Reading List

Intellectual History

  • Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, (2014)
  • Anthony Gottlieb –
    • The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance, (2001)
    • The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy, (2017)
  • Richard Tarnas, The Passion Of The Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View, (2010)
  • Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, (2012)
  • Nick Spencer, The Evolution of the West: How Christianity has shaped our values, (2016)
  • Anthony Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, (2012)
  • Melissa Lane, Greek and Roman Political Ideas, (2014)
  • Nigel Warburton, A Little History of Philosophy, (2012)
  • Yuval Levin, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the birth of Right and Left, (2014)
  • Pierre Manent, An Intellectual History of Liberalism, (1996)
  • Norman Hampson, The Enlightenment: An evaluation of its assumptions, attitudes and values, (1990)
  • Italo Calvino, Why Read the Classics, (2009)
  • Roger Scruton –
    • Philosophy, (2016)
    • An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy, (1999)

 

Religion

  • The Bible
  • The Qur’an
  • Alister McGrath:
    • Theology: The Basics (2017)
    • Dawkins’ God: From The Selfish Gene to The God Delusion, (2014)
    • The Great Mystery: Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning, (2017)
    • The Twilight Of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World, (2008)
  • John R.W. Stott, Basic Christianity, (1981)
  • Ulrich L. Lehner, God Is Not Nice, (2017)
  • Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism, (2007)
  • David M Gwynn, Christianity in the Later Roman Empire: A Sourcebook, (2014)
  • Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150-750, (1989)
  • Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, (2010)
  • Henry Chadwick et al, The Penguin History of the Church, all vols., (1990)
  • Bernard Lewis –
    • Islam and the West, (1994)
    • What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, (2002)
    • The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, (2004)
  • Chris Hedges, When Atheism Becomes Religion, (2009)
  • James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, (2014)
  • John C. Lennox, Gunning for God: Why The New Atheists Are Missing The Target, (2011)
  • Alec Ryrie, Protestants: The radicals who made the modern world, (2017)
  • Robin Lane Fox, Augustine: Conversions and Confessions, (2016)
  • C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (2016)
  • Rodney Stark –
    • Cities of God, (2007)
    • The Rise of Christianity, (1997)
  • Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, (2009)
  • Roger Scruton, The Soul of the World, (2014)
  • Thomas Woods Jr., How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilisation, (2005)
  • David Cook, Understanding Jihad, (2015)
  • Tamim Ansary, Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, (2009)
  • Simon Ross Valentine, Force and Fanaticism: Wahhabism – History, Belief and Practice, (2010)
  • Rod Dreher, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, (2013)

 

The Future and Technology

  • Erik Brynjolfson and Adnrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, (2014)
  • Tyler Cowen –
    • The Great Stagnation, (2011)
    • Average is Over, (2013)
  • Nicholas Carr –
    • The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the way we Think, Read and Remember, (2010)
    • The Glass Cage: Who Needs Humans Anyway? (2015)
  • Evgeny Morozov –
    • The Net Delusion, (2011)
    • To Save Everything Click Here, (2013)
  • David Kirkpatrick, The Facebook Effect: The Real Inside Story of Mark Zuckerberg and the World’s Fastest Growing Company, (2012)
  • Robert Levine, Free Ride: How the Internet is Destroying the Culture Business and How it Can Fight Back, (2012)
  • Aleks Krotoski, Untangling the Web, (2013)
  • Clive Thompson, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, (2013)
  • Brigid Schulte, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time, (2014)
  • Adrian Wooldridge & John Micklethwait, The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, (2014)
  • Andrew Keen, The Internet is not the Answer, (2015)
  • Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, (2015)
  • Robert Colville, The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster, (2016)
  • John Palfrey & Urs Gasser, Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age, (2016)
  • Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, (2016)
  • Ryan Avent, The Wealth of Humans: Work and Its Absence in the Twenty-first Century, (2016)
  • Adam Alter, Irresistible: Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching, (2017)
  • Jean M. Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us, (2017)
  • Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, (2017)
  • Franklin Foer, World Without Mind, (2017)

 

The Tragedy of History

  • Barbara Tuchman –
    • A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, (2017)
    • The Guns of August, (2014)
    • The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World before the War, 1890-1914, (2014)
  • Margaret MacMillan, The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War, (2013)
  • Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, (2013)
  • Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, (2013)
  • Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War 191 4-1918, (2012)
  • Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931, (2015)
  • William L. Shirer, The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich, (1991)
  • Richard J. Evans –
    • The Coming of the Third Reich: How the Nazis Destroyed Democracy and Seized Power in Germany, (2004)
    • The Third Reich in Power, 1933 – 1939: How the Nazis Won Over the Hearts and Minds of a Nation, (2006)
    • The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis Led Germany from Conquest to Disaster, (2009)
  • Ian Kershaw,
    • Hitler, (2010)
    • The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945, (2011)
    • To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949, (2015)
  • Andrew Roberts, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War, (2010)
  • Antony Beevor, Stalingrad, (2007)
  • Patrick Cockburn, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, (2015)
  • David Kilcullen, Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror, (2015)
  • Jessica Stern & J. M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror, (2015)
  • Graeme Wood, The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State, (2016)
  • Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, (2017)
  • Primo Levi, If This Is A Man/The Truce, (2014)
  • Julia Boyd, Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People, (2017)
  • Orlando Figes, Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991, (2014)
  • Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men, (2013)
  • Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird, (2007)
  • Iris Chang, The Rape Of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II, (2012)
  • John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War, (2007)
  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn –
    • The Gulag Archipelago Volume 1: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, (2007)
    • The Gulag Archipelago Volume 2: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, (2007)
    • The Gulag Archipelago Volume 3: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, (2007)
  • Anne Applebaum –
    • Gulag: A History of the Soviet Camps, (2012)
    • Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56, (2013)
    • Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, (2017)
  • Stephen Kotkin, Stalin, Vol. I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928, (2015)
  • Timothy Snyder –
    • Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, (2011)
    • Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, (2016)
    • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, (2017)
  • David Cesarani, Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949, (2017)
  • Laurence Rees –
    • The Nazis: A Warning From History, (2006)
    • The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, (2013)
    • The Holocaust: A New History, (2017)
    • Horror in the East: The Brutal Struggle in Asia and the Pacific in WWII, (2011)

 

Politics and Political Philosophy

  • Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, (2004)
  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Utilitarianism and Other Essays, (2015)
  • Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, (2009)
  • Roger Scruton –
    • How to be a Conservative, (2014)
    • Conservatism, (2017)
    • Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, (2015)
    • Green Philosophy: How to think seriously about the planet, (2013)
    • The Uses of Pessimism & the Danger of False Hope, (2012)
    • A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism, (2007)
    • The Meaning of Conservatism, (2001)
    • The West and the Rest: Globalisation and the Terrorist Threat, (2003)
  • George Orwell –
    • Essays, (2000)
    • Down and Out in Paris and London, (2001)
    • Homage to Catalonia, (2000)
    • The Road to Wigan Pier, (2001)
  • Danny Dorling, Inequality and the 1%, (2014)
  • Daniel Hannan, How We Invented Freedom and Why It Matters, (2013)
  • James Burnham –
    • Suicide of the West, (2014)
    • The Managerial Revolution, (1972)
  • Pascal Bruckner, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, (2010)
  • Whittaker Chambers, Witness, (2014)
  • Thomas C. Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era, (2016)
  • Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, (2007)
  • David Goodhart –
    • The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-war Immigration, (2013)
    • The Road to Somewhere: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics, (2017)
  • Nick Cohen, What’s Left? (2007)
  • Thomas Sowell –
    • Conquests and Cultures: An International History, (1999)
    • The Quest for Cosmic Justice, (2002)
    • Black Rednecks & White Liberals, (2009)
    • Dismantling America: and other controversial essays, (2010)
    • Economic Facts and Fallacies: Second Edition, (2011)
    • The Thomas Sowell Reader, (2011)
    • Intellectuals and Society, (2012)
    • “Trickle Down Theory” and “Tax Cuts for the Rich”, (2012)
    • Intellectuals and Race, (2013)
    • Basic Economics, (2014)
    • Wealth, Poverty and Politics, (2016)
  • Shelby Steele, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, (2015)
  • Mark Lilla –
    • The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics: Revised Edition, (2016)
    • The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, (2017)
  • Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, (2017)

 

Free Speech and Political Correctness

  • Flemming Rose, The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on Free Speech, (2016)
  • Kirsten Powers, The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech, (2015)
  • Mick Hume, Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? (2015)
  • Greg Lukianoff –
    • Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, (2012)
    • Freedom From Speech, (2014)
  • Claire Fox, ‘I Find That Offensive!’, (2016)
  • Frank Furedi, What’s Happened To The University?: A sociological exploration of its infantilisation, (2016)
  • Tom Slater et al., Unsafe Space: The Crisis of Free Speech on Campus, (2016)
  • Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault,

 

Literature

  • Fyodor Dostoevsky –
    • Crime and Punishment, (2014)
    • The Idiot, (2016)
    • Devils, (2008)
    • The Karamazov Brothers, (2014)
  • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, (2008)
  • George Orwell, 1984, (2004)
  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, (1999)
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5, or The Children’s Crusade – A Duty-dance with Death, (1991)
  • Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa, The Leopard, (2007)
  • Joseph Roth, The Radetsky March, (2013)
  • Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European, (2011)

 

 

 

 

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J.K. Rowling Lets Ideology Cloud her Judgement

On the night of Friday, July 28, 2017, J.K. Rowling tweeted up a storm about Trump.

Again.

Rowling has an admirable affinity for those less fortunate, weaker and less privileged than herself. She is able to empathise due to her own straitened circumstances earlier in her life.

While this is surely a laudable attitude to have towards the world, it can take a turn for the worse when this outlook of compassion is projected through an overly ideological lens onto the world.

Compassion, by the way, doesn’t make you harmless, especially when something close to you is threatened. Just look at a mother grizzly bear; full of compassion yes, but for her cubs. Try getting between her and her offspring and you’ll be writing letters of regret to your severed leg.

This weaponising of compassion is precisely what happened with Rowling’s tweets about Trump.

 

What she says about Trump’s characterological defects are grounded in a mountain of evidence. Following another damning week for the Trump presidency, where he decided to tweet abuse at his AG Jeff Sessions, whine about Republicans’ intransigence and flexible spines, and complain about everything else, Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal reflected the feelings of an increasing number by describing him thus:

The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity.

He’s not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He’s a drama queen. It was once said, sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace, her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting herself with dignity.

None of what Rowling said about TRump’s flaws, manifestly obvious to all but his most devoted adherents, is controversial or new. We know about his flaws, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. We’ve known them for a long time.

Where Rowling is at fault is using an edited version of the clip of Trump meeting those children. This clip shows him ignoring the disabled child’s hand. That’s another fail on Trump’s part.

However, if she hadn’t allowed herself to be blinded by her own politics, which incidentally is something that happens to all of us in this increasingly political age, Rowling would have either posted the whole clip of the event, or she would have corrected her claims about Trump’s attitudes towards disabled people after yet another example of his apparent disdain for them.

This clip clearly shows Trump greeting the wheelchair bound boy.

I can only surmise that facts like this get in the way of Rowling’s feelings about the mistreatment of the weak and vulnerable. Again, while admirable, when this compassion is subordinate to a political worldview diametrically opposed to that of the President of the USA and all those who support him. then it can act as a hindrance to a more clear-sighted view of reality, of course always taking into account one’s own biases and limitations congruent with one’s view of the world.

To reiterate, I am not denying Trump’s many and overwhelmingly manifest faults.

However, if we are to have any chance at an attempt of mending the ever worsening divide between political and cultural camps in the US, Britain and the rest of the western world today, we must refrain from launching into ideologically informed tirades that serve only to reinforce one’s perceptions of those on the opposing side.

This only serves to drive us further apart and destroys any chance of some sort of rapprochement between the factions in what is becoming an increasingly threatening political atmosphere, on both sides.

As an author who has touched millions through the power of her articulated speech in her books, Rowling would do well to remember the responsibility to use her linguistic power wisely, and for the good, for the affirmation of truth as a means of mitigating suffering in the world, not as a means to score points.

Rowling has the platform and the ability to do this. It is to be hoped that she can remember this in the midst of our present turmoil.

As it is to be hoped that we can too.

The Summer of Love: How Hippies Changed the World (or how they tried to tear it down) – Thoughts

 

The so-called ‘Summer of Love’ was born in the sun-drenched streets of San Francisco, centred around the Haight-Ashbury area in the summer of 1967, as portrayed in the BBC documentary The Summer of Love: How Hippies Changed the World. The three tribes of hippy, the Naturist, the Truth-Seeker and the Political were drawn there by the promise of freedom. The freedom that is, to do whatever one pleased, whenever one wanted, in whatever way one saw fit depending on the inspiration drawn from their drug-addled minds.

The climate in America at this time was ripe for a revolution. America had been struggling to reconcile its basic principles of the equality of man imbued with a sacred dignity as instantiated in its founding with the relativist approach to race that it had also instantiated at the beginning. The results of this cancerous relativism at the heart of American society and the struggle to end it by obtaining the final equality of rights to their fellow Americans is what Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow civil rights campaigners were striving for, against heavy opposition and a less than cooperative federal government.

The impact of all this is movingly portrayed in Shelby Steele’s book Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarised Our Country. An interesting aspect of the book is when he recounts his realisation that the violent revolutionaries like the Black Panthers were following a course of action that would ultimately do far more harm than good, and instead of helping to bring equality of opportunity and equal rights would only serve to divide America even more than it already was, as they wanted to tear down the system, not reform it. The trouble with this is that it never ends well, and nearly always involves appalling violence along the way. What may start out as a wish to change society for the better – and the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr. was forcing through changes that needed to happen – ends up with society teetering on the edge of chaos.

In its own way, the hippy movement, while it started out based on a naive understanding of human nature and society, and how it could be made better, dissolved into self-satisfied, self-indulgent moral bankruptcy, and went down the same path of revolutionary violence. If there was one single, fundamental difference between the approaches of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panthers and hippies, it was that King wanted reformation, and the Black Panthers and the hippies wanted a revolution.

The Hippies

The Naturists

The influences on the various hippy subcultures that came together in this period of orgiastic hedonism were varied and stretched back into the period before the war, before 1900 even, crossing over one ocean to Europe and another to Asia. From Europe, a big influence on the naturist component of the hippy movement was the 19th-century German phenomenon of the ‘nature boys’, who wandered around the Black Forest, living off nature’s bounty and moving with the seasons.

This idealised form of civilisational sentimentality, of course, had its roots in Rousseau’s view of man as burdened down by civilisation and only able to be truly free and truly moral in a state of nature. This view of human history is romantic because it is pure wishful thinking; tribal humanity was an extremely violent social organisation, and hunter-gatherer societies today, in South America for example, can still be extremely violent.

This emphasis on the communion between body and nature found its way, along with the ‘nature boys’, to California, with various groups choosing to live out in the California countryside, and moving around according to the seasons. They became somewhat of an object of fascination, particularly to the left-leaning group of actors and artists known as the Diggers, who looked to them for inspiration in their quest to feel closer to nature and the self-knowledge apparently inherent in it.

After a period of time, however, some members of the ‘nature boys’ tribe tired of life near the built up centres of human habitation and, following the crackdown on certain more radical members of the hippy community by law enforcement, decided to literally head for the hills. The hippies who went back to nature founded communes out in the wilds where they could be as close to nature as possible. Everything would be free (including each other’s bodies), everything would be shared (including children), and everyone would be equal (except the women weren’t and were often little more than female cattle to be used by the male bulls when they so desired).

An interesting note on which to conclude this section is that the commune movement, and the hippie movement more generally, had a profound influence on the development of Silicon Valley, in particular, future tech giants like Steve Jobs. The ethos of the commune translated itself into the realm of cyberspace, the most obvious example being the internet, where everything is free, can be shared, and everyone can be equal.

Except when it isn’t, like when not everyone was free or equal in the communes, and when only a tiny proportion of people win hugely from the otherwise totally Darwinian wilds of the internet. See, some people tend to just end up more equal than others in a state of nature.

The Truth Seekers

The Truth-Seekers were closely aligned with the Naturists but went further in their attempt to discover the true nature of humanity and to try and build a common consciousness that would bring people together on a higher plain and would enable the human race to leave behind all the evils that they saw as manifested in modern society, which was a hopelessly oppressive, violent, exploitative and bigoted structure thought up and kept by those in power in order to crush the souls and break the backs of the many. Or some such pretentious rubbish.

The Truth-Seekers attempted to reach this state of enlightenment through the use of LSD and other hallucinogens. Aldous Huxley was a big inspiration in their quest towards a higher understanding and state of being, with his “The Doors of Perception” filling the role of the Truth-Seekers’ Bible on what acid and other mind expanding drugs had the potential to bring about. Cary Grant lent the acid trip an edge of glamour along with the note of respectability brought by Aldous Huxley, although his claims that his 100+ trips led him to see himself as a giant penis launching itself from earth neatly characterises the moral emptiness at the base of the movement. Aleister Crowley meanwhile, in his search for new experiences and the true nature of things, engaged in witchcraft, Satanic rituals and free love (which devolved into “all women are free and fair game”), demonstrating that for more than a few people the whole thing was a gateway to enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle in service to a nothingness that was fronted by an empty, vacant smile and even emptier, vacant words that said little and meant less.

Having said all that, drugs like LSD, DMT and Psilocybin have been shown to induce truly spiritual experiences, as shown in the trials at Johns Hopkins University, and should, therefore, be researched much more thoroughly and carefully so that we can possibly stumble some way towards answering some of the most fundamental questions about humanity’s need for some sort of spiritual belief, and how and why this might have come about .

However, in service to a dangerously naive system of ideas based on little understanding (or willful misunderstanding) of how the world works and of how human nature manifests itself, LSD turned what was something touted as the next stage of human societal evolution into what was effectively a middle-class freakshow of young people off their minds on drugs, wallowing in syrupy sentimentality and foolish notions of the universal applicability of love to drive forward a revolutionary bulldozer through the society that allowed them to pursue their foolishly naive dreams in the first place. The fact that so many who experimented in this way at the time now resemble mad-eyed, burnt out shells perhaps suggests that the experience wasn’t as beneficial as it was claimed.

The Politicals

The last group of people present in San Francisco during this fervent period of cultural foment were the Politicals, the tribe of left-wing radicals, now known as the New Left who had incubated on college campuses, in particular at Berkeley. These were people who were heavily invested in left-wing ideas and theories, who wanted to change the system, mostly by burning the whole structure of society down and starting again. They saw the other two elements of the nascent hippy movement as possible allies in their attempts to change the world. By revolution, if they had to.

Just how revolutionary were the hippies and those they influenced and inspired? A Gallup poll in 1970 found that 44% of college students felt that violence was justified in order to bring about social change, 40% thought revolution was needed in the US, while 1.7 million saw themselves as revolutionaries. 20% of respondents had a favourable opinion of the Soviet Union as opposed to 1.9% in 1956 and 4% in 1980. Philip Roth’s American Pastoral captures the mood of these radicals, this progeny of the politicals, referencing a quote from Weatherman  John Jacobs: “We are against everything that is good and decent in honky America. We will loot and burn and destroy. We are the incubation of your mothers’ nightmares”. They certainly were.

The Politicals’ guru was Professor Herbert Marcuse, the most famous member of the Frankfurt School of Marxist philosophy, aka Critical Theory, whose members had fled Hitler’s rise to power and found refuge in America. Marcuse was teaching at the University of California, San Diego at the time of the formation of the hippy movement. Marcuse influenced many scholars and activists, such as Norman O. Brown, Angela Davis, Captain Charles Moore, Kathy Acker, Abbie Hoffman, Rudi Dutschke, and Robert M. Young.

Marcuse’s name is often invoked by the conspiracy-theory obsessed radical right in connection with the vague and demagogic ‘Cultural Marxism’, whereby Marxist ideas are applied to the culture instead of the economy. The Frankfurt School existed, but Cultural Marxism as a descriptor of a vast, overarching phenomenon is not concrete enough to be useful. Much of the political activism commonly associated with it preceded it and had little to do with it while it existed.

Most of Marcuse’s work didn’t even have anything to do with New Left themes, concerned as it was with the role of technology. Yes, Marcuse was friendly with the wider New Left, but he and his fellow Frankfurt Schoolers had little interest in activism, indifference for which they were derided, as the 1969 incident where feminist activist mockingly bared their breasts to Theodor Adorno attests. The Frankfurt Schoolers weren’t monolithic on much of the contemporary politics: Adorno was Eurocentric and despised jazz, while Horkheimer defended the Vietnam War and the Catholic Church’s abortion stance.

In reality, the lumping together of the Frankfurt School in an oversimplified intellectual bloc simply serves as a target for lazy, shallow conspiratorial thinking that all too often ends in bigotry. Indeed, one only needs to go down the rabbit-hole a short way before one encounters a hook-nosed Jewish caricature manipulating Western culture out of a desire for revenge. Like many other conspiracy theories, Cultural Marxism in its shallow application to political currents and events is often a thin cover for anti-Semitism.

However, some of Marcuse’s theories did have an impact on the thinking of the New Left, not least in his arguments on free speech. In his 1965 essay “Repressive Tolerance”, Marcuse claimed capitalist democracies can have totalitarian characteristics, which given his experience in Germany was perhaps not a surprising position to adopt, and one with which one can empathise. The argument Marcuse put forward was that genuine tolerance does not allow support for repression because to do so would ensure that marginalised voices would be kept silent. He characterises tolerance of what he sees as repressive speech (anything not left-wing) as ‘inauthentic’. Instead, Marcuse advocated a kind of tolerance that was intolerant of right-wing political movements which he saw as inherently totalitarian:

“Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left. Surely, no government can be expected to foster its own subversion, but in a democracy such a right is vested in the people (i.e. in the majority of the people). This means that the ways should not be blocked on which a subversive majority could develop, and if they are blocked by organized repression and indoctrination, their reopening may require apparently undemocratic means. They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.”

Along with his concept of repressive tolerance, Marcuse also argued that the way to overthrow the oppressive bourgeoisie was to apply Marxist philosophy to the realm of culture, a realm more important, more fundamental to human life than politics. He no longer believed that the working class was the tool that would cause the collapse of the ‘affluent society’, and instead looked to certain marginalised communities to act as the revolutionary vanguard for what was ultimately the doctrine of equality of outcome.

He placed great emphasis on complete personal liberation for the mind and body and a breaking down of traditional structures and mores like the family. This was in his view a tool of oppression and an incubator for right-wing totalitarianism that was used by the oppressive political right to keep their grip on power. Marcuse, like his post-modern counterparts Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, wanted to dissolve the social structures that glued society together and provided a separate ‘realm of value’ away from the state by questioning the value of everything to the point where nothing had any inherent, objective moral value and everything was morally and culturally relative. However, it must be reiterated that this was not the majority of his work, and was not the sole focus of all Frankfurt Schoolers who didn’t fit into a single box.

The Results

And what was the result of all this? The ‘Summer of Love’, led by those who sincerely believed that they were the ones who would drive a fundamental, societally-altering change in American social and political culture, descended into a welter of protest and violence in order to speed the revolution along. All that achieved only a sense of bitter estrangement between those who supported the cause of the various militant organisations that grew out of the hippy movement, like the Weather Underground, and the rest of society who were horrified at what was happening on the west coast and at how it spread to places like Chicago where the clashes between the protesters and police led to the deployment of the National Guard.

The bombing campaigns carried out by groups like the Weather Underground lasted from July 1969 to April 1985. As Bryan Burrough writes in his book Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence on the violence perpetrated by the radical-Left in the 1970’s, during a period of 18 months in 1971 and 1972, 2,500 bombings were reported in the US by the FBI. That was almost 5 a day.

The rhetoric of destruction that came from many of the intellectuals who inspired the New Left movement played into and fed the worst and darkest emotions in the human hearts of those not old or experienced enough to know better; resentment, bitterness, envy, anger at what many saw as the most violent political system ever created. And what does one do against something or someone who perpetrates violence against you? You destroy it. Apparently, history wasn’t the strong point of the hippies and their fellow activists, otherwise they might have proceeded with more circumspection.

And this is the point; it is better to reform society, through its culture and institutions, rather than burn it to the ground. Those who are determined to subvert or destroy society’s institutions fail to realise that the most likely outcome in destroying these institutions – that either guarantee equality under the law or have the potential to do so after reformation – is a form of oppression and domination far worse than the one they opposed in the first place.

The remedy to injustices like those that the civil rights movement campaigned against is not to blow apart the established order and impose some new, ill-thought out and ill-planned socio-political order by coercive force, as the more extreme elements of the hippy movement ended up doing, cheered on by their less militant brethren. Mao was wrong; power doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun. Stable political power and a stable and prosperous society that all can enjoy are grounded in the healthy relationships and feelings towards one another that mitigate the more destructive passions we all bear within ourselves.

These relationships, between us and God, us and our country, and between one another, provide the basis for a civic partnership that allows citizens to work together to raise up one another’s best interests. The disputes that are an inevitable part of living in a large social unit are thus easier to resolve with as little conflict as possible.

The hippy movement and the different strains of the New Left ideology that birthed along with it brought none of these things. Instead it brought a shallow self-righteousness that all too easily brought the ugly aspects of human nature to the surface; the  oppressive (and some of those attitudes were indeed oppressive and repressive) values of their parents were removed, but the vacuum was instead filled with a vacuous self-regarding yearning for participation in a revolution which many did not fully understand, let alone what the consequences of their actions might entail.

If there was a maxim that might best respond to the hippy movement and other revolutionary movements in the West, it might be something like “reformation, not revolution; cultural innovation, not cultural immolation”.

The hippy movement started out in the naive belief that love could conquer everything and that all that the West needed to do was give up on its oppressive past, socio-political structures and cultural mores and just jump into the whole caring, sharing, free love society that would release people from their humdrum existences. The fact is, none of the hippies’ forays into decadent hedonism would have been possible if not for the fact that the rest of the country, and indeed the West, still clung to the ways of doing things that meant these people could afford to do nothing and waste away in a muddy field trying to connect to the earth-spirit.

In some ways, the hippy movement was one of the most selfish cultural movements in modern human history, and when it didn’t get what it wanted, it lashed out like a spoilt child. It’s just a pity that their temper tantrums cost lives. We are still dealing with their legacy today, and because the revolution always eats itself, we now have the phenomenon of the modern university campus.

Aren’t we lucky?

 

 

Political Peter Pans: The Millennial Generation and Fairy Tale Politics

 

In the most recent edition of the Spectator, Lara Prendergast penned a column describing how the millennial generation’s political views have been moulded by the world of Harry Potter. Having seen how my generation has evolved politically, how they vote, how they approach political life in the way it intersects with culture, the depiction of the millennials as the Potter Politicals is apt.

One only has to see how the millennials view the world to see how much they’ve been influenced by the world of Harry Potter and his fellow wizarding denizens. They view it with a similar Manichaean lens, with the world divided into comforting black and white, good and evil, nasty and nice. Ergo, Labour under Corbyn is nice and the Tories under May are nasty.

This worldview helps explain why millennials are so committed to rooting out social injustice and inequality wherever they find it, believing that they are like Dumbledore’s Army, bravely resisting and fighting back against the oppression and victimisation practised by those who don’t conform to their way of thinking, in Britain and in America.

The irony is that in their own way, the millennials have become as intolerant of dissident voices and opinions as those they view as bigoted; Theresa May is now viewed as Dolores Umbrage by many. But then again, if we are to use the Potterverse as a metaphor for real life, Umbrage would better describe the campus censors, who go around college campuses castigating and policing those who hold different opinions to themselves and thereby creating an environment that is no longer conducive to free thought and enquiry, and which actively seeks to kill it off if it deviates from the accepted Left-wing narrative due to words now being elevated to the same level as actions. Words are now violence, hence unsafe, hence the need for ideological safe spaces.

I suspect that J.K. Rowling wouldn’t be happy to hear of her creation being co-opted by someone who doesn’t exactly share her worldview or the worldview she portrayed in her books. Another example of this is given by anti-Islamist extremist campaigner Maajid Nawaz. He calls the unwillingness to name the ideology of Islamist extremism due to fear of giving offence the “Voldemort Effect” because Islamism becomes the ideology that must not be named due to the fact that it admits that Jihadi terrorism has something to do with Islam. Not naming the ideology only increases the levels of hysteria around it, as it did in the books regarding Voldemort.

Apparently, when Nawaz told Rowling of his use of one of her literary devices in passing she wasn’t overly pleased. One suspects that’s because she’s in the “nothing to do with Islam” crowd, and is uncomfortable with her creation that displays an extremely fixed view of what good and evil is being used in this way, which suggests she falls into the trap, as Nick Cohen puts it, of being unable to comprehend that even brown-skinned people can behave in fascistic ways rather than always being the victims.

Given her own political views, it is hard not to see the bad guys in Harry Potter as magical right-wing and conservative caricatures, with all the emphasis on blood (racial) purity, purging the Muggles (unclean, not of the race), excessive order and hierarchy (tools of oppression designed). It’s a neat trick and serves only to reinforce the “us and them” narrative between those on the political Left and Right.

The real problem with how Harry Potter has influenced the political worldview of my generation is that it displays a lack of realism in how they view reality. Everything can be solved by make-believe, wishful thinking and magical actions. The faith (and it is almost a sort of religious faith) placed in Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, now seen as some sort of Dumbledore, to deliver on his promises to bring about fairness and equality rests on the naive belief that socialism, a morally and economically bankrupt ideology, is even a good idea. The fact that socialism is tied with Nazism for the most murderous ideology in the history of mankind seems to have passed many millennials by.

This faith in magical thinking, displayed by the application of the Potterverse to real world politics, and the belief in the power of bankrupt ideologies to act as a sort of redemptive moral force together with a government that acts like a replacement parent, arguably displays the real political immaturity of these political Peter Pans. Their reliance on fairy tale political beliefs shows that they haven’t come to terms with the fact that life, both socially and politically, involves trade-offs between bad and less bad options. There is never a solution that will make all the problems vanish in a puff of smoke, and there will always be disappointment.

The goal of politics should be instead to provide a basis for us to live together as a society, mediating between the individual and the commons, echoing the direction towards the common good. We should not view society as made up of atomised economic widgets. Community, a sense of belonging and deep-seated love and affection, of oikophilia as Roger Scruton puts it, for those around you, whether it be your family, neighbours, village, town, city or nation, is vital.

The Potterverse has, I would argue, helped feed into the mentality that has given rise to the “us and them” phenomenon present in Left-wing identitarianism that is rampant on campuses today, and which punishes those who stray from the narrative. It has further helped divide people by playing into the resistance narrative currently on display in America, and to a lesser extent in Britain. It has also fostered and played into an unrealistic view of the world, where problems can be solved by magical thinking and sweeping programmes designed to end inequality and bring fairness. The fact that the policies millennials favour will bring neither and will only serve to grow inequality and unfairness doesn’t seem to be on their radar.

The political Peter Pans of the millennial generation need to leave behind their fantasies about life and politics and the warm embrace of the comforting world of childish dreams. They need to abandon their longing for magical solutions to their problems, and they need to start thinking about ways in which they can find solutions to their own issues. If they cannot sort their own lives out, maybe they should have the humility that comes with maturity to realise that they’re not prepared to sort the rest of the world out, either.

 

On Disability and Individualism

Some time ago I read Bret Easton Ellis’s long but insightful “In the Reign of the Gay Magical Elves” where he argues that the attitude shown by the identitarian Left towards gay men like himself is arguably both condescending and infantilizing, with many advocacy groups reinforcing this by punishing those who stray off the ideological reservation.

I’m not gay so I can’t totally relate to everything Ellis describes in his piece. However, the sense that a body of organisations and affiliated notables who supposedly have my best interests at heart, all the while proclaiming the acceptable narrative of what a disabled person is and what they should do, be, say and think – and the fact that I’m against this collectivisation – is something I do have in common with Ellis.

In conjunction with this, the Paralympics in Rio also revealed the tendency among some to collectivise disabled people into a monolithic bloc, leaving the individuals within that group of “disabled people” subsumed. Now, I support the idea of the Paralympics and think it’s good that disabled people get to compete in a sport at the highest level they can. In other words, they are afforded equality of opportunity.

It is good that these people, who have been given a bad hand in the game of life whether through birth or fate, should be celebrated for their amazing achievements against odds that normal athletes don’t have to deal with.

However, I’m also ambivalent about what the Paralympics represent to some members of the general public. It is to be hoped that large numbers of those who watched the Paralympics did so because they wanted to see high-level athleticism, with the disabilities of the participants an incidental fact. Sometimes though, I feel like the disabilities are taken as an outward sign of moral fibre, as though being disabled means you’re washed free of sin.

I hate to break it to you, but suffering oppression, adversity or misfortune in life – whether being born disabled or becoming so later in life for example – does not make you inherently noble, just as being in poverty doesn’t imbue you with goodness. Your base, immutable characteristics do not decide your moral status; it’s what you do with that, how you choose to act because or in spite of your apparent limitations, how you bear the suffering of existence, that really defines your moral character.

In my opinion, those who sanctify disabled people by viewing them as more inherently good, noble and dignified than able-bodied people do so by using the disabled person’s physical deformity as a psychological expression of their own emotional and spiritual deformities and deficiencies. By having this exterior deformity, disabled people are arguably assumed to be almost holy in their inner spiritual, mental and emotional purity. They are therefore worthy at the same time of veneration and of exploitation by various identity politics ideologues under the guise of the search for redemption of the able-bodied person’s soul.

Some able people need us to fit this image so they can find redemption for their own deficiencies which they see manifested in physical form by our disabilities. It’s a classic case of psychological projection that reduces disabled people to cyphers for some able peoples’ personal characterological deficiencies, and the treatment of disabled people as inherently virtuous allows the able-bodied person to dissociate from past and present character flaws.

In the case of identitarian ideologues, this is cynically exploited for their own ideological ends, to push a radical agenda of equality of outcome, with disabled people the shock-troops designed to render those who would resist their crusade immediately cast as unfeeling monsters standing in the way of social justice for society’s most vulnerable.

In this world, not only am I chained in my disabled body, but I am chained in my mind by the shackles of ideologues who would exploit my situation for their own ends. No thankyou. Incidentally, this is also why I am a supporter of free speech, despite the identitarians now running riot in our universities. Again, my body is shackled. I can only experience freedom using my mind. To limit my speech, as the identitarians do on our campuses and increasingly in wider society, strips me of my only recourse to freedom. Again, in their bleak world of reductive identity politics, not only is my body in chains but so too is my mind.

All this leads me to why I consider myself a conservative; the values of obligation, responsibility and individual liberty that conservatism enshrines as its core principles are the only way that people as thinking individuals can achieve their full potential through choosing to take as much of the burden of responsibility for living as they can.

As Shelby Steele says, “Only human initiative is transformative, and it is an eternal arrogance of the Left to assume that government (SJWs) can somehow engineer or inspire or manipulate transformation. You cannot help people who have not already taken initiative—meaning total responsibility for their future. And it takes very little to help those who have actually taken such responsibility.”

The response to disability, like all other challenges that life can throw at you, is to show the initiative needed to take up the freedom that we enjoy in the West in any small way you can, in spite of the challenges being disabled places before you. The new reality of this freedom can be disconcerting and can leave one feeling resentful at the weight of the burden that freedom places on your shoulders; the requirement of freedom that you show greater responsibility, discipline and sacrifice. In the end, a truly meaningful life is only possible if you have the freedom to pursue that life as you see fit in accordance with the law, guided by a sense of responsibility derived from a moral code that demands you approach life with as much grace and fortitude as possible.

In the end, a truly meaningful life is only possible if you have the freedom to pursue that life as you see fit in accordance with the law, guided by a sense of responsibility derived from a moral code that demands you approach life with as much grace and fortitude as possible, carrying the spark of liberty in your breast, keeping it alight to pass on to the next generation.

In the end, this approach shows greater respect for disabled people as individuals. I find conservatism, more than the politics of today’s Left, offers the simple fairness of true liberty in which both individual success and failure are always possible.

This does not mean that I think there is no place for some sort of safety net for disabled people, or that there are not huge challenges that disabled people face every day, both in dealing with their condition and in facing the many societal challenges that still face them.

But only in this kind of fairness is there respect for disabled people as individuals who could be competitive with others once any residual discrimination is removed and they are allowed to compete and given the tools they need to perform to their full potential, taking into account any limitations they may have. This does not mean making endless accommodations beyond what is reasonable, as this is counterproductive and ends up hurting those one is trying to help. It instead means allowing disabled people to reach their full level of competence unhindered by an ideological worldview that demands everyone must be equal in the final outcome. That is not a world I would like to live in.

Indeed, I would argue that this approach is the only route to disabled people feeling some sense of having transcended their often painful physical reality. This is the same for everyone, but for those of us whose physical existence is bound by disability, this is of the utmost importance.

To conclude, I’ll leave off with another quote from Shelby Steele: “only the impartiality of true freedom—uncontaminated by group preferences… [will] provide exactly the right incentives to do precisely this”.

Christianity and Political Freedom

Christianity, along with the heritage of Greece and Rome, is the bedrock of Western culture. The freedom of belief, conscience, association and transaction have Christianity as their foundation.

When Edmund Burke and the reactionary Joseph de Maistre decried the French Revolution for the catastrophic top-down revolution of control that it was, they were arguably motivated most by its appallingly anti-religious zeal. The persecution of the Church was not just a matter simply of removing its social power and property. The Revolutionaries saw the Church as a rival to the state’s new role as the sole provider of moral guidance and value. As a result, they insisted that the clerical class swear an Oath to the Revolution, which would take precedence over their other priestly vows of chastity and obedience. Those that refused risked death.

Christianity has always been targeted in revolutions – Communist Russia suppressed the Orthodox Church until it needed it during WW2. Christianity not only creates a separate realm of value and authority outside the purview of the secular political state. It also provides ties that bind individuals together through a transcendent agent beyond the control of the here and now. It is essential that the state enters this ‘realm of value’, as Roger Scruton refers to it, and steals the metaphysical foundation it provides civil society. In short, by replacing the Church as the sole provider of moral guidance and source of moral inspiration and moral authority, the state takes on the role of secular god. It sees itself as leading an army of unbelievers towards their historical destiny, no matter how high the pile of corpses becomes as they endlessly, fruitlessly reach for their utopia which forever remains beyond their reach.

This view, popular in Revolutionary France and among intellectuals ever since has arguably led to some of the worst bloodshed in mankind’s bloody history.When the state replaces Christianity, and its foundational metaphysical belief and attendant moral structure, people are no longer individuals. They are no longer part of a community built around groups of like-minded people. They no longer freely associate with each other in communities of friendship and shared convictions based on a sense of shared belief and experience, imbued with a soul, God-given rights and responsibilities. Instead, they are interchangeable ideological widgets who are merely grist to the grindstone of social revolution and social progress, whose sacrifice in their millions can be justified if they no longer hold intrinsic value as people and are instead seen as just sacrifices to the cause.

Edmund Burke, having seen this very process occur as a result of the uprooting of religion during the French Revolution, argued that government must hold religion at a distance if it was to maintain a peaceful civil society. He made the case that an established religion (not necessarily a “state religion”), that shows a degree of tolerance towards peaceful disagreement, is a crucial component of society. It binds people together and to their home, and gives their beliefs and ideals a moral certainty that is far harder to gain another way.

This idea of Christianity’s role in society is instantiated in the world of secular law in a particular form. As Scruton explains in How to be a Conservative, Christianity has been able to hold onto its conception of manifest human destiny while at the same time acknowledging the primacy of secular law, still recognising however that society could be grounded in the duties to one’s neighbours while at the same time permitting distinctions in faith. When seen in this light, one can begin to see the basis for John Locke’s philosophy of the social contract between people and institutions, as well as many other Enlightenment thinkers, no matter how much they would wish to deny it. As he argues, one of the greatest achievements of Christian civilisation was to endow secular institutions with a sense of religious authority while not demanding a religious obedience, allowing secular consent on the part of the governed.

Those familiar with the Christian doctrine will recall the parable of the Tribute Money when Jesus commanded to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s. This provides the basis for the separation of Church (religious law) and state (secular law).

However, even though this passage lays the basis for such a separation of powers, there is a deeper reason for how Christianity has facilitated the growth of freedom. When Jesus was asked to explain the law and how Christians should follow it, he said ‘Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul and with all thy strength; and love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’.

This passage is crucial: Christ’s followers adopted this teaching as orthodoxy, seeing this as taking precedence over the old negative laws of the Rabbinical tradition (Thou shalt not…). Rather than a prohibition, Christ’s teaching takes the form of personal responsibilities between individuals and makes no requirement in the human world of secular law. This, combined with the development of Christianity’s view of the individual human soul, as discussed in Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual, instantiates the conscious individual with intrinsic worth as the basis of our societies.

These two duties enjoin us to take what we find in the world and love it to the best of our abilities and must be embraced and obeyed inwardly before they can be put into action outside our direct experience.

The story of the Good Samaritan is an example of how the ‘love of neighbour’while being a religious duty does not mandate that there be religious conformity, and while being a binding agent for society does not have the limiting characteristics of a brotherhood or tribe. The ‘love of neighbour’ is directed to strangers as well as friends. As the parable demonstrates, you show your deeply felt love for your neighbour by tending to his needs in good or difficult times, disregarding the baser, more tribal ties of family, clan, faith or ethnic identity.

Grounded in this understanding, our laws do not require the kind of totalising, collective submission that the Islamists constantly pine for, and which was, according to them, present during the early years of Islam. As has been noted, the tale of the Tribute Money laid the foundation for the idea that the law of the land (secular law) can take charge of the mutual interactions and transactions that we as a society depend on for stability and survival.

As has already been noted, the move towards religious freedom has been marred and blighted by struggle and intolerance that is present in religious faith and human societies throughout history. However, it can also be argued that the movement towards religious freedom, as an offshoot of personal freedom, can be seen as a Christian duty, a duty to love others as they are at a fundamental level, within the sphere of love of neighbour.

This was described as ‘the love to which we are commanded’ by Kant. This means that people should be taken as an end in themselves, not just as instruments. As Scruton demonstrates, with the benefit of hindsight, the most profound meaning of Christianity is arguably its recognition of the Other as someone who is not me, but who is an equal being endowed with the same sacred rights as an individual blessed with God’s love and love of neighbour. Siedentop is surely correct when arguing that St Paul and St Augustine, in laying out the idea of the individual as being made in God’s image and having inherent value, along with freedom of will and conscience, may have been the most revolutionary thinkers in the West of all time.

Christianity itself gave birth to the freedom of religion, with both the stranger and the friend having an equal claim. The political order that we have inherited in the West is the protective shell that grew from and covers our core of faith. Islam cannot provide this same level of freedom, as it bears down on the shell of secular, man-made but God-protected law, threatening to replace it with a law of inflexible tribal brotherhood and collective submission, as opposed to freedom of belief and association. A law such as this is by its very nature divisive; it divides the world into us and them, and emphasises the difference of others rather than endeavouring to protect them.

Throughout its history, the adherents of Christianity have often fallen far short of the heights that Christ commanded them to strive towards; and even when they thought they were striving towards the teaching of Jesus, many who spread the word of God did so in a way that went against the teaching outlined above – think of the empire building of the 18th and 19th centuries, and how the spreading of the word through proselytisation was bound up with the concept of the ‘White Man’s Burden’.

However, when one considers the contrast in the spread of Christianity in the early days, and compare it to the conquests of the Arab tribes of the 7th and 8th centuries, and the undoubted good that came with Christianity, then one is presented with a markedly different picture. Christians are under an obligation to bear witness to their faith, but this does not, however, mean imposing their faith on others. As Christ showed, you bear witness not through defeating your rivals but through submitting to their judgement: your actions in the face of judgement define your sincerity of belief and proclaim it to those who look upon you.

These lofty ambitions were of course missed at varying points and to varying degrees throughout the last 2,000 years, but I would argue that the fact that this is a core part of Christian practice meant that the spread of Christianity came with far less conflict than that of Islam, and brought about some remarkable achievements; the abolitionist movement in Britain was driven by Christian ideals of the fundamental God-endowed equality of man, which slavery directly contradicted in the most appalling ways.

Understood in this way, the right and duty to bear witness is another foundation stone that support Western civilisation; stating our beliefs without threatening violence against those who believe differently, and without wishing to ask for anything more than the space practice them and spread the word by example, is arguably one of the hidden building blocks of the concept of harmonious citizenship as we now understand it.

To conclude, the one thing that I hope that many can agree on is that the Western world we live in today owes much to its Christian heritage. In short, Christianity, with influences from the Greco-Roman tradition, made the West, and gave use religious and political freedom.

If nothing else, we should be grateful for that.

If We Can’t Have a Peaceful Exchange of Ideas, then Civil Society≠Peace

Charles Murray, the author of the controversial book The Bell Curve, was due to give a lecture at Middlebury College last week on the themes discussed in another of his books, Coming Apart: The State if White America 1960-2010, in connection with the recent election victory of Donald Trump. He was invited by the campus’s AEI club, the organisation which Murray works at and which is affiliated with this college club.

Murray wasn’t able to make his speech as planned. The details of what followed can be found here.

The theories on race and intelligence that are discussed in Murray and Hernstein’s The Bell Curve have proven to be particularly controversial over the years and have been disputed in many places, by many scientists and experts in the relevant fields, sometimes justifiably and sometimes in ways which lead one to doubt whether the critic actually read the book. Certainly, the protestors don’t seem to have read it or they would have brought counter-arguments rather than invective and violence.

As such, I do agree with him that this episode and that of the anti-Milo riots at UC Berkley show that the culture of ideological protest at Western universities has reached an inflexion point.

The administration did everything right by participants in the event, and the students still devolved into a howling baying mob that wanted to punch a social scientist and who lumped in their professor for aiding and abetting him, just by challenging him through speech.

Here are some thoughts on all of this, loosely directed at the protestors, but it can also be applied to many on university campuses today.

1) You should be able to hear dissenting voices whatever you ideology. You only learn and grow intellectually by hearing different viewpoints and ideas. That is the whole point of a university; to allow you to confront uncomfortable, even terrifying ideas in a (physically) safe space that allows you to explore these ideas in a secure environment. This does not mean you can tell anyone you disagree with to shut up, or punch them if they don’t.

2) If you don’t like what you hear, tough. That’s the way the market of ideas works. It’s why I read left-wing, right-wing and centrist news-sources. It’s also how life works. People won’t be so prepared to cater to your stupidity in the real world.

3) If you disagree with something you hear, that does not give you the right to punch that person for having a different point of view. This is a simple and fundamental point: words you disagree with, that don’t directly incite violence, do NOT give you a justification to commit an act of violence against that person. End of.

4) You so called “anti-fascists” are displaying exactly the kind of behaviour Hitler’s brownshirts did in the 20’s/30’s. How does that feel? Orwell wrote about this phenomenon of fascist hunting in Homage to Catalonia, saying that those Communists who threw around the label “fascist” against anyone and everyone who didn’t pass their ideological purity test, were in fact the most brutal and fascistic in their actions.

5) I guess it all feels good because you’re so self-righteously bound up in your moral crusade against “harmful” opinions, speech and thoughts. You feel the need to protect those weaker than yourselves. Or so someone with a belief in the basic goodness of human nature would say.

Me, I think you’re projecting your own biases, prejudices, faults, failings and fears onto someone else, and you get to put all that emotion into shouting someone down while feeling the power of being right. In the end, I believe you do this because you can’t bear to look within yourself to try and find who you really are. You have no wish to live the “examined life” of Aristotle, because your fear of what you know is there is too great. So instead, you project onto other people, leading you down a dark path of violence.

Oh yes, and we all know that punching someone in the face or hitting them with a bat/sign or pepper-spraying them makes them change their minds. I mean, this has worked throughout history. Not that you know anything other than the post-modernist history of the world viewed as a series of vignettes constructed around oppression narratives which don’t actually tell you anything of substance).

6) What do you think you’ll achieve? This is a serious question. I know you think you’re brave anti-fascist warriors leading the charge against the oncoming darkness of bigotry and hatred. In reality, you’ll only drive more reasonable people rightward with your absurd and dangerous actions, while maybe forcing ugly ideas that need challenging underground to fester in the dark. This will mean they explode into the open at a later date with an intellectual glamour that’ll attract people to them because they’ll have had enough of your madness.

7) Your actions drive perfectly reasonable and decent people away. Your arguments (which you don’t care about) are intellectual bilge and have nothing to them except narcissistic, childish wailing. You don’t know anything of value. You know buzzwords fed to you by your professors who teach you post-modern oppression theories dressed up as serious subjects.

8) You’ve conflated word and deed. Now words you disagree with are the equal of violent action that invade your personal sovereignty. That is the biggest mistake you could make, for yourselves, and by extension for wider society. This dissolves the biggest part of the social contract. Free association is necessary for us as individuals and as a society, not only because of the inherent truth of “no man is an island”, but because intrinsic shared values emerge from social cooperation and interaction. They are not hammered into place by some external Herculean authority or instilled through fear. They grow from below, through inter-personal relations of respect and accountability.

Your lack of knowledge, wisdom and the corresponding appreciation of the subtleties of human nature and psychology is now horrifyingly apparent. Not only are you limiting yourselves intellectually, which is bad enough, but by refusing to engage with people, you will end up as less free men and women.

This fundamental philosophy has never been better captured than by Hegel in his Phenomenology of Spirit. Here he shows how self-consciousness and freedom – the two most important things in becoming fully self-realised human beings –  emerge through venturing outwards from yourself towards the other, i.e. engaging with other people, even those whose views you detest. Hegel shows how relations of conflict and domination (or intellectual debate, or even a conversation with some you disagree with) are overcome by recognising the reality of mutual rights and duties, and how, through this dialectic, the individual achieves not only freedom of action but also a sense of his own and others’ value. This makes us better people.

9) By dissolving this, none of our interactions will work anymore. Personal interactions are fragile ecosystems based on understanding, implicit or otherwise.

F.A. Hayek argued that civil society is a state of affairs built on spontaneity. It is an order that emerges by an invisible hand through our interactions with each other. It should be consensual, not in the sense that it involves some gesture of mutual consent like a social contract, but in the sense that it arises from voluntary interpersonal transactions and the steps we take to adjust, accommodate and correct them.

It helps to look at this through the lens of a conversation, because that is literally what Charles Murray was trying to engage in by speaking at Middlebury. Conversations occur between people able to speak freely. In a normal conversation, goals and desired outcomes emerge from the conversation and can’t be easily thought out ahead of it. If a person talks to another in ways that show his interest is slaved to some sort of ideological agenda, that he has some preplanned purpose in mind that, once achieved, will bring the encounter to an end, he is not in fact conversing. Sound familiar? Maybe you need to let go of some of your preconceived notions about everything and listen more?

The personal interactions that act as society’s glue (interactions that have conversation as their bedrock) are built on subtle goals and desires on the part of each participant in the interaction. Remove the barrier between word and deed and everything falls apart. If words are equivalent in violence to actions then we’re all in a state of war. Maybe you want that? Ultimately you’ll unleash chaos by killing the dividing line between word and deed. And chaos never goes well. Look at history.

13) Do you know how Hitler became Hitler? Through resentment at his “oppression” at the hands of the Jews. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? I hope it does. Your professors have poisoned your minds with post-modern poison theories that have dripped from the pens of Foucault, Derrida and all the rest. These so called philosophers destroy how we interact with each other by calling everything a method of oppression, thus destroying the bonds that hold us together while allowing for our existence as sovereign individuals.
This breeds resentment because if you’re oppressed then someone is oppressing you, no matter how prosperous and privileged you are in world historical terms. If someone is oppressing you like your post-modernist professors say they are then they deserve to be punished by you, the victim. Throw in the destruction of the barrier separating word and action, and of course you’re perfectly justified in attacking those you disagree with, because they’re oppressing you by disagreeing with you. The resentment these ideas gives birth to always leads to darkness.
14) But of course you won’t go down that path of darkness, because you have the moral fibre and intelligence and maturity and foresight not to. If you believe that fatuous and dangerous piece of immoral fiction then you’re the last person who should have any sort of power to decide for others. This is what every tyrant in history has thought, and particularly in the bloodbath of the 20th century. Even if you don’t become a psychopathic mass murderer for the greater good and really are as morally upright as you claim, you would be stabbed in the back the first chance the thugs who would follow you get. This is what happened in Soviet Russia when all the “idealists” of the Revolution were purged.

15) In the end, you risk pushing the USA and the wider Western world to greater polarisation, to civil conflict, mass strife and bloodshed by escalating the violence. But hey, at least you’ll feel morally superior. And you’ll feel morally superior when you lose and a real authoritarian is president, prime-minister or chancellor, because you will finally be proven right, your worst ideas about everyone not of your moral tribe confirmed.

It’s a shame for the millions who could suffer that it’ll all be your fault.