Kategorie-Archiv: New Totalitarianism

Keep calm and carry on denying

Mother Theresa II takes the veil

I was in the Mall Gallery yesterday looking at some rather humdrum English landscapes and still life. It’s a pleasant place with a nice cafe just near Admiralty Arch, and I usually enjoy meeting friends there, but for once it wasn’t a good place to be. It’s also near Westminster. After about half an hour drifting about wondering why so few people can paint anymore, mayhem crashed in from outside. Someone heard guns shots, I don’t think I would recognised them, and a security guard appeared in the doorway telling us to keep  inside. People from the street rushed in to join us, for their own safety. We didn’t know it had been a police special squad shooting, so an unspoken thought came to us, clear on people’s faces, that there could be a Jihadists outside or nearby.

A few of us, smiling and joking went to look at the loos wondering if they might be a good place to hide if anyone came in with a machine gun. They weren’t. There was nowhere to go and for a time we couldn’t get out. Like people in offices all over Westminster, including the BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg, we all had to sit tight. It was best to just forget about the risk looming outside on this Spring day and go back to looking at the sentimental images and our mobiles.

I contacted the editor of the Salisbury Review as some of the editorial staff and readers were meeting at 6pm at the Athenaeum. He made a few jokes about my dying as a martyr for the magazine, and thereby putting the circulation up, then realised it was serious and decided that the social event had to be cancelled. Some people were on their way from Manchester and coming up from Devon. When all was deemed safe and they let us out again I made a dash for the bus home. I was worried they might start closing the tubes and it wasn’t nice travelling on them, everyone was very tense.

Perhaps surprisingly this was my first experience of a terrorist attack. In 2015, a total of two hundred and eleven completed, failed, or foiled terrorist attacks were reported by EU states, resulting in one hundred and fifty one fatalities (148 in France, 130 of them in the November 2015 Paris attacks.) Over three hundred and sixty people have been injured. To that we can now add twenty more, including French school children.

Last September Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, pointed out in case we’d missed it, that the threat of terrorist attacks are ‘part and parcel of living in a big city. ’ He encouraged Londoners to be vigilant to combat dangers, without saying exactly how.

He revealed he’d had a bad night after previous bombings in New York, but opined usefully that the world ‘has got to be prepared for these sorts of things,’ to happen when people least expect them.

So, Muslim culture has not yet been normalised in the UK, despite the best efforts of liberals and the Church of England with its all enveloping ‘interfaith dialogue,’ but Islamic terrorism is now normal. I know older people who were children during the war. One of them told me yesterday, ‘People used to go home to find their houses were gone. But they just went to work the next day and carried on.’

After cooking a hearty breakfast on a primus stove in the rubble no doubt. But when he says terror is part and parcel of daily life, something to be expected, I don’t think Khan is really talking about the famous British stiff upper lip. To my ears, his words speak of a required tacit silence about violence, an almost passive acceptance that we now have to have it, in the same way that people on the Left used to insist that a high crime rate was a price worth paying for social ‘freedom.’ We have to have terrorism in our cities because a proportion of Muslims here and abroad believe they are victims and want it.

The big difference between then and now, between Nazi aerial attacks, Irish bombs and one off extremist nutters, is that with Muslim terrorism we are not supposed to oppose the enemy. Instead he is to be given understanding and as far as possible accommodated.

This was confirmed on the extended BBC News at 10am last night when a high ranking member of the Met Police told the BBC that the force would, ‘Seek to reassure the Muslim community,’ after the suffering they’d endured due to, ‘Right wing extremism.’

What exactly this extremism amounted to I don’t know. Perhaps the fiendish capitalist press has kept it away from me. This morning on the Today Programme Muslim leaders were criticising the police Prevent programme which aims to prevent youngsters being radicalised, like the home grown soldier for the Caliphate yesterday. It was obvious from their reaction to the police initiative that they want to police themselves, and will brook no interference from outside. Most Muslims in our cities live in impermeable ghettos and like it that way.

This was followed by the recantation of a popular liturgy from the day before. From Mrs May through Sadiq Kahn, Liam Fox who called for, ‘tolerance,’ and others, it was proclaimed that we will not let the terrorists, those unknown, deeply mysterious blokes who we cannot control, divide our ‘communities.’ That means of course, but is never said, Muslims from the rest of us.

England, that is the most densely populated part of the UK, as anyone knows who really lives in it, using state schools and healthcare, public transport rather than taxis or limousines already completely divided and Byzantine in its complexity. For centuries it has been divided by class. The castes rarely meet or intermarry and do not even converse happily if they can help it. Since the 1960s we have been increasingly divided by ethnicity, which can be related to class but is chiefly now about the protected belief system of the Muslims. No one lives together, no one can. Only politicians and clergypersons weave this disingenuous fantasy that things are otherwise.

Khan began again, spinning out further his fantasy of England and its people, telling us that most terrorists are not from any faith group. He added that, ‘We celebrate each other.’

He’d like it to be like that of course, most of us would. But for anything like that to happen Islam will have to reform itself and change its approach to living in the West, in western cities. We would also have to insist that they do this, or tell them to leave. What are the chances of that?

Roger Scruton: Populism, Representation and the people. We need to rescue politics from populism by speaking in the people’s name.

Looking back over the events of 2016, liberal-minded commentators are apt to sound a warning against “populism,” a disorder that they observe everywhere on the right of the political spectrum. Populists are politicians who appeal directly to the people when they should be consulting the political process, and who are prepared to set aside procedures and legal niceties when the tide of public opinion flows in their favor. Like Donald Trump, populists can win elections. Like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, they can disrupt the long-standing consensus of government. Or, like Nigel Farage and the Brexiteers in Britain, they can use the popular vote to overthrow all the expectations and predictions of the political class. But they have one thing in common, which is their preparedness to allow a voice to passions that are neither acknowledged nor mentioned in the course of normal politics. And for this reason, they are not democrats but demagogues—not politicians who guide and govern by appeal to arguments, but agitators who stir the unthinking feelings of the crowd.

Underlying the attack on populism, therefore, is a belief in two contrasting social motives. On the one hand there are the legitimate and day-to-day political interests that lead people to trust in the democratic process and to cast their vote in full acceptance that the result may not go in their favor. On the other hand there are the dark emotions that the political process is designed to neutralize, but which cynical politicians manipulate at our peril. These dark emotions, summoned in the name of democracy, threaten to bring democracy to an end. For they are at war with the civic attributes on which democracy ultimately depends: fair-minded hesitation, legitimate opposition, and open debate.

Agitators who stir the unthinking feelings of the crowd.

To some extent history supports this diagnosis. Hitler and Mussolini gained power by exciting emotions that have no place in a civilized government, and that the political process exists in order to neutralize. And once in power they quickly abolished all democratic constraints on their behavior and all voice to the opposition. We should not forget, however, that this abolition of the democratic process has ensued equally from revolutionary movements on the left. It is not the specific emotions stirred by Hitler that jeopardized democracy, but the abolition of the constraints that would have put a stop to their exercise. Nor did the danger lie in the fact that the racist passions unleashed by the Nazis were widely shared. A small band of revolutionaries, fired by class resentments, can be just as destructive of the political order, and with similar genocidal consequences, as we know from the Russian and Chinese revolutions.

The fact remains, however, that the accusation of “populism” is applied now largely to politicians on the right, with the implication that they are mobilizing passions that are both widespread and dangerous. On the whole liberals believe that politicians on the left win elections because they are popular, while politicians on the right win elections because they are populist. Populism is a kind of cheating, deploying weapons that civilized people agree not to use and which, once used, entirely change the nature of the game, so that those of gentle and considerate leanings are at an insuperable disadvantage. The division between the popular and the populist corresponds to the deep division in human nature, between the reasonable interests that are engaged by politics, and the dark passions that threaten to leave negotiation, conciliation, and compromise behind. Like “racism,” “xenophobia,” and “Islamophobia,” “populism” is a crime laid at the door of conservatives. For the desire of conservatives to protect the inherited identity of the nation, and to stand against what they see as the real existential threats posed by mass migration, is seen by their opponents as fear and hatred of the Other, which is seen in turn as the root cause of inter-communal violence.

The shocks and surprises of 2016 have made it imperative to understand what, if anything, is true in this charge, and just when, if at all, it is legitimate for politicians to appeal directly to the people, in ways that by-pass or marginalize the political process. Democracy depends upon institutions, procedures, and the famous “checks and balances” established by the American Constitution. And if populism means direct rule by plebiscite, it must surely be a threat to that form of government.

Rousseau famously objected to representative government as a denial of the free choice of the people, whose “general will” emerges only if all of them participate in the important decisions. But he had no clear idea how to govern a large modern society by direct appeal to the people. Now, with everyone armed with a smart-phone, it might be said that Rousseau’s ideal is within our reach. The result is not just Donald Trump and Brexit, however, but a constant rain of petitions touching on everything that happens to be briefly in the news. Thanks to the internet, the iPhone, and all the other gadgets that permit instant messages and twitter storms, people can make their opinions and wishes directly influential on the legislature, without passing through the forum of political debate.

The Brexit referendum was therefore in part an official version of something that is now happening all the time—the instant plebiscite, which casts aside the political process and appeals directly to the people. Twitter and Facebook played their part in enabling the outsider Donald Trump to sweep away all the carefully screened professionals from the Republican primaries. It mattered not a jot that the media, the party machine, and the official channels of Republican opinion were united against him. Those old voices belonged to the political process, which moves slowly and sedately like a distant galaxy, while the social networks dance in the here and now. The old-fashioned media of communication, like the old-fashioned congressional committees and hearings, were filters through which popular feeling had to pass, in order to achieve overt and public expression. Now there are no filters, and thanks to social media every kind of person, and every kind of opinion, has an equal chance to be heard.

The phenomenon of the instant plebiscite—what one might call the “webiscite”—is therefore far more important than has yet been recognized. Nor does it serve the interests only of the Right in politics. Almost every day there pops up on my screen a petition from Change.org or Avaaz.org urging me to experience the “one click” passport to moral virtue, bypassing all political processes and all representative institutions in order to add my vote to the cause of the day. Avaaz was and remains at the forefront of the groups opposing the “populism” of Donald Trump, warning against his apparent contempt for the procedures that would put brakes on his power. But in the instant politics of the webiscite such contradictions don’t matter. Consistency belongs with those checks and balances. Get over them, and get clicking instead.

The social networks dance in the here and now.

It is not that the instant causes of the webiscites are wrong: without the kind of extensive debate that is the duty of a legislative assembly it is hard to decide on their merits. Nevertheless, we are constantly being encouraged to vote in the absence of any institution that will hold anyone to account for the decision. Nobody is asking us to think the matter through, or to raise the question of what other interests need to be considered, besides the one mentioned in the petition. Nobody in this process, neither the one who proposes the petition nor the many who sign it, has the responsibility of getting things right or runs the risk of being ejected from office if he fails to do so. The background conditions of representative government have simply been thought away, and all we have is the mass expression of opinion, without responsibility or risk. Not a single person who signs the petition, including those who compose it, will bear the full cost of it. For the cost is transferred to everyone, on behalf of whatever single-issue pressure group takes the benefit.

We are not creatures of the moment; we do not necessarily know what our own interests are, but depend upon advice and discussion. Hence we need processes that impede us from making impetuous choices; we need the filter that will bring us face to face with our real interests. It is precisely this that is being obscured by the emerging webiscite culture. Decisions are being made at the point of least responsibility, by the man or woman in the street with an iPhone, asked suddenly to click “yes” or “no” in response to an issue that they have never thought about before and may never think about again.

Reflect on these matters and you will come to see, I believe, that if “populism” threatens the political stability of democracies, it is because it is part of a wider failure to appreciate the virtue and the necessity of representation. For representative government to work, representatives must be free to ignore those who elected them, to consider each matter on its merits, and to address the interests of those who did not vote for them just as much as the interests of those who did. The point was made two centuries ago by Edmund Burke, that representation, unlike delegation, is an office, defined by its responsibilities. To refer every matter to the constituents and to act on majority opinion case by case is precisely to avoid those responsibilities, to retreat behind the consensus, and to cease to be genuinely accountable for what one does.

This brings me to the real question raised by the upheavals of 2016. In modern conditions, in which governments rarely enjoy a majority vote, most of us are living under a government of which we don’t approve. We accept to be ruled by laws and decisions made by politicians with whom we disagree, and whom we perhaps deeply dislike. How is that possible? Why don’t democracies constantly collapse, as people refuse to be governed by those they never voted for? Why do the protests of disenchanted voters crying “not my president!” peter out, and why has there been after all no mass exodus of liberals to Canada?

The answer is that democracies are held together by something stronger than politics. There is a “first person plural,” a pre-political loyalty, which causes neighbors who voted in opposing ways to treat each other as fellow citizens, for whom the government is not “mine” or “yours” but “ours,” whether or not we approve of it. Many are the flaws in this system of government, but one feature gives it an insuperable advantage over all others so far devised, which is that it makes those who exercise power accountable to those who did not vote for them. This kind of accountability is possible only if the electorate is bound together as a “we.” Only if this “we” is in place can the people trust the politicians to look after their interests. Trust enables people to cooperate in ensuring that the legislative process is reversible when it makes a mistake; it enables them to accept decisions that run counter to their individual desires and which express views of the nation and its future that they do not share. And it enables them to do this because they can look forward to an election in which they have a chance to rectify the damage.

That simple observation reminds us that representative democracy injects hesitation, circumspection, and accountability into the heart of government—qualities that play no part in the emotions of the crowd. Representative government is for this reason infinitely to be preferred to direct appeals to the people, whether by referendum, plebiscite, or webiscite. But the observation also reminds us that accountable politics depends on mutual trust. We must trust our political opponents to acknowledge that they have the duty to represent the people as a whole, and not merely to advance the agenda of their own political supporters.

But what happens when that trust disintegrates? In particular, what happens when the issues closest to people’s hearts are neither discussed nor mentioned by their representatives, and when these issues are precisely issues of identity—of “who we are” and “what unites us”? This, it seems to me, is where we have got to in Western democracies—in the United States just as much as in Europe. And recent events on both continents would be less surprising if the media and the politicians had woken up earlier to the fact that Western democracies—all of them without exception—are suffering from a crisis of identity. The “we” that is the foundation of trust and the sine qua non of representative government, has been jeopardized not only by the global economy and the rapid decline of indigenous ways of life, but also by the mass immigration of people with other languages, other customs, other religions, other ways of life, and other and competing loyalties. Worse than this is the fact that ordinary people have been forbidden to mention this, forbidden to complain about it publicly, forbidden even to begin the process of coming to terms with it by discussing what the costs and benefits might be.

Of course they have not been forbidden to discuss immigration in the way that Muslims are forbidden to discuss the origins of the Koran. Nor have they been forbidden by some express government decree. If they say the wrong things, they are not arrested and imprisoned—not yet, at least. They are silenced by labels—“racism,” “xenophobia,” “hate speech”—designed to associate them with the worst of recent crimes. In my experience, ordinary people wish to discuss mass immigration in order to prevent those crimes. But this idea is one that cannot be put in circulation, for the reason that the attempt to express it puts you beyond the pale of civilized discourse. Hillary Clinton made the point in her election campaign, with her notorious reference to the “deplorables”—in other words, the people who bear the costs of liberal policies and respond to them with predictable resentments.

A dose of direct democracy may be needed.

But it is precisely at this point that a dose of direct democracy may be needed. For political questions are of two distinct kinds: those that concern how we should be governed, and those that concern who we are. Questions of policy are questions for our representatives, who can draw on expert opinion and Congressional committees, in order to produce answers that can be justified in the legislature and argued to the people. Questions of identity are questions for the people themselves, for they alone can answer them. They alone know the nature and components of the “we” to which their loyalty is owed. The political elite can tell them to subscribe to some project or ideal. But it is not projects and ideals that produce the pre-political “we”; it is not for such abstract reasons that the working-class Republican and the middle-class Democrat recognize, through all the mist of their mutual antagonism, that they belong together. And when the pre-political “we” has, for whatever reason, been jeopardized, it is too late for the political process to deal with it. Emerging from behind the politics there then appears another and deeper question, the question who we are.

The United States has been governed from the beginning by a document that begins “We, the people of the United States . . . ” And this “we” resounds through all that follows. It is the voice of the first-person plural, the collective identity that makes democratic government possible, and which arises from a shared history, territory, language, and law. It is precisely this identity that has been put in question by demographic and constitutional changes, and the shock of the recent Presidential election has made Americans fully aware of this.

Likewise people are beginning to understand the recent referenda in Britain and Italy as addressed to the question who we are. When the electorate of Scotland was asked whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom, the question was one of pre-political identity. Who was to be included in the first-person plural? The Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, which allows them to govern themselves through the Scottish Parliament. But they also continue to vote for the Scottish National Party in the Westminster Parliament. Had the English been permitted to vote in this referendum, in the outcome of which they had as great an interest as the Scots, they would probably have voted for English independence, in order to free themselves from the niggling presence in their Parliament of people who ostentatiously and continuously vote against English interests, whenever Scotland or the snp might benefit. Some might say that, in this case, there was not a real referendum—not a real referral of the matter in hand to the people as a whole—since only some of the relevant people were allowed to vote. This was certainly not “politics as usual.” But it was still politics, with the people brought in only because it had become impossible to proceed without appearing to consult them.

The referendum on EU membership was a more genuine appeal to the people, and here too the question of identity was also at issue. Three factors seem to have influenced the “no” vote: immigration, the top-down dictatorship exercised by the European Commission in all matters that remotely touch on economics (which means in all matters), and the effect of the European courts on the law and customs of the British people. The political class has failed in recent decades to address popular concern about these things, with protests, however muted, dismissed as “racism and xenophobia”: an accusation that was unhesitatingly repeated both in the run-up to the vote and, more bitterly, in the wake of it.

These ritual denunciations of people who are, by recent standards, about as un-racist and un-xenophobic as you are likely to find, meant that there was a marked reluctance by politicians on the left either to speak up for or even to notice the indigenous working class. The “no” vote of traditional Labour voters was the consequence of immigration from Eastern Europe that has both lowered the price of labor and radically impacted on their native environment and sense of community. No political question has been more important to them since suffering the effects of the ill-considered Maastricht Treaty than the question who we are—who is entitled to the benefits of social membership and what exactly is “our” birth-right, as the people who were born “here” from parents who fought for this “here” to be “ours”? Living now among foreigners, sending their children to schools where English is the second language, competing with the newcomers for housing, social services, and health-care, and above all with nowhere else to go, they can hardly be blamed for thinking that they are paying the cost of political decisions that benefit only distant elites.

But the concern about migration reaches further than the old working class. Identity has been an issue all across the continent, as the EU’s “freedom of movement” provisions open the borders to mass population transfers. Those who argued that we should remain in the EU tended to see the matter purely in economic terms: the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Romanians, and Bulgarians flooding into Britain bring with them energy, enterprise, and skills that boost production and foster economic growth. Like those who justify recruiting doctors and nurses from the third world, the enthusiasts for immigration ignore the countries that pay the cost of this. The fragile and nascent democracies of Eastern Europe are striving to join the world of global trade, while losing their skilled work-force, their educated middle class, and the best of their young, causing, in Poland at least, a demographic crisis that may soon bring the country to its knees. Moreover, at the very moment when it is becoming difficult for Poland and the Baltic States to recruit a conventional defense force from an aging population, President Putin has installed nuclear attack missiles in Kaliningrad, and moved a fully mobilized army of 300,000 men to the Russian border.

In the run-up to the referendum, there was a frenzied attempt by David Cameron and his circle to turn the attention of the electorate away from migration to questions of economics and trade, as though this were all that EU membership has ever amounted to. It is true that a country’s stability depends on trade. But it also depends upon trust—upon the sense that we are bound to each other by a shared loyalty, and that we will stand by each other in the real emergencies. Social trust comes from shared language, shared customs, instinctive law-abidingness, procedures for resolving disputes and grievances, public spirit, and the ability of the people to change their own government by a process that is transparent to them all. And those goods have been bound up for centuries with the allegiance of ordinary people to a place, a culture, a law, and a political process that they define as their own. They were goods tied to national identity.

The hope of the founders of the EU—Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Walter Hallstein, Altiero Spinelli, and others—was to create new forms of identity that would replace the national feelings of the European people. They were moved by the belief that national feeling is exclusive and, when challenged, belligerent, and they were seeking a more open and “softer” alternative. For commentators on the right, the Brexit referendum was proof that this project had failed. The referendum had given to the people an opportunity they would not otherwise have had, and which successive governments had conspired to remove from them, namely the opportunity to affirm their national identity against the EU, and in defiance of policies that compel them to share their country and its privileges with their foreign competitors.

Although the recent Italian referendum was ostensibly concerned with constitutional changes that would reduce the power of the Senate and accelerate the legislative process, it was understood by the people as a vote of confidence in the unelected Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, and in the EU that was ultimately responsible for appointing him. As in Britain, the issue of identity was at the forefront of popular sentiment, and the massive “no” vote was a heartfelt cry from the people to take the question of their identity seriously. What has the EU done for Italy, in the crisis brought about by the daily arrival of thousands of migrants, many of them young men without families who have no intention to return? While representing all questions of migration and settlement as questions for Europe as a whole, the EU has no clear policy for dealing with the matter, and must in any case absorb the effects of Chancellor Merkel’s decision to offer asylum to all and sundry, without regard for the feelings of those Germans who must bear the cost of this. In any future referendum in Europe, in whatever country and over whatever ostensible issue, it will be the question of migration, and the desire of the people for effective leadership in confronting it, that will determine the outcome of the vote.

The conservative movement is at an impasse.

Of course the American Presidential election was not a referendum. Nevertheless the issues raised by Donald Trump were the very same issues as those that are troubling the people of Europe—massive immigration into traditional working-class communities, the growth of minorities whose loyalty to the national “we” has yet to be proven, and the disruptive effect of the global economy and liberal attitudes on the old and settled ways of life. The same response has occurred among liberals in the United States as among liberals in Europe: that these issues should not be openly discussed, and certainly not in such a way as to give oxygen to the “racism and xenophobia” that are always in danger of bursting into flames. And liberals have a point: there is a danger here, and a very real one, even if it remains questionable whether the danger is lessened or increased by the current habits of censorship.

All this has left the conservative movement at an impasse. The leading virtue of conservative politics as I see it is the preference for procedure over ideological programs. Liberals tend to believe that government exists in order to lead the people into a better future, in which liberty, equality, social justice, the socialist millennium, or something of that kind will be realized. The same goal-directed politics has been attempted by the EU, which sees all governance as moving towards an “ever closer union,” in which borders, nations, and the antagonisms that allegedly grow from them will finally disappear. Conservatives believe that the role of government is not to lead society towards a goal but to ensure that, wherever society goes, it goes there peacefully. Government exists in order to conciliate opposing views, to manage conflicts, and to ensure peaceful transactions between the citizens, as they compete in the market, and associate in what Burke called their “little platoons.”

That conception of government is, to me, so obviously superior to all others that have entered the imperfect brains of political thinkers that I find myself irresistibly drawn to it. But it depends on a pre-political unity defined within recognized borders, and a sovereign territory that is recognizably “ours,” the place where “we” are, the home that we share with the strangers who are our “fellow countrymen.” All other ways of defining the “we” of human communities—whether through dynasty, tribe, religion, or the ruling Party—threaten the political process, since they make no room for opposition, and depend on conscripting the people to purposes that are not their own. But procedural politics of the conservative kind is possible only within the confines of a nation state—which is to say, a state defined over sovereign territory, whose citizens regard that territory as their legitimate home.

Ordinary people for the most part recognize this, which is why they voted as they did in the elections and plebiscites of 2016. And they look to conservative politicians to protect their home from the disintegrative forces that now impinge on it. At the same time very few politicians will dare to stand against the abuse that greets those who defend the call for national identity in open and explicit terms. The response of the media and world public opinion to Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, and Geert Wilders has been vitriolic in the extreme. Wilders has even been found guilty of “inciting discrimination and hatred” by a Dutch court, for having uttered unwise remarks about Moroccan immigrants to his country—remarks which might, for all that was said in court, be true, but which have been judged nevertheless to be unsayable.

The charge of “populism” is therefore beginning to bite. What has to be said by conservatives, if they are to reaffirm the first-person plural on which their kind of politics depends, cannot be easily said, for fear of the labels that bring all discussion to a stop. David Cameron was well aware of this, which is one reason why he did not try, in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, to allay popular fears about immigration. Even to raise the question would be to step beyond the boundary. And because he did not raise the question Cameron lost the referendum.

There is a way out of this impasse, however. It is surely possible now to bring the question of identity into the center of political discourse, so that it ceases to be addressed only in plebiscites, referenda, and the degrading social media. It is possible to begin discussions in Congress and Parliament on the legislation that may now be necessary to ensure continuity of our inherited first person plural. For we in the Anglosphere have a language in which to do this—a language with a respectable past and an acknowledged political use. When we wish to summon the “we” of political identity we refer to our country. We do not use grand and ideologically tainted abstractions, like la nation, la patrie, or das Vaterland. We refer simply to this spot of earth, which belongs to us because we belong to it, have loved it, lived in it, fought for it, and established peace and prosperity within its borders.

We need to rescue politics from populism by speaking in the people’s name.

This language enables politicians to address the question of immigration without incurring charges of racism and xenophobia. It is not race or faith that defines the true patriot, but attachment to this place that is ours. Whom do we welcome into this place, and on what terms? Those are legitimate questions, and the moment is opportune to take on board the disquiet that ordinary people feel, when the place that they regard as home is suddenly strange to them, and filled with others to whom they do not or cannot relate as neighbors. It is opportune also to recognize the difference between incomers who wish to settle and acquire the rights and duties of citizenship, and who are prepared for the long, slow apprenticeship that this requires, and the influx of communities who remain locked in their former way of life, who pay no heed to civic duties and who make no effort to assimilate to the surrounding secular order. Why not assert publicly that immigrants must be integrated if they are to be citizens, and that if they come in large numbers, so as radically to alter the way of life and surroundings of their hosts, this will inevitably make the process of integration difficult or impossible?

Above all, it seems to me, conservatives should revitalize the idea of “our country,” not in narrow-minded or chauvinistic terms, but as the correct description of the pre-political “we.” Liberals will respond with name-calling and moralizing—but not all of them, since liberals too can call on a tradition of patriotic sentiment for which “our country” is a legitimate standard. It was precisely this idea, of a place that belongs to me because I belong to it, that animated the Brexit vote. And it is the same idea that has caused so many Americans to revolt against President Obama’s stance on immigration, and notably his policy of offering amnesty to those who enter the United States of America illegally and who strive thereafter to profit from this crime. Bringing this idea into the center of the political process, and rescuing it in that way from the webiscite culture, will surely be a prelude to a coherent policy for the control of borders and the legitimate path to citizenship.

This does not mean that there is an easy response to mass migration: at some stage force will be necessary, if borders are to be secure, a point already recognized by many countries in Europe. Nor does it mean that pressures from the global economy can be easily excluded, or that free trade can be maintained while protecting vital indigenous industries. All such difficulties will remain, and the main task of the political process will be to arrive at whatever compromise solutions can be achieved in response to them. But in all these matters there is a clear way forward for conservatives, which is to take the sting out of populism, by addressing the issues which, to date, have been acknowledged only by official and unofficial plebiscites. We need to make those issues into the primary matter of political debate, and to rescue politics from populism by speaking clearly in the people’s name.

Pankaj Mishra: Age of Anger. A History of the Present.

Harry Borden/Contour by Getty ImagesPankaj Mishra, London, November 2014

In Pankaj Mishra’s portrait of our age, most people are angry: the white working class of the American rust belt betrayed by the metropolitan elites, the young high school and college graduates clinging to part-time jobs in Europe, and the terrorists who lived in the Paris banlieues. All of these different manifestations of rage, Mishra argues, have a common source: resentment at a “modernity” that promises equality and freedom and delivers only the dog-eat-dog brutality and competition of neoliberal capitalism. It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mishra argues, who diagnosed in the 1750s the resentment that has defined but also corroded the modern age ever since:

An existential resentment of other people’s being, caused by an intense mix of envy and sense of humiliation and powerlessness, ressentiment, as it lingers and deepens, poisons civil society and undermines political liberty, and is presently making for a global turn to authoritarianism and toxic forms of chauvinism.

If this is the hypothesis—and Mishra’s new book, Age of Anger, is widely discussed and much praised for his analysis—what are we to make of it? It’s not obvious that patriotic coal miners and steelworkers from Tennessee or Ohio share any resentments in common with jihadis. Young Europeans looking for jobs are unlikely to feel much kinship with the fanatics who shot up the Bataclan in Paris. Indeed, it’s not even clear that many of their fellow banlieusards share the jihadis’ quarrel with “modernity.” Few have joined their civil war.

There’s a lot of anger in this age of ours, but not all anger is the same and not all anger has equal justification. To describe terrorism as an act of anger, for example, may seem to imply that it has a justifying cause. In lumping together the anger of workers left high and dry by plant shutdowns, young people unable to find a secure job, and jihadi killers, Mishra fails to distinguish an anger that results in indiscriminate slaughter and has no justification whatever.

Mishra doesn’t bother with such distinctions, it seems, because he sympathizes with the anger of jihadists and believes it has some justification. At one point, for example, he says of the ISIS terrorists that they have “aimed at exterminating a world of soul-killing mediocrity, cowardice, opportunism and immoral deal-making.” Never, so far as I know, has a free and freedom-loving intellectual handed a gang of killers such a lofty worldview. Mishra would not justify terrorist acts—he would recoil at the very idea—yet in seeing its perpetrators as holy warriors against “modernity” he justifies their arguments.

Yet what exactly is this “modernity”? Mishra means “the unprecedented political, economic and social disorder that accompanied the rise of the industrial capitalist economy.” The dislocating convulsion that the West experienced between 1750 and 1850, he argues, is now sweeping through Asia, Africa, and the Middle East with the same destabilizing effects. Just as the dislocations of industrial capitalism triggered revolts, uprisings, and terrorism in the West, he argues, the same dislocations are engendering avenging rage in the East. “This militant secession from a civilization premised on gradual progress under liberal-democrat trustees—a civilization felt as outrageously false and enfeebling—now rages far beyond Europe.”

This version of modernity is relentlessly dystopian. “The history of modernization,” according to Mishra, “is largely one of carnage and bedlam rather than peaceful convergence.” This is Max Weber’s “iron cage” of modernity, the industrial capitalist machine that “led,” Mishra writes, to “world wars, totalitarian regimes and genocide.”

Let’s consider the work that this tiny word “led” is obliged to perform in Mishra’s analysis. The chain of causation that produced world wars, totalitarian regimes, and genocide in the twentieth century has occupied historians for generations, and they have concluded that these terrible occurrences deserve careful analysis and were not inevitable. Industrial capitalism “led” to war, totalitarianism, and genocide only if you leave leadership, contingency, folly, and failure out of the story, in other words if you leave out politics. To say that “modernity” led to world wars, totalitarian regimes, and genocide, without showing the clear connection to actual history, is to rely on invective.

Modernity does include imperialism, exploitation of man by man, oppression of women, racism, colonial conquest, and war. It also includes—a random selection—the formal abolition of slavery and the slave trade, the invention of sulphonomides and penicillin, the development of treatments for cancer, the near elimination of polio, universal declines in the incidence of tuberculosis, sharp falls in child mortality, the right to vote for women, staggering advances in physics, chemistry, and biology, and the ordinary, inadequate, decencies of the welfare state. Modernity also includes human rights, self-determination, and decolonization. Imperialism, pace Marx, is a contingent rather than necessary feature of capitalism. You’d never know, from Mishra’s denunciations of colonialism, that the last European empire, the Portuguese, collapsed in 1974; the last empire of them all—the Soviet Union—disappeared in 1991.

Progress of this sort lets no one off the hook: inequality, injustice, and environmental despoliation all remain, but to ignore what modernity has made possible for a large part of humanity gives the violent nihilists of our time a victory they do not deserve. Mishra carries the attack on modernity so far as to attempt to deny clear if modest gains for the world’s poorest people. Millions of Chinese and Indians, he writes, “will never enjoy in their lifetime the condition of a civilized urban existence.” Age of Anger never bothers to engage with clear evidence to the contrary. Hundreds of millions of Indians, Chinese, and Africans have been lifted out of absolute poverty in the last two generations. Mishra could have argued about the absence of human rights in countries such as these, but he is not drawn to engage in detail with them.

Since modernity is actually a multifaceted accumulation of dark and light, progress and retrogression, Mishra’s analysis quickly becomes tangled in its own contradictions. In one part of the book, modernity is castigated for its creative destruction. Here he draws on traditional conservative nostalgia about capitalism’s impact on custom, tradition, and rural order. In other places, his indictment is from the left, directed against capitalism’s creation of new inequalities. In still other places, it is no longer capitalism’s creative destruction that is at fault. Rather it is economic stagnation that is to blame: “In an economically stagnant world that offers a dream of individual empowerment to all but no realizable dreams of political change, the lure of nihilism can only grow.” He begins one sentence crediting modernity with overturning “entrenched prejudices” against women, only to conclude the same sentence observing that the overthrow of these prejudices “is one major source of male rage and hysteria today.” Which side, one might ask, is Mishra on? He seems to want to have it both ways. Here too he does not engage with the contradiction he puts forward.

His critique draws heavily on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality of 1755. Mishra argues that if we return to Rousseau’s indictment of early capitalist alienation and resentment, we can better understand contemporary discontents. “Rousseau’s prescient criticism of a political and economic system based on envious comparison, individual self-seeking and the multiplication of artificial needs…helps us to understand…why a cleric like Ayatollah Khomeini rose out of obscurity to lead a popular revolution in Iran.” Using Rousseau to understand Khomeini is bizarrely unhelpful. Any actual explanation of Khomeini’s rise might want to include the fall of Mohammed Mossadegh, the interference of the CIA, the cruelty and violence of the Shah, the Shia revival, and Khomeini’s political skill in exile. In other words, it is Iranian politics and Western governments’ arrogant and incompetent interventions, not Rousseauian ressentiment, that explain the Iranian revolution.

More broadly, modernity as a concept has no capacity to explain ressentiment, anger, and violence. It can be forced to deliver explanations only if you ignore all of its positive impulses and if you ignore, as Mishra does, such drivers of history as politics, contingency, and folly.

Mishra makes much of the fact that the anger toward the West in the Middle East and South Asia today replays the anger of Russians and other Eastern Europeans lagging behind the industrializing West in the nineteenth century. But he misses what contemporary Russian revolutionaries, like Alexander Herzen, saw with such painful clarity: that Russian resentment lay not with “modernity” itself—railways, telegraphs, banks, and capitalism—but with the fact that it was imposed from above by an absolutist regime intent on blocking other aspects of modernity—“the moral check on power, the instinctive recognition of the rights of man, of the rights of thought, of truth.”

Mishra thinks that liberalism has betrayed the values that Herzen praised so poignantly because it has become a political apologia for capitalist progress. On the contrary, the wisest liberals of the cold war era, Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin, always warned against linking liberalism to historical narratives of progress, capitalist or otherwise. In their view, it was Marx’s attempt to ground his revolutionary politics in a “science of history” that, more than any other factor, led communism to become an intellectual tyranny everywhere it was tried. It was Berlin, after all, who loved to quote Herzen’s great remark to the effect that history has no libretto.

So it is always a good idea to resist triumphalist narratives of history, for example, the conceit that the end of the Soviet Empire would usher in an age of liberal capitalist democracy everywhere. It is always important to question the alibis that narratives of progress offer for the dark side of capitalism. But it serves no useful intellectual purpose to substitute dystopian narratives that are equally distorting.

Mishra inveighs against “clash of civilization theorists”—presumably Samuel Huntington—and other unnamed “intellectual robots” who keep “recycling such oppositions as backward Islam versus the progressive West, Rational Enlightenment versus medieval unreason, open society versus its enemies.” In place of these false oppositions, however, he substitutes the dubious cliché that capitalist modernization everywhere is a story of “invasions, unequal treaties, assassinations, coups, corruption, and ruthless manipulation and interference,” in which the dominant West is invariably the aggressor and the East is invariably the virtuous but hapless victim.

Mishra’s analysis concludes with a call for “transformative thinking,” suggesting that the root of the populist anger of the age lies in modernity itself and the resentment it ignites. The result is that his argument effectively precludes any possibility of a political response. If modernity is the problem, what is the cure? We are modernity and we have been so since Rousseau. Modernity endures because it emancipates as well as crushes, frees as well as imprisons. Above all, it is not a malign fate that can only be endured. Modernity is a reality shaped by human will, capitalist, anticapitalist, liberal, conservative, socialist, all pulling in different directions to produce the vast and fragmented reality in which we have to live.

What is missing in Mishra’s vision is any account of the influence of political will in changing the course of modernity in the years ahead. He is right when he says that we are currently living through “an extraordinary if largely imperceptible destruction of faith in the future—the fundamental optimism that makes reality seem purposeful and goal-oriented.” But you cannot reconstruct faith in the future if you give no credit to what political faith has actually achieved in the past. You would not know, reading Age of Anger, that democratic struggles for the right to strike, the right to vote, and the right to equality for countless excluded, despised, and marginalized peoples have enlarged the circle of political inclusion for millions of citizens.

A writer of Mishra’s passion and erudition might actually have engaged with what needs to be done, here and now, to make modernity fulfill its so often betrayed emancipatory promise. He calls for “transformative thinking,” but offers us only passionate fatalism and angry resignation. He does not consider what could be done: getting money under control in politics, defending the rule of law from predatory cliques, fighting for the rights of migrants and refugees, finding decent jobs for those left behind by economic change, reestablishing the norm that everyone, especially corporations and the super-rich, pay their fair share of taxes, getting nations together to slow the pace of climate change. The list is long and accomplishing any of it depends on faith in the capacity of men and women to work together to secure their objectives.

It hardly needs to be said that history does not appear to be on the side of liberal and progressive ideals. We are in the full gale of a conservative counterrevolution that could last for some time and reshape modernity in a reactionary direction. If this is the situation, Mishra’s analysis may be taken to imply that the best we can hope for is to be acute but futile observers, while the worst would be to give up political activity altogether. What is agonizing about our current situation is not that it is hopeless but that it could have been different. It is the contingency, the sheer avoidability of the current situation, that should rekindle faith that it can be changed in the future.

We’ve had an unforgettable lesson in the importance of political agency and the dire consequences of failures of political leadership. Had political leadership in the Remain camp in Britain or the Democratic Party in the United States mobilized constituencies in time and got out their vote, we would not be ruled by people with such a determination to move us in the opposite direction. In both cases, a different outcome was only narrowly defeated. Mishra’s analysis, which removes political agency from the story of modernity, makes it impossible to grasp that our present situation could have turned out very differently. We need to remember this if we are to recover the faith in ourselves that we need in order to shape the future in the direction of progressive ideals.

We must be ever vigilant of the Left’s insidious domination of our institutions

The students carry a coffin and a banner reading RIP Education
Students protest in College Green, Bristol Credit: Tim Ireland/PA

 

It is a cliché to speak of „political correctness gone mad“. But it is much more serious when it goes institutional. This week, a report („Lackademia“ by Noah Carl) from the libertarian Adam Smith Institute argued that British universities are largely staffed by the Left.

As stated, this sounds like an „Is the Pope a Catholic?“ thesis. After all, the Left has dominated academia since at least the Second World War. What’s new? In part, it is a question of degree. According to the report, in 1964, 35 per cent of academics supported the Conservative Party. Today, that figure is only 11 per cent. Forty-six per cent support Labour, and 77 per cent support parties (including Labour) of the Left. A separate poll of university staff last June showed that 89 per cent would vote Remain in the EU referendum. The once-mixed garden of academia has become almost a monoculture.

I was amused to read a Tweet which accidentally illustrated the problem. Helen McCarthy, a loquacious historian at Queen Mary College, University of London, proclaimed: „And if universities are 75 per cent “left-liberal” that hardly equates to ideological homogeneity.“ It does if you are part of the 25 per cent minority.

It has been rightly pointed out that such group-think is anti-intellectual, intolerant and therefore bad for universities and students. What has been missed is the exact way the Left has fashioned the agenda, and the consequences for the way we live and learn now.

In the 1970s, many on the Left began what is sometimes called „the Cultural Turn“.  Frustrated by the obstinate refusal of the working classes to listen, they gave up on them. They played down their grim economic doctrines and branched out into wider social and cultural issues – race, sexual politics, the use of language – of more interest to students and lecturers than to labourers. Having waited in vain for capitalism to collapse – as Marxists say – ‘under the weight of its own contradictions’, they changed the subject.

As my late, great friend, Frank Johnson, star of this newspaper, once put it to me, „They failed to nationalise the economy, so now they want to nationalise people.“

This has been alarmingly successful. In a bourgeois society, it is hard to persuade most citizens to hand their money over to the control of the state. It is much easier to persuade significant elements of the bourgeoisie – especially if they are young and feel a bit guilty about their „privilege“ – to mobilise against things like racism and sexism as well as various attitudes which their teachers have stigmatised by calling them „phobias“.

Over time, this shift allows the persuaders to take control of an academic subject and reshape it. The traditional core of academic history, for example, was taken to be war, politics, parliaments, constitutions, diplomacy and all that. If you could persuade people that this was a white, male, Western, colonialist and therefore bad way of looking at the world, you could make them study the history of witchcraft or gender instead.

Activists and protesters with the National Center for Transgender Equality rally in front of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017,
Activists and protesters with the National Center for Transgender Equality rally in front of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, Credit: Andrew Harnik

The history of the word „gender“, indeed, is a tribute to the success of the Left. It was deliberately moved, from being a term of grammar, to replace the word „sex“ (in the days when „sex“ primarily meant whether you were male or female).  The Left did this to indicate that your gender was not something you were born with but something imposed upon you by a patriarchal society in order to enforce various „gender roles“, such as women doing more child-care than men.

From this, it was a short step to the idea that gender was, or should be, „fluid“. And from that, we reach the present state of affairs where people in higher education consider it a serious issue whether you can call all people „he“ or „she“ – these pronouns being „gender-specific“ (bad!) – rather than the singular „them“ or „they“.

Many people throw up their hands in laughter or horror at these extremities. Yet the Left’s academic takeover has worked: almost all of us, regardless of political view, use the word „gender“ nowadays, mostly quite unaware that we thereby accept a new doctrine about the difference (or lack of it) between men and women.

Not only doctrinal issues are at stake, but also the eternal question of who is in charge. Seeing its opportunity, the Left in universities established the sort of ‘deep state’, which, in other fields (e.g. the Western intelligence and security apparatus), it would criticise. Its academic elites can control who sits on committees, who gets the best jobs, the articles published in learned journals and the funding.

These elites have their liberal „popes“, dispensing patronage and expressing their infallibility with the confidence derived from their power. Read the tweets of Sir Richard Evans, Emeritus Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge and President of Wolfson College. On he drones (if so short a form can be said to allow for droning) about whether Trump’s America resembles the Third Reich, how Arabic numerals prove that Western civilisation is not „Judaeo-Christian“, and why Brexiteers are liars. He tweets a picture of his college flying a rainbow flag ‘celebrating equality and diversity’. One can be confident that, if confronted by a UKIP banner on college premises, Sir Richard’s enthusiasm for diversity would vanish.

Or take Professor Richard Drayton. Like some satirist’s parody of a PC opportunist, Professor Drayton delivers bloodcurdling denunciations of the statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oxford because it ‘symbolises white domination’, while at the same time accepting his post and salary as Rhodes Professor of Imperial History at King’s College, London.

My point here is not that these preposterous profs should be reined in. The leftwing, establishment don is a recognised part of our richly comic culture, like the trendy vicar or the barking colonel. It is rather that conservatives and, specifically, Conservatives should be much more alert to how much they have unthinkingly conceded to the ‘cultural hegemony’ of the Left.

Just now, for example, Mrs May’s government is keen on social mobility. This is a thoroughly Conservative idea if it is about opportunity. But it quickly becomes a socialist one if it is about the Government forcing independent schools to admit whom it dictates, or denigrating universities or employers which fail to meet politically correct targets for „diversity“.

Climate change is another instance.  All academic money and jobs in the field go to those who unquestioningly accept this syllogism: „The climate is changing, through the actions of men. This is bad and will destroy the planet. No other scientific view on the matter should be entertained. Governments must therefore make fossil fuels much more expensive and force citizens to subsidise renewables through their energy bills.“ This is essentially an anti-freedom message about how to think, whom to blame and how to act which any non-socialist should question. Yet our green policies trundle on.

This week’s example is sex education, which our Government decrees must become compulsory in school from the age of four. It thus accepts that a uniform decision by the state about how human relationships should be taught is better than what parents can provide. That idea, too, comes from the Left, and will be taught according to its syllabus.

The Left has two other favourite phrases – „the long march through the institutions“ and „the dustbin of history“. Brexit should be a good moment to put the first in the second.

Against the tyranny of the majority

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Against the tyranny of the majority

And that’s what worried me about nineteenth-century English society. Too many people were willing to take ideas as given. Too many were willing to assume that customary opinions, that the principles of the right-thinking, were correct. Too many were willing to take the opinions and feelings of the majority as their own. ‘Where there is a tacit convention that principles are not to be disputed’, I wrote, ‘where the discussion of the greatest questions which can occupy humanity is considered to be closed, we cannot hope to find that generally high scale of mental activity which has made some periods of history so remarkable’. Think of the post-Reformation flourishing of arts and science, think of the Germany of Goethe and Fichte. These were periods of profound intellectual fermentation, produced in part by the collapse of an extant authority, when men’s minds stirred, and soared, amid a great questioning.

And that’s what I wanted to encourage: a great questioning. That does not mean I believed that nothing was ever really true. Rather, I meant that it was only through the thorough interrogation of a principle or belief, that the truth can be established. The tendency of a conformist society to silence or inhibit dissenting views was, ironically enough, the enemy of truth-seeking. Or, as I put it at the time: ‘There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation.’ Or, as you fellows say today, ‘you can’t say that’.

A society in which ‘you can’t say that’, a society that discourages dissent, that inhibits questioning, will tend to sink into the ‘deep slumber of decided opinon’. This is the opposite of a great questioning; it is a great stagnation. And even the highest truth, if left uncontested, will sink into mere prejudice.

For a truth to be living, for a principle to be vital, it needs people willing to challenge and question it. Not because they are necessarily right, but because a challenge forces the recipients of that challenge to think through and argue their own position. In responding to the challenge, no matter how offensive, they exercise their own reason, their own moral autonomy, and, as a result, they think through this or that opinion or principle as their own, not that of someone else.

But if received opinions, if accepted truths, are left unchallenged, they will ossify, regardless of their rectitude. When I was thinking of this process of ossification, I thought of the transformation of Christianity, thanks to its refusal to tolerate dissent, from a living set of religious truths into mere doctrine. ‘Instead of a vivid conception and a living belief’, I wrote, ‘there remains only a few phrases retained by rote; or, if any part, the shell and husk only of the meaning is retained, the finer essence being lost’.

Today, a similar desiccation of the truth is at work. Certain contemporary principles or opinions, widely held, but rarely questioned, have become, in effect, unthought. It could be the idea of diversity, or child protection, or the environment, or even democracy. But the refusal to tolerate challenges to these ideas, by stigmatising the dissenter as anything from a ‘denier’ to a pervert, removes from the ideas’ advocates the responsibility of having to think. ‘Truth gains more’, I wrote, ‘even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think’. We need the free speech of others to prick our complacency.

Without freedom of speech, without a willingness to welcome questioning and dissent, truth petrifies – and society stagnates. The answer to the stultifying effect of social conformity is to encourage individuality, to welcome all thought and discussion. As I put it all those many moons ago, ‘It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and calling it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others, that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation’.

As told to Tim Black.

 

Theodore Dalrymple: Modernist architecture is inherently totalitarian.

Modernist architecture is inherently totalitarian: it brooks no other, and indeed delights to overwhelm and humiliate what went before it by size and prepotency, or by garishness and the preposterousness which it takes for originality, and which turns every townscape into the architectural equivalent of a Mickey Finn.

In the Guardian newspaper last week, its architectural correspondent wrote an admiring article about Paulo Mendes da Rocha, whose work is so bad that he has been awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects gold medal. No greater insult could well be imagined for an architect than that; and a small photograph accompanied the article, of a raw concrete sports club blackening horribly with age, as it always does, demonstrates that he well merited it.

The article begins by quoting the 88 year-old Brazilian: ‘All space is public. The only private space that you can imagine is in the human mind.’

The architectural correspondent, Oliver Wainwright seems to accept this dreadful dictum without comment or criticism, indeed appears to find it inspiring, though it is difficult to follow his thought processes:

It is an optimistic statement, given that he is a resident of São Paulo, a city where the triumph of the private realm over the public could not be more stark.

Why is the inherent, apparently ontological, impossibility of privacy something to be welcomed? Does Mr Wainwright defaecate and make love in public, and if not, does he want to? Besides, da Rocha didn’t way that all space ought to be public, he said it is public, it can be no other.

This kind of balderdash, of no possible denotation but with plenty of nasty connotation, is typical of writing about architecture, at least by apologists for modernism. It comes as no surprise to learn that da Rocha is a Marxist, though he could just as well be a fascist, as was his architectural ancestor, Le Corbusier.

Nowhere in the article is there an aesthetic judgment of the work of a man who ‘has spent his 60-year career lifting his massive concrete buildings up,’ which, by description, sound equally horrible and inhuman. This is a world in which the word brutalist can b used as a term of approbation. The nearest the write comes to criticism is when he say that the architect’s unbelievably hideous building for the National Coach Museum in Lisbon near to ‘the gothic confection of the Jéronimos Monastery’ (note the disparagement) is that ‘it feels a little out of place – a great white aircraft hangar jacked up on fat concrete columns.’ He adds, ‘Still it might soften with time and use.’ It seems to have escaped this critic’s notice that concrete does not improve with time, and he does not explain how use can soften fat concrete columns.

The Stop Trump protesters have got their priorities all wrong

There’s almost as much talk about ‘virtue-signalling’ these days as there is about ‘fake news’. But one thing that doesn’t get said often enough is why virtue-signalling isn’t just irritating, but destructive. Like Brendan, Will and others here, I also take a slightly dim view of the anti-Trump protests that took place in Britain last night. I walked around the one in Westminster to come to a view, and found myself feeling unsympathetic to people carrying placards that said, for instance, ‘Fuck Fascism’. It’s a sentiment with which most of us can wholeheartedly agree, but I cannot see its applicability to the question of whether or not the US President should enjoy a state visit to the UK. Meanwhile, if I wanted to participate in a protest against fascism I can imagine few less suitable people to lead that protest from the stage than Naz Shah. Ms Shah has a more serious and evidence-based taste for anti-Semitic rhetoric than even Donald Trump’s wildest critics have ever been able to claim of him.

However, the problem with all this – the whipping up of fears of ‘fascism’ and, according to some banners at last night’s protest a ‘nuclear arms race’ (really, based on what?) – is that it distracts from bigger, real issues. Obviously the people organising protests like those last night are either campaigning sectarians or the Socialist Workers Party far-left, who are content (as was going on last night) with besmirching the ‘Trump revolution’ while praising and attempting to excuse the Russian revolution. Nobody can change the minds of such people. But they obviously have some success in persuading otherwise decent people that this is the sort of thing they too should spend their time denouncing and protesting against. In the process they not only distract the general public, but immunise them from addressing actual human rights catastrophes which are going on.

As it happens, I encountered last night’s anti-Trump protests because I was trying to get into Parliament to a screening of a film called ‘Our Last Stand’. The documentary, introduced by the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief shows one Assyrian woman’s journey from America back to Iraq and Syria to investigate the appalling persecution of Christians and other religious minorities there. Along the way she interviews children forced to flee their family’s home, women who have been taken by ISIS as sex slaves, people offered the choice of conversion or death and the routine massacres in and destructions of churches and other places of worship. This persecution – of Yazidis and Christians in particular – is something that the world knows about but seems unwilling to do anything much about. One reason is that there seems so little public pressure on the government. If the populations of the West demanded our governments took action then they might have to do so. But I have never seen more than a few dozen people protesting against these crimes. Certainly the ongoing genocide of the Middle East’s Christians has never received cross-over support from the sort of people perfectly happy to spend a Monday evening holding a lewd placard about the American President.

Of course it was good that thanks to some sustained effort ‘Our Last Stand’ eventually got its London premier in Parliament. And it was good that several MPs attended the screening and that around sixty or so people turned up for it. But the difference in the size of the crowds inside and outside and the comparative cause and demands of the two crowds was jarring. Outside the crowd of perhaps a couple of thousand people were hollering against an alleged fascism which has not claimed one victim. Inside people were wondering what if anything could be done to get the world to care about an actual genocide and ethnic cleansing which has been going on for years. The two are related. One reason why people seem to care so little about actual human rights atrocities in our day is that they are told that they are going on all the time. According to Naz Shah the invitation of Donald trump to the UK on a state visit means, ‘All those women who gave up their lives and gave up everything for votes, and every woman who’s had her hijab ripped off her head did it in vain.’ According to the former Respect candidate Salma Yaqoob what is happening with President Trump is what happened with Hitler. Apparently Theresa May is Neville Chamberlain, and so on. To which one might reply: ‘Oh yes, and what does the stolen teenage Yazidi girl, sold for cash and raped by a stranger mean? Or the Christian priest beheaded because he does not share the faith of ISIS?

I am sure some people find it enormously advantageous not to dwell on or even mention such atrocities. Still others will claim that there are so many bad things going on in the world that it is impossible to choose what to focus on. Whatever the reason, the priorities on popular display in our privileged Western societies today are truly astonishing. And far more revealing than the people who participate in them could possibly imagine.

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