can make the movement more popular it is the government itself. Law and Justice, the ruling party, are firmly on the right wing of Polish politics in terms of public opinion. By accident or design, however, there can be a gap between its rhetoric and its results. Rhetorically hostile to mass migration, the government has allowed two million Ukrainians to settle in Poland. Rhetorically belligerent towards the European Union, it has, of course, no plans to leave. These policies have not been unpopular enough to harm Law and Justice but its politicians cannot grow complacent. In cooperating with Ruch Narodowa the government might have been hoping to appeal to its supporters, but if it allows too big a gap between its rhetoric and its reults to grow, its own voters might look for politicians whose platforms and policies are more consistent. It is now much easier to find them.

It was moving to watch the sea of white and red flags ripple down the street. Less than a lifetime ago, the city would have been in ruins. The Nazis demolished Warsaw after its brave yet doomed uprising, leaving 85% of its buildings destroyed and hundreds of thousands of its citizens dead. Stalin sat back and watched with complacent indifference before installing a communist government in Poland. The city rose again, like a phoenix out of flames, but was only freed from communism in 1989. Walking past a sign to Mokotów – a pleasant housing district – I grimaced inwardly on being reminded of Mokotów Prison, where Polish war heroes and dissidents were interned, tortured and executed. The Poles have reclaimed the city now. The sign “1918-2018” had been projected onto the former Communist Party headquarters along with a Polish flag. Now, ironically, it is the headquarters of banks.

Across the West, citizens of Britain, and the USA, and Italy and others resent their national dependence on other governments and institutions. There is some extent to which we have to learn to live with it. No sane person would accept the impoverishment and vulnerability that would come from abandoning the military alliances, trade agreements and international regulations that make peace and prosperity attainable. On the other hand, no patriotic person would leap into the arms of foreign investors, governments and institutions without thought for their long-term national interests.

Poland is navigating the boundaries of globalisation and nationalism. Its economy has gone from strength and strength, offering Poles unprecedented opportunities in terms of improving their livelihoods and lifestyles, but divides have been expanding over questions of the political and cultural costs of this progress, as well as the unequal distribution of its blessings. Conflicts over tradition and modernity, and oikophilia and cosmopolitanism, will mark Polish politics for the foreseeable future. Balance must be reached, and a balance that will last.

Still, this it is independence for you. When your country has been occupied it is easier to unite against a common foe. When there is no obvious oppressor, on the other hand, it is much easier to disagree on what should be done. Strolling through Warsaw, the morning after the march, I walked down the streets that had been battlegrounds but now bore tributes to the men and women who had brought them peace: kings, soldiers, scientists, poets and boy scouts. Few nations have struggled as hard to free. Few nations have had as much potential in their freedom.

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The Architecture of Annihilation…

A cathedral is a tribute to God. A skyscraper is a tribute to capital. Cathedrals reflect the glorious narratives of faith. Skyscrapers reflect the profits of capital. This could be an impotent anti-materialist moan. What interests me, though, is something these constructions share: the ostensible status of a human space and the actual devotion to a superhuman force.

In The Thirst for Annihilation, Nick Land writes of “the wild beasts of the impersonal”; thinkers are who are marked by “fatalism, atheism, strangely reptilian exuberance, and extreme sensitivity for what is icy, savage, and alien to mankind.” Perhaps excepting the initial adjective I can think of no more accurate a description of the author of the 1914 document the Manifesto of Futurist Architecture.

“The Futurist house must be like a gigantic machine,” the author insists. This was a prescient proclamation, coming as it did from the times before houses were wrapped in electronic wires. The author has even more ambitious ideas in mind. “We must invent and rebuild the Futurist city like an immense and tumultuous shipyard, agile, mobile and dynamic in every detail.” How man is supposed to live amid tumult goes unexplored. Does he care? Such details do not seem to trouble him:

The lifts must no longer be hidden away like tapeworms in the niches of stairwells; the stairwells themselves, rendered useless, must be abolished, and the lifts must scale the lengths of the façades like serpents of steel and glass.

There is that reptilian exuberance! In the Bible, of course, it is the serpent which tempts Eve with apples from the Tree of Knowledge, and the promise, “Your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods.”

Most researchers have concluded that the author of the manifesto – which followed Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, published five years before – was Antonio Sant’Elia. Dying before the age of thirty, on the battlefields, he designed little in his short and precocious life, yet influenced more fortunate, productive architects (as well as Ridley Scott, who modelled his designs for 2019 Los Angeles on Sant’Elia’s drawings.)

The manifesto bristles with a strange, inhuman energy, proclaiming a desire for skyscrapers that “soar up on the brink of a tumultuous abyss”; “the architecture of calculation, of audacious temerity”; “the use and original arrangement of raw or bare or violently colored materials.”

…just as the ancients drew inspiration for their art from the elements of nature, we—who are materially and spiritually artificial—must find that inspiration in the elements of the utterly new mechanical world we have created…

Why? For the sake of energy; for the sake of dynamism; their power and violence being their own achievement. “To transform the world of things into a direct projection of the world of the spirit.” One has the distinct sense of the people living for the city, not the city for the people; blood pumping around its great, metropolitan frame.

Futurism emerged in the 1900s, as radical theorists welcomed the industrial revolution and the emergence of the motorcar as a chance to shake the recently unified Italy from its stale, nostalgic state and give it fresh meaning and purpose. Enough with the “smelly gangrene of professors, archaeologists, ciceroni and antiquarians.” It was time for bold originality and innovation. It was time to make the fatherland a fierce and energetic youth.

Come on! set fire to the library shelves! Turn aside the canals to flood the museums!

Led by the eccentric poet Marinetti, futurists insisted on the value of speed, and disruption, and, as George L. Mosse wrote in “The Political Culture of Italian Futurism”, “the spontaneity of experience.”

Futurists were antihumanists. “Man is something that must be overcome,” wrote Nietzsche, and that was a sentence Marinetti would have echoed. The first long, ferocious sentence of his Futurist Manifesto references the “electric hearts” of his colleagues (here, again, one finds the image of the serpent, describing “great tubes” on “racing automobiles”.)

Marinetti’s taste for the machine was fetishistic. He authored the Manifesto of Futurist Cooking and organised “aerobanquets”, at which, Alex Revelli Sorini and Susanna Cuttini write, the tablecloth was “replaced by sheets of aluminum and metal plates”, “the table was shaped like an airplane”, and diners roared, “We want fuel!” This is a vivid, if comical, demonstration of a transhumanist urge; a desire to soar, freed from the shackles of physical limitations and humanist sentiments, through the clouds of the unknown. In Marconi’s Wireless, Aaron A. Toscano writes that Marinetti held that humans should be “fast like cars, explosive like bombs, super productive like factories and as free as wireless signals.”

“His polemics rarely focus on concrete possibilities for new machines,” Toscano writes, “Instead he made bombastic claims about an unrealistic…utopia brought about through technology.” This is true enough, yet the utopian – and the dystopian – ideologue can have insights that the realist cannot in tracking implications of events through their potential evolution. One finds echoes of the futurists in the Big Tech enthusiasm for “disruption”, though this a far moderate form of social innovation. The dreams of the futurists had more to do with the Übermensch than with Uber. Their descendants have more radical ideas about the future of technology and men.

Futurism was something of a forerunner to transhumanist and artificial intelligence research. The Italian transhumanist Stefano Vaj has claimed Marinetti as an influence on what he calls “overhumanism”, a controversial synthesis of transhumanist science and anti-egalitarian thought. The “neoreactionary” sphere formed around the right-accelerationist Nick Land and the “formalist” ideologue Curtis Yarvin is a more explicitly right wing phenomenon that has been influenced by futurist ideas.

Futurism is irrevocably linked with fascism, not least as Marinetti wrote “The Fascist Manifesto” during his close though not untroubled alliance with Mussolini. He and others shared the fascistic lust for violence while rejecting its anti-modernist elements. They were also nationalists, reaching, as Mosse wrote, “to pull down a piece of eternity into rush and bustle of time.” Still, they were a more significant precursor to right-accelerationism, the idea that capitalism will, and should, become more powerful and innovative till it transcends its hapless anthropological managers in the form of the superintelligent machine. Just as futurists saw the industrial revolution as a thrilling vehicle for social dynamism, right-accelerationists see an intelligence explosion as a thrilling vehicle for evolutionary progress.

What can make futurism a closer relative to right-accelerationism than fascist politics is its clear emphasis on the machine over the man, either in an egalitarian or elitist sense. Marinetti held that there could be, in Eugene Ostashevsky’s words, “a humano-mechanical new man.” Unlike Marinetti, Sant’Elia ignores man in his actual or idealised forms. There are references to the places in which he is active, but there is almost no interest in his activity. Statues, theatres and opera houses go unmentioned, while he claims to stand for “the great hotels, the railway stations…[the] colossal ports.” (What happens there? It barely matters, as long as it is activity.) The art that he values is “the superb grace of the steel beam” and “the delicacy of reinforced concrete.”

It is interesting to compare Sant’Elia to a more infamous and influential architect who shared his passion for concrete and steel, his polemical style and his iconoclastic impulse. Le Corbusier had a similar taste for the skyscraper, but a clear, if totalitarian, emphasis on buildings as functional anthropocentric entities. In Sant’Elia’s image of the futurist city as an “immense and tumultuous shipyard” there is an inchoate antihumanist element. Man is not the ship, and we know from Sant’Elia’s anti-traditionalism that nor is civilisation. The ship is the spirit. And what if it leaves?

Recent years have offered eerily substantive analyses of the potential for a posthuman world. In “Meditations on Moloch”, Scott Alexander quoted Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Moloch”:

What sphinx of cement and aluminium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?

Alexander reflected that as mechanisation increases further into the realms of artifical intelligence “capitalism becomes more and more uncoupled from its previous job as an optimizer for human values.” He sketched out a plausible situation where:

…most humans are totally locked out of the group whose values capitalism optimizes for. They have no value to contribute as workers – and since in the absence of a spectacular social safety net it’s unclear how they would have much money – they have no value as customers either. Capitalism has passed them by. As the segment of humans who can be outcompeted by robots increases, capitalism passes by more and more people until eventually it locks out the human race entirely, once again in the vanishingly unlikely scenario that we are still around.

It is obvious that cities can be immense engines of dehumanisation. Buildings – tall, dark and unenriched my history, myth or ritual – stand like alien statues. Streets, too big and busy for pedestrians or drivers, become navigable by systems of passenger trains. Heights, too tall to climb, demand the use of elevators. Work often involves the refinement of systems and products that will make labour and play easier, more efficient and more novel if outsourced, in whole or in part, to machines, not men.

Accompanying enormous economic and technological opportunities is a decline in fertility. Nick Land calls advanced cities “IQ shredders”. The IQ shredder:

…skims the human genetic stock…in large part due to the exceptional opportunity it provides for the conversion of bio-privileged human capital into economic value. From a strictly capitalistic perspective, genetic quality is comparatively wasted anywhere else. Consequently, spontaneous currents of economic incentive suck in talent, to optimize its exploitation.

“The most hard-core capitalist response to this,” he writes, “Is to double-down on the antihumanist accelerationism. This genetic burn-rate is obviously unsustainable, so we need to convert the human species into auto-intelligenic robotized capital as fast as possible, before the whole process goes down in flames.”

We know man and nature exist uneasily. We know that something has to change. We look, forlornly, across the “ingenuity gap” that separates our challenges our abilities and draw our own conclusions. Some advocate “uncivilization” as a Jeffersonian (that is, Robinson Jeffers) attempt to abandon humanist hubris and reconnect with the non-human world of animals, and plants, and landscapes. Right-accelerationists advocate ultracivilization, which aspires to abandon humanist hubris and await a posthuman world of superintelligences. Here, a city is as natural as a savannah.

Land wrote in “Machinic Desire”, collected in Fanged Noumena:

Machinic desire can seem a little inhuman, as it rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities, and hacks through security apparatuses, tracking a soulless tropism to zero control. This is because what appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future by an artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources.

The argument is not that capitalism is a conscious force but that “Gnon” – “Nature or Nature’s God” – proceeds according to remorseless evolutionary logic, driving ever more intelligent and innovative entities across the bones of their outdated predecessors. Capitalism, and its associated scientific and technological trends, unloosed its bonds. Anthropological redundancy is an inevitable end.

The city, in this narrative, is a posthuman factory, exhausting the economic value of its oblivious proletariat. Men walk streets and corridors but in the service of that which ensures their obsolescence. The gigantic machine, with its serpents of steel and glass, aims itself towards a faster, more dynamic and more powerful future.

Posted in Fascism, Futurism, Science, Utopianism | 1 Comment

Rubin, Boot, Koestler and Convert’s Syndrome…

Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, or at least their formal boundaries, I became something of a proto-SJW, railing against sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and various other things that bore the suffixes “ism” and “obia”. (Not transphobia, as I recall. That wasn’t such a thing back then.) Frankly, I was a little twerp, but if there was one thing slightly unusual about my case it was that I was a convert. Before, I had been an obnoxious Christopher Hitchens fanboy – the kind of “contrarian” who shared all of his opinions – but this phase had spluttered to half after I had belatedly grappled with the monumental horrors of Iraq. Reevaluating my opinions was important. Unfortunately, I endured a bout of Convert’s Syndrome.

Convert’s Syndrome is a curious affliction. It comes in different forms but typical symptoms include rapid, unstable changes of opinion, overcompensation, sanctimoniousness and memory loss. “One cannot see Convert’s Syndrome in isolation,” said Doctor Reese O’Nable of the Maydup Clinic, “In most cases it is the result of sufferers trying to treat the symptoms rather than the causes of an underlying condition.” People who accept that there are problems with their perspectives change object-level beliefs without interrogating their disordered premises. Thus, an attention-seeker switches from one extreme belief system to another without addressing their desire to be sensational. Conformists reject low-status beliefs for more fashionable views without evaluating their desire to fit in. This problem is exacerbated by the complacence that comes from the assumption of one’s newfound righteousness, as well as the desire to assert it to one’s newfound friends.

Take the talkshow host Dave Rubin. Once a bland left-liberal on the roster of The Young Turks, he soon became a bland classical liberal on the payroll of the Kochs. Rubin’s ideological superficiality has become a running joke, with the comedian and Mixed Martial Arts commentator Joe Rogan exposing his anti-regulatory fundamentalism with such ease that it makes the classic Johnny Rhodes versus Fred Ettish UFC beatdown look hard-fought. Whereas Rubin might have once admired smooth talking leftist blowhards like Cenk Uyger, host of The Young Turks, he now admires smooth talking right-wing blowhards like Candace Owens. Rubin’s object-level opinions might have changed, but his philosophical vacuity endures.

Take Max Boot, the war enthusiast and headwear model who rejected conservatism over the failure of conservatives to oppose President Donald Trump. One can understand opposing Donald Trump, of course. What is beyond understanding is how Mr Boot ignores the question of whether the populism he despises might have been enabled by the neoconservative policies that he promoted. It is like Dr Frankenstein joining an anti-monster NGO without considering his role in its creation.

Take Arthur Koestler. The author of Darkness At Noon was as enthusiastic in his communism as he was enthusiastic in his anti-communism, and as energetic in his Zionism as he was eccentric in his anti-Zionism. Compared to him, famous contrarians like Christopher Hitchens were models of consistency. It is not surprising that he was a promiscuous cad in his private life, as he was, in the words of his biographer Michael Scammell, a “Casanova of causes”. The causes changed but what never eased was Koestler’s “thirst for the absolute,” which he ultimately quenched with fond belief in ESP and levitation.

In my article “What Conservatism Isn’t” I explained that in my early twenties I had moved to the right but that a conversion story would be self-indulgent. It would be also be dull. There was no Damascene moment in which Russell Kirk stuck his head out of the clouds and called me to conservatism. There was just a lot of reading, and writing, and thinking, and a slow and painful process which will never really finish.

God knows, it would be hubristic for me to insist that I have settled on the wisest, cleverest opinions but I did at least avoid another fit of Convert’s Syndrome, and the main reason for that was the laboriousness of the progress. If there is a God, He might reveal himself in a moment of profound enlightenment but there is no one realisation to be made that should transform a political perspective. Belief systems are not built on clear truths that might hit one like an snowball to the skull but deep layers of premises that take time and effort to understand, evaluate and, perhaps, rebuild.

The most essential advice that I could give to someone who believes that their political opinions have been wrong, then, is not to embrace a new set of them too soon; not to ingratiate oneself with another in-group just because they seem appreciative and welcoming. There is a lot of value in being a convert. While it might take some courage to reject old friends and allegiances, one is almost certain to find an audience among people who dislike the opinions we once held. We enjoy being told that we were right along, and people being convinced of this assures us that the winds of change are in our favour. This is not, of course, to say that converts need to be cynical but the promise of a platform and a sympathetic hearing introduces a niggling bias into the equation. It can be courageous to say that one has been wrong, but it can be even more courageous to admit that one is unsure of what is right.

Posted in Rationalism | 7 Comments

In Defence of Roger Scruton…

If the Conservatives fire Roger Scruton from his new position as “housing czar” it will be as vivid a symbol of surrender as running a white sheet up a flagpole. Scruton is Britain’s most prominent and respected conservative intellectual. No one comes close. That singular fame is a grim reflection on the state of conservatism in the home of Burke, Eliot and Oakeshott but that is an argument for another day. The fact remains that the left has isolated a grand old lion from his scattered pride and if his brothers and sisters allow him to be hunted they have far too little spirit to deserve survival.

First, the charges against Scruton must be seen in the light of his achievements. No one alive today has given more epistemological and rhetorical ballast to the ideas of conservatism. His books The Meaning of Conservatism, Thinkers of the New Left and How to be a Conservative have sustained the intellectual tradition as the left has overtaken the British cultural and educational spheres and the Conservative Party has become little more than a force for economic liberalisation. His work on aesthetics, such as in The Aesthetics of Architecture and On Beauty, make him uniquely qualified for his new role. His career has not been without embarrassments – such as his dubious dealings with the tobacco industry – but they have been more than overshadowed by his achievements.

Since the 1980s, Scruton has not been an especially controversial figure. He has argued politely with left-wing intellectuals, and generally avoided the “no platforming” tactics of the social justice crowd. When he was knighted in 2016 there was no uproar. It is only now that journalists have scented blood that hacks and pundits have been combing through his articles and books for evidence of deviant traditionalism.

What are the charges that have been levelled against Scruton? Luciana Berger MP claims that he “peddles anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.” What is that about? The claim began on the centre left “Red Roar” blog, which draws attention to a passage in a speech that Scruton gave in Hungary. “The Jewish minority that survived the Nazi occupation [of that country],” he said:

…suffered further persecution under the communists, but nevertheless is active in making its presence known. Many of the Budapest intelligentsia are Jewish, and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire. People in these networks include many who are rightly suspicious of nationalism, regard nationalism as the major cause of the tragedy of Central Europe in the 20th century, and do not distinguish nationalism from the kind of national loyalty that I have defended in this talk. Moreover, as the world knows, indigenous anti-Semitism still plays a part in Hungarian society and politics, and presents an obstacle to the emergence of a shared national loyalty among ethnic Hungarians and Jews.

One could argue with some points that Scruton made. The reference to a Soros “Empire” is a little inflammatory. It might not be obvious enough that he is not suggesting that Hungarian Jews are monolithic. His sympathy for Viktor Orban could be challenged. Yet even if one has disagreements with Scruton’s rhetoric and opinions in this speech it is plainly false to suggest that he is “peddling antisemitic conspiracy theories.” He does not suggest that Jews are scheming or malicious. He has sympathy with their fear of nationalism, and draws critical attention to “indigenous anti-Semitism” in their homeland. Moreover, he defended Soros in interviews against attacks on his then Hungary based Central European University. What kind of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist does that?

The second charge against Scruton, detailed in a lengthy Buzzfeed article, is that he thinks “Islamophobia” is a “propaganda-word”. So? He does not deny that “Muslims in our society are often victims of prejudice, abuse and assault” and calls this “a distressing situation” but he thinks the term “Islamophobia” has pathologised a range of opinions including justified aversion to hostile and theocratic elements of Islamic teachings. I agree. Perhaps the government does not but is it so beholden to progressive trends that it believes that this opinion renders one deserving of exclusion from mainstream politics? It is a sad day if so.

The third charge against Scruton is that he believes that homosexuality is an abnormal condition. In an article for the Telegraph he wrote that “same-sex couples” are “alternatives to something,” which is “the joining of man and woman, in an act which leads in the natural course of things not just to mutual commitment but to the bearing of children, the raising of a family and the self-sacrificing habits on which, when all is said and done, the future of society depends.” This is what he considers “normal”, which, of course, also excludes short-term or polyamorous heterosexual relationships. One can disagree with him, of course, but if an outlook that was the norm until what was in historical terms about five minutes ago and still defines the traditional standards of Christianity, Islam and Judaism makes one persona non grata in politics, even when one’s position has nothing to do with sexual matters, conservativism is dead and the Conservative Party might as well rebrand itself the Liberal Party.

It is of course understandable that left-wingers hate Scruton. He has been their enemy for decades, ever since the publication, in 1980, of The Meaning of Conservatism. It is natural that they want him discredited and his ideas underground. What would not be understandable is the Conservatives acquiescing to their demands. They would, in effect, be spitting on their legacy and lying prostrate before their enemies’ advance. They would prove themselves nakedly vulnerable to humiliation and entirely deserving of being humiliated.

Posted in Britain, Conservatism | Leave a comment

A Manifesto for Classical Liberals…

What do you think of when you hear the word “liberal”? Hippies? Commies? Vegans? SJWs? Clintons? Well, you could not be more wrong. The word “liberal”, you see, has been misappropriated by people who believe in big government and identity politics. Somewhere between the New Deal and the New Left the word “liberal” was stolen from its rightful owners: classical liberals.

Classical liberalism upholds the values of limited government and individualism. Adam Smith. John Stuart Mill. George Orwell. Dave Rubin. All of these great men have been classical liberals: believers in the power of men and women to forge their own paths through life, free from the state and social justice warriors.

“The only freedom which deserves the name,” wrote Mill, “is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” Amen to that, John. You put the class in classical liberalism.

The problem is that almost nobody knows what classical liberalism is. However many reports the Cato Institute releases, and however many people Dave Rubin interviews, people still associate the word “liberal” with Barack Obama. What is needed is a manifesto for classical liberals. Here, then, in brief, are the core principles of classical liberalism:

(1) Free Speech. Free speech is good, of course, but it is especially good for classical liberals. As a classical liberal, you will want to talk about free speech as much as possible. The beauty of doing so is that talking about the wonders of free speech as a means of enabling unfettered inquiry and debate, and the evils of censorship in stifling such activities, is far easier than actually using free speech to, say, uncover hidden truths or create original art. Any idiot can defend free speech and so it is a comfortable message to fall back on. Upholding the value of free speech is also a good way to flirt with controversial questions without actually committing to a judgement on their answers. Where do I stand on inherited differences, say, or comparative religion? Hrm, well, I dunno, but I support the free speech of people who have opinions! Sing it loud, liberals, and sing it proud: free speech is good.

(2) Individualism. Classical liberals defend the freedom and uniqueness of the individual. We are all individuals. Say it with me, people: we are all individuals. Classical liberals oppose tribalism. For classical liberals, individuals and not groups are what count. Sure, the history of man is the history of tribes, and human societies have always featured group loyalties and group differences, but the important thing to bear in mind is that free speech is good.

(3) The Enlightenment. The greatest triumph of human civilisation was the Enlightenment, a golden age in Western history where intellectual giants like Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, John Locke and David Hume promoted the virtues of classical liberalism while the French lopped off the heads of their aristocrats for some reason. The Enlightenment taught men to cast off the superstitious myths of religion and social hierarchy and embrace objective facts like natural rights and human progress.

(4) Equality. Leftists believe in equal outcomes, a goal that leads to the gulags of Venezuala. Classical liberals believe in equal opportunities. Everyone, whatever race, gender or sexual preference, should be considered on their merits and not their backgrounds. Kids born to unemployed single moms in Nowhere, Pennsylvania should be allowed to apply for the same jobs as kids from Richville, Maryland, and if they don’t succeed, well, they have only themselves to blame.

(5) Capitalism. Classical liberals are capitalists, and oppose government intervention in the market. Classical liberals support the self-expression of the individual, which thrives optimally in a world of corporate power and marketing. Classical liberals are not libertarians, and do not support eliminating regulations and social services. To what extent should they be allowed, and on what bases? Well, free speech is good.

(6) Cultural appropriation. Leftists oppose “cultural appropriation,” or the combining of different elements of different cultures to create something new. In doing so, they are akin to white supremacists who support monolithic cultural entities. Classical liberals support cultural appropriation. No one “owns” a culture, and we make progress when we exchange ideas and influences. Thus, classical liberals celebrate the high cultural values of “sexy squaw” Halloween costumes and fusion cooking.

(7) Horseshoe theory. As seen above, classical liberals have observed that the far left and the far right are not only bad but eerily similar. One supports a world of racial diversity, feminism, gay rights and nationalisation while the other supports ethnonationalism, patriarchy, traditional morality and the corporative state. As you can tell, there is hardly any difference between them.

(8) Democracy. Year after year, across the world, voters have endorsed statist candidates of the right and left. They have yet to hear the message of classical liberalism. If men and women who support economic redistribution and authoritarianism would only read On Liberty or Rights of Man they would become classical liberals and we could achieve the dream of a sensible, moderate President who would cut taxes, legalise marijuana, trigger SJWs and discuss the great issues of the day on The Joe Rogan Experience.

I hope this manifesto has convinced you to embrace the classical liberal inside yourself. From birth, we are assailed with collectivist propaganda: in our schools, in our churches, on our televisions, on the Internet, in our universities and in our jobs. The time has come to wake up from your statist slumbers. Listen to our podcasts, read our books, like, comment and subscribe, donate to our Patreons and be an individual.

Posted in Liberalism, Libertarianism | 5 Comments