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Monday, 25 November 2019

Hitler’s Racist Socialism

‘Communism is not Socialism. Marxism is not Socialism. The Marxists have stolen the term and confused its meaning… We chose to call ourselves the National Socialists. We are not internationalists. Our socialism is national.’
                                                                  – Adolf Hitler

Was Hitler a socialist? On the face of it, the answer is obvious: a resounding yes.

From the start of his political career in 1919 to his suicide in 1945, all the signs were there.

You can point to the fact that the first political party Hitler tried to join was the German Socialist Party.

You can point to the fact that Hitler co-founded and led the National Socialist German Workers Party. Not the National Capitalists. Not the National Conservatives. The National Socialists.  

You can point to the fact that Hitler never tired of condemning capitalism, as Brendan Simms has documented in his masterful work Hitler: Only the World Was Enough. ‘International stock exchange enslavement’, ‘profiteering’, ‘plutocracy’, ‘interest slavery’, ‘big capital’, ‘exploitative capitalism’, ‘money-grubbing capitalism’ were just a few of the epithets Hitler used to describe the system he sought to overthrow. As for the system he sought to replace capitalism with, he declared: ‘The German National Socialist state, which pursued this goal from the beginning, will work tirelessly for the realization of a programme that will ultimately lead to a complete elimination of class differences and to the creation of a true socialist community.’

Indeed, you can point to the Nazi Party’s founding manifesto, which spoke of the ‘division of profits’, the ‘breaking of rent slavery’, abolishing ‘unearned’ incomes, the ‘expansion on a large scale of old age welfare’, overturning laws that served the ‘materialistic world-order’, adopting the principle that ‘common utility precedes individual utility’, and enacting ‘a struggle without consideration against those whose activity is injurious to the general interest’. Tellingly, the latter group included ‘usurers’ alongside ‘criminals’.

You can also point to the fact that the same manifesto declared: ‘We demand the nationalization of all businesses which have been up to the present formed into companies (trusts)’. Granted, in its first five years in power, the Nazi Party actually sold off many national industries. But Hitler did this to raise money for the government. And he sold the industries to his Nazi mates. The goal of the exercise was state control.

As Hitler explained, this nationalisation strategy reflected a general Nazi principle regarding private property:

To put it quite clearly: we have an economic programme. Point number 13 in that programme demands the nationalisation of all public companies, in other words socialisation, or what is known here as socialism… The basic principle of my Party’s economic programme should be made perfectly clear and that is the principle of authority… The good of the community takes priority over that of the individual. But the State should retain control; every owner should feel himself to be an agent of the State; it is his duty not to misuse his possessions to the detriment of the State or the interests of his fellow countrymen. That is the overriding point. The Third Reich will always retain the right to control property owners.

Hitler’s aim, he told his friend Otto Wagener, was to ‘convert the German Volk to socialism without simply killing off the old individualists’. In a similar vein, Hitler sought to convert the German Volk to socialism without killing off inequality. A social hierarchy within the framework of collectivism was in everyone’s interests, Hitler believed. And note: no other socialist regime in history has entirely dispensed with private property or hierarchies.

Most tellingly of all, you can point to the connection between Hitler’s socialism and his antisemitism. Hitler was an antisemite because he was socialist. ‘Since we are socialists’, he explained, ‘we must necessarily also be antisemites because we want to fight against the very opposite: materialism and mammonism’. He added: How can you not be an antisemite, being a socialist?’ Invoking well-worn stereotypes, Hitler referred to the Jews as ‘this capitalistic people’. He saw capitalism as an international conspiracy conducted by so-called ‘rootless’ Jews spread throughout the world. In Germany as elsewhere, he insisted, these ‘Jewish-capitalist hyenas’ aimed at nothing less that the ‘financial domination of the entire economy’. In contrast, Hitler insisted, ‘socialism in the right sense will only be possible in nations and races that are Aryan’. He surmised:

Aryanism means ethical perception of work and that which we today so often hear– socialism, community spirit, common good before own good. Jewry means egoistic attitude to work and thereby mammonism and materialism, the opposite of socialism.

You can also point to Hitler’s belief that Germany’s war against the UK was fundamentally a battle against capitalism – albeit his parodic version of capitalism with its antisemitic twist. The war, he declared, was between ‘plutocratic-capitalist Britain’ and the German ‘welfare state’Germany was fighting against the ‘capitalist war mongers of England and her satellites’ – ‘democratic warmongers and their Jewish-capitalist backers’. The Nazis even had the nerve to link their own agenda with ‘anti-colonialism’ and with the Arab struggle against both Britain and the Jews in British-ruled Palestine.

Relatedly, you can point to the most misunderstood aspect of Hitler’s socialism. Everyone knows that Hitler hated communism – or ‘Bolshevism’, as he tended to call it. But few people know why Hitler hated communism. Hitler believed that communism was yet another Jewish-capitalist conspiracyHe spoke of the ‘intention of Jewish big capital to destroy Russia completely in order to maximize profits’. In Hitler’s view, communism, just like capitalism, was a system in which an exploitative Jewish ‘clique’ conquered a nation’s people by pitting them against each other – class against class. ‘Bolshevism is really just the general form of capitalism’, he opined.

In a passage in Mein Kampf Hitler elaborated on this bizarre theme, suggesting that Bolshevism is a precondition of capitalist exploitation. He warned that Germany was under threat from ‘Bolshevik storm troops in the service of Jewish international finance’. He warned of ‘Marxist fighting forces, commanded by international and Jewish stock exchange capital’. He explained:

Jewish finance demands not only the absolute economic destruction of Germany but its complete political enslavement. The internationalisation of our German economic system, that is to say, the transference of our productive forces to the control of Jewish international finance, can be completely carried out only in a state that has been politically Bolshevised.

Hitler claimed – it bears repeating – that only National Socialism could effect ‘a complete elimination of class differences and the creation of a true socialist community.’

Hitler’s barmy equation of communism and capitalism was echoed in the propaganda pumped out by the Nazi regime. One election poster in the early 1930s declared that ‘Marxism is the guardian angel of capitalism’. Another, promoting the 1940 film The Eternal Jew, portrayed a ghoulish Jewish figure with coins in one hand, a whip in the other, and a hammer-and-sickle tablet tucked under his arm. As for the film itself, it castigates Jews for shunning ‘useful work’; ‘these Jews don’t want to work but barter’; ‘they welcome trade eagerly because it suits their character and natural inclination’. Jewish children are shown ‘haggling’, because, the narrator explains:

These young people don’t have the idealism that ours do. With them, the egoism of the individual is not in the service of higher goals… For the Jew there’s one thing of value: money.

Later in the film, the narrator links so-called Jewish capitalism to communism, asserting that, ‘in the guise of selfless humanitarians’, the Jews ‘promised the masses castles in the sky, inciting them against civic order’. He continues, not-so-subtly merging capitalism with communism:

Unrestrained personal freedom and self-indulgence for the individual. Rejection of all ideals and higher values. Submission to the basest life of material pleasures. Criticism of all that is sacred. Revolt against everything. Incitement of the young to class warfare and terrorism. It’s no accident that this doctrine of destruction of nations sprang from the Jewish mind of Karl Marx.

Then, to emphasise the connection, the narrator adds: ‘The founder and organiser of the German Social Democratic Party was the Jew Ferdinand LaSalle-Wolfson’. Finally, the narrator surmises that, ‘despite business competition’, the Jews had ‘a common goal: exploiting the Germans’.

The implication is clear: the Nazis were not ‘far right’. The idea that they were far right is arguably the most ludicrous claim in history. They were so far left they thought even communists were capitalists. The Nazis were Very Far Left.

That’s why Hitler persecuted communists. And democratic socialists. And trade unionists, whom, he claimed, were seeking to ‘smash the economic basis of the free and independent national states, in order to destroy their national industry and their national trade as part of the enslavement of free peoples in the service of a supranational world finance Jewry.’ None but National Socialists were far left enough for Hitler.

Viewed in this light, Hitler’s animosity towards communism, and vice versa, can be seen as a kind of local rivalry on the far left of the political spectrum – the kind of rivalry that socialists specialise in. In any socialist society, a privileged elite sets the agenda for everyone else. That's why there's always so much competition between socialist factions. Whether it's Blairites and Corbynites or Communists and National Socialists, the rivalry within socialism is always fierce, even if all socialists ultimately believe in using the government to reshape society supposedly in the collective interest. Hitler told Otto Wagener: ‘What Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism failed to accomplish, we shall be in a position to achieve.’ He told Hermann Rauschning: ‘I have learned a great deal from Marxism, as I do not hesitate to admit.’ He added: “I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun. The whole of National Socialism is based on it.’ (Again, notice the blending of capitalism with communism: ‘peddlers and pen pushers’.)

What Hitler had put into practice was a particularly hideous version of socialism in which antisemitism was supposedly the missing ingredient in Marxism. ‘If the National Socialist movement should fail to understand the fundamental importance of this essential principle [race]’, Hitler intoned, ‘it would really do nothing more than compete with Marxism on its own ground’. He bowdlerised the language of Marxists, lacing it with racism: ‘We demand the fulfilment of the just claims of the productive classes by the state on the basis of race solidarity’. He aped the famous Marxist slogan: ‘Not proletarians of all countries unite, but antisemites of all countries unite!’ Indeed, prior to invading Russia in 1941, the Nazis went as far as agreeing a non-aggression pact with Stalin’s Marxist Russian government, without which the second world war would never have happened. In his Second Book Hitler mused that Russia might soon achieve an ‘internal change’ and become an ideological ally of the Nazis. ‘It could not be excluded that Russia’, a country which was ‘today in reality Jewish-capitalist’, would end up ‘national-anti-capitalist’. In such an event, he later predicted, Russia would abandon its internationalism and embrace ‘panslavism’.

For Hitler, racism and nationalism were equivalent: ‘To us state and race are one’, he asserted. In other words, antisemitism was the link between the ‘National’ and the ‘Socialism’ parts of National Socialism. To Hitler, racist nationalism was racist socialism, and vice versa. Alas, this proved to be a powerful electoral combination. In the early 1930s, a majority of Germans favoured socialism of one kind or another. By melding socialism with nationalism, Hitler was able to tap into an even wider pool of support, including the right as well as the left. He appealed to both camps: ‘National Socialism derives from each of the two camps the pure idea that characterizes it; national resolution from bourgeois tradition; vital, creative socialism from the teaching of Marxism.’

Hitler never wavered in his racist socialism. In 1944, in the depths of the war, when the military tide had long turned against the Nazis, he was still screeching that Germany is a ‘socialist people’s state’ engaged in a struggle against the ‘Bolshevik-plutocratic world conspirators and their Jewish wire pullers’. Even in death, he wouldn’t let it rest. His last will and testament, composed before he shot himself in a bunker in besieged Berlin in 1945, left little doubt as to the beliefs that had led him there. He railed against ‘international money and finance conspirators’ who had treated the ‘peoples of Europe’ like ‘blocks of shares’. And he prophesised that ‘The sacrifice of our soldiers and my connection with them into death’ would in the end ‘provide the seed for the achievement of a true People’s Community’.

You can point all this out. And you can point out that the Nazis weren’t the first and they won’t be the last socialists to commit genocide against a chosen group of capitalist scapegoats. Marxists killed 100 million people in the twentieth century, by various methods of mass murder that were just as murderous as gas chambers. Socialism is socialism, whether socialists attack what they believe to be a capitalist race or a capitalist class. In 1939 when the war was looming, Hitler meant every word of his deranged anti-capitalist pronouncement: ‘If the world of international financial Jewry, both in and outside of Europe, should succeed in plunging the nations into another world war, the result will not be the bolshevization of the world and thus a victory for Judaism. The result will be the extermination of the Jewish race in Europe.’ In word and in deed, the National Socialists were socialists.

You can point all this out until you’re blue in the face. Alas, today’s socialists will likely respond with a volley of outrage. Hitler couldn’t have been a socialist, they will bark, because a nationalist can’t be a socialist. Hitler, they will say, was a nationalist who merely called himself a socialist; his alliance with the nationalist right, so it goes, was only feature of his worldview that counted. I think the socialists are protesting too much! How can an ideology become more right wing when blended with Marxism? How can the addition of anti-capitalism to right wing nationalism create a ‘far right’ ideology that is even more right wing than that of the nationalists? No such thing is conceptually possible.

And no such thing fits with the facts of Hitler’s rule. Yes, after his failed revolution of 1923 he sought electoral success by courting patriotic conservatives as well as patriotic communists. But the Nazis also denounced conservatives, using standard Marxist rhetoric: conservatives were ‘reactionary’; riddled with ‘class snobbery’; an obstacle to a ‘People’s Community’. Moreover, after Hitler had acquired power in 1933, the Nazi regime became increasingly violent towards conservatives, to the point where, as Simms puts it, there was a ‘systematic campaign’ against them. For their part, many German conservatives soon saw Hitler for the socialist maniac that he was. The businessman Alfred Hugenberg summed up the mood when he announced, just a single day after he had helped Hitler acquire the Chancellorship, ‘I’ve just committed the greatest stupidity of my life; I have allied myself with the greatest demagogue in world history’. Conservatives were prominent among the brave Germans who campaigned against Hitler’s regime. Granted, there were also plenty of socialists, communists and Christians who campaigned against Hitler. All were persecuted for their defiance. And all had one thing in common. All were to the right of the Very Far Left.

In the end, anyone who thinks that a far left regime can’t also be nationalistic hasn’t been paying attention to history. The most extreme socialist regimes of the twentieth century were all extremely nationalistic. China. Vietnam. Cuba. Albania. Romania. Cambodia. North Korea. And, yes, National Socialist Germany. Even Russia – supposedly the hub of an international communist movement – went the way Hitler predicted, with Stalin cultivating Russian nationalist fervour to fuel his Marxist objectives, both political and military.  

When you think about it, extreme nationalism is a natural consequence of extreme socialism. Socialists are enemies of trade and capital – both of which are global forces. When socialists demonise capitalism, they demonise people who are open to the world, people who are open to cultivating cooperative relationships with outsiders. In the eyes of socialists, capitalists bring the dreaded outside world in; capitalists violate the sanctum of a socialist society. In the process, capitalists become outsiders and insiders, which makes them perfect scapegoats. Viewed in this light, ‘international’ communism is not so much a genuinely international movement as an effort to convert outsiders into total insiders; to make everyone wholly ‘one of us’. And when this conversion fails, as it must, the shutters come down: the extreme nationalism of socialism comes to the fore. 

That’s why the most extreme socialist states become fortresses, their inhabitants’ grim faces pressed aggressively against the outside world. Often, indeed, the hostile nationalism of extreme socialism manifests itself in military aggression. People who are too insular to embrace capitalism become impoverished, whereupon they are apt to conclude that plunder is an appropriate vehicle for their fear and hatred. Whether as insurgents or invaders, the socialist regimes in Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba and China attacked their neighbours with no less fervour than the National Socialists. And, as for Albania and Romania, neither would have become a socialist state if it were not for Russia’s military prize, the USSR.

In turn, extremely nationalistic socialism is often conjoined with racism, because race is an all-too-common means by which people label each other as outsiders. Extreme socialism has often fuelled, and been fuelled by, racism. In North Korea, the still-incumbent communist regime has encouraged its citizens to see themselves as the ‘cleanest race’. In Cambodia, the communist movement known as the Khmer Rouge committed a racially-motivated genocide that killed more people as a proportion of the population than any genocide in history. (We might also add: the racist genocide in Rwanda had socialist undertones.) And in the USSR, the Communist Party repeatedly engaged in ethnic cleansing against its perceived ideological enemies – including Jews. It’s true: in the USSR the Jews were, once again, accused of ‘rootless cosmopolitanism’ and subjected to killings and systematic persecution. The Nazis weren’t the only racist socialists in history, and they weren’t the only antisemitic socialists in history. 

If you don’t learn the right lessons from history, you can’t learn the right lessons from history. As I write, Britain is a divided country, still bitterly arguing over the 2016 referendum in which the electorate voted to Leave the EU. The bitterness is largely being generated by a minority of Remainers who are refusing to accept the result. Remoaners – as they have aptly been dubbed – are accusing Leavers of resurrecting the kind of extreme nationalism that wrought so much havoc in the twentieth century. But the accusation is preposterous. Brexit was inspired by a moderate not an extreme form of nationalism. A civic not a racist form of nationalism; Britons of all races voted for Brexit. A capitalistic not a socialistic form of nationalism; Leavers favoured a global trade policy for the UK, as opposed to the protectionism of the EU. A democratic not an authoritarian kind of nationalism; Leavers demanded the right to be able to vote for their political leaders. A patriotic not a hostile form of nationalism; Leavers didn’t express hatred for other countries, so much as love for their own. A neighbourly not an expansionist form of nationalism; Leavers believed that the EU should respect national borders, not dissolve them. Brexit was inspired by the kind of benign nationalism that defeated Nazi Germany, not the kind of extreme nationalism that characterised Nazi Germany (or any other far left nation).

The real downside of Brexit is that it is distracting the UK from a potential disaster. Socialism is riding a tide of popularity in the UK, with Britain’s Labour Party operating under its most extreme leadership ever – actual Marxists – while legions of young people are embracing socialism, having been disenfranchised by the ongoing housing crisis, and radicalised by their teachers and university lecturers. The air is thick with the nastiness of socialism, including the nastiest form of socialism. Labour has been plagued by accusations of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, to the extent that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is now investigating whether the Party has ‘unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish’. Meanwhile, another form of racism – or perhaps a broadened form of anti-Jewish racism – has become so prevalent on the left, few socialists even notice it is there, never mind challenge it. Throughout the West, many socialists now speak openly of ‘white privilege’. Capitalism, so it goes, is an international conspiracy via which rich white people oppress other races. Once again, hate-filled socialists are trying to build a broad coalition by defining their capitalist scapegoats in racial terms. 

As I said, if you don't learn the right lessons from history, you can't learn the right lessons from history. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Brexit, Working Pride, and Noblesse Oblige

“Benny I’ve just finished it I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read a book for almost 10 years but I couldn’t put it down mate really enjoyed it you should be really proud of yourself mate I didn’t realise all the sacrifices you had to make to create it, I’m really chuffed for you.”

Recently I received this heart-warming message from an old school friend of mine who had just finished reading my latest book Space to Create: A Writer’s View on the Housing Crisis. My friend is a family man who works as a black cab driver in London, where we grew up together. I don’t think he will mind me saying that he wasn't the most academically-inclined member of our friendship group. But he is no fool. Far from it: he is one of our most respected friends; I have literally never heard anyone say a bad word about him. (Well – apart from his bald patch and his support for Arsenal). The idea that someone like him enjoyed my book gives me great satisfaction.

I have also received feedback about the book from various friends who could be described as intellectuals. Curiously, one topic has kept cropping up in their feedback: social class. One friend suggested that class is an ‘issue’ that ‘looms large’ in my book. This surprised me, because I didn’t think I was interested in class – well, not anymore. When I started at university, I was a socialist firebrand with a massive chip on my shoulder, not least because of my strong cockney accent. However, by the time I had finished at university – a decade later, having completed a PhD at Cambridge – my socialist views had begun to fade, and so had my sense of inverse snobbery. I was now comfortable talking to anyone, because I was comfortable with myself. Within a few years of graduating, I was describing myself as a conservative: a long way from a class warrior.

Or so I thought. If I was surprised at people suggesting that social class looms large in my book, I was even more surprised at how I reacted: I felt slightly indignant. I soon began to wonder if I was inwardly protesting too much. After all, ever since I graduated from Cambridge, I’ve deliberately chosen to ‘slum it’ for the sake of my writing career. Space to Create documents my life as a struggling writer during the housing crisis. For a decade, I’ve funded my writing by working as a delivery driver. I’ve struggled to pay the rent in a series of cramped shared houses. I’ve lived and worked with some challenging characters. Throughout all this, I’ve gained firsthand experience of the social and economic conditions that are blighting the lives of working-class Britons today. Above all, I’ve seen the woeful effects of mass immigration. I’ve seen how the problems of overcrowding, overstretched public services and depressed wages have hit low-income Britons hardest, callously throwing their life chances to the wind. I’ve lived inside the pressure cooker that cooked up Brexit.

So, yes, I suppose it’s fair to say I still feel a sense of solidarity with the working classes. My school friend’s sympathetic response to my book, and my instinctive enjoyment of his message, indicates as much. Yet I don’t think I have reverted to being a class warrior. I don’t think my book was about class in any negative, tribalistic sense of that word. You can be proud of your class, and you can want to stick up for people in your class, without disliking people from other classes. Brexit, I think, bears this out. Though the Leave vote is often simplistically portrayed as a rebellion against the ‘elites’, I don’t think many people who voted Leave did so because they hate posh people. After all, some of the heroes of Brexit are extremely posh: for instance, Bill Cash, Daniel Hannan, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and of course Boris Johnson. Then of course there are the countless posh journalists who have championed Brexit. Indeed, the poshness of many of the leading Brexiteers hasn’t escaped the notice of left wing remainers, who have relentlessly parodied Brexit as some sort of aristocratic capitalist conspiracy against the gullible poor. Whichever way you look at it, Brexit spans the working classes and the upper classes.

What is going on here? What kind of force can meld the upper classes and working classes together so seamlessly? Moreover, what kind of force can achieve this result while still enabling working class people like me to retain a strong sense of their roots (while presumably the posh folk have retained a sense of theirs)? The solution to the conundrum can be found, I think, in a little-known fact about the character of Brexit voters. At the time of the referendum, psychologists conducted personality tests that found that Leavers tended to be more conscientious than Remainers. The dictionary definition of conscientiousness is: feeling a moral responsibility to do your work carefully and to be fair to others. This definition is extremely revealing. For a start, it explains why Leavers don’t take kindly to being bossed around by unelected bureaucrats. People who feel a moral responsibility to do their work carefully don’t need to be bombarded with rules and regulations. Bureaucratic meddling gets in the way of moral responsibility.

But most revealingly of all, moral responsibility explains the link between the upper- and working-class factions in Brexit. The British upper classes have long been animated by the concept of ‘noblesse oblige’, a French expression which translates as ‘Nobility Obliges’. According to this concept, people who are privileged – the ‘nobility’ – have an obligation to behave responsibly towards those who are less privileged. In practice, this means leading by example, and it means accepting an obligation to protect and serve. In other words: it means good leadership. Anyone who believes that hierarchies are both necessary and desirable in human affairs can appreciate that noblesse oblige is a valuable concept. Those at the top of the pile ought to behave conscientiously towards those at the bottom.  

Of course, noblesse oblige doesn’t simply mean that all responsibility falls upon society’s leaders. Quite the contrary: good leaders encourage their followers to take responsibility. The concept of noblesse oblige creates its own mirror image. In the case of the British working classes, the mirror image created by noblesse oblige is clear: there is a long tradition of working-class Britons taking pride in their work. This attitude of ‘working pride’ means not only doing one’s work carefully, but also treating one’s fellows fairly and charitably so as to cultivate the sort of cooperative atmosphere in which hard work takes centre stage. Naturally, the poorer you are, the more important it is to work hard; hence there’s no surprise that a tradition of working pride has historically been found among the poorest Britons. The result has been a virtuous circle between working pride and noblesse oblige. Leaders have felt an obligation to provide conditions in which their followers can flourish, while the followers have felt obligated to seize the opportunity to flourish.

Granted, the quaint-sounding notions of ‘working pride’ and ‘noblesse oblige’ do not imply that classes are fixed categories – castes. Within the framework of a capitalist economy, people can move between classes. Social mobility has become an important part of the system of reciprocal obligation that connects good leaders and their followers. Good leaders expect their followers to take responsibility on the promise that the followers who are exceptionally responsible and capable will advance into leadership roles. Moreover, the virtuous circle created by this arrangement is not only an important aspect of capitalism but is essential to democracy. Political leaders emerge as leaders because they have proven themselves worthy.

At least – that’s how it should be. Alas, over the last few decades, a new managerial kind of leader has increasingly come to dominate the UK, in large part thanks to our immersion within the structures of the EU. The concept of noblesse oblige has gradually been replaced by something more like: ‘abide, or else’. Instead of being told to emulate the spirit of our leaders, we have been told to slavishly conform to the letter of their pronouncements. Leading by fiat has replaced leading by example. Bureaucratic leadership has replaced responsible leadership. And, inevitably, the quality of leadership has nosedived. To put it mildly, the working classes in the UK have not been provided with conditions that are conducive to flourishing. This amounts to the breaking of a profoundly important contract. To the extent that Brexit was driven by the working classes, tribalism wasn’t the driver. The Leave vote was fuelled by the righteous fury of proud working people who had fulfilled their responsibilities while Britain’s leaders had reneged on theirs.

It is interesting to note that on the eve of the referendum, when David Cameron emerged from his limp renegotiation with the EU, he proclaimed that he had made concessions which would give the British greater control of their own welfare system. He radically miscalculated the national mood. In the eyes of the working classes who voted Leave, Brexit wasn’t all about handouts. The betrayed working classes didn’t want to give up on responsibility. They didn’t want to be patronised. They wanted responsibility and all its rewards. And they wanted responsible leaders who understood this. 

Space to Create is available from amazon.  

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Intellectual Obesity

Readers of my latest book Space to Create will be unsurprised to hear that I’m still working as a delivery driver – or, as I like to call it, operating on the intellectual black market. I am too stubborn to compromise on my right to speak freely and honestly. For the same reason, I’ve also kept up my proud tradition of antagonising difficult people to the point where they have a furious meltdown. I believe I have discovered the psychological equivalent of nuclear fission. Instead of bombarding an atom with neutrons, I bombard people who refuse to accept responsibility with reminders of their responsibility. The more persistently and focusedly I do this, the more explosive the results.

On one such occasion, one of my work colleagues, a gigantic fat lady, ended up screaming into my face “I’m going to fucking nut you!”. I managed to ward off this threat by the simple expedient of saying “OK, good luck with that” while smiling and maintaining eye contact with her, but I can’t deny that the experience was intimidating. It was like being trapped in a corner while the huge boulder from the film Indiana Jones comes rolling at you.

The worst thing is, I triggered the booby trap fully aware that it was there, and fully aware of what the consequences would be. I knew the drill like the back of my hand; I’m sure you do too. First, someone tries to blame you for their own error or wrongdoing. Second, you decide to protest. Third, they refuse to accept that they are in the wrong, precisely because they know they are in the wrong. Fourth, you succumb to a sort of magical thinking in which you allow yourself to believe that you can convince them to be reasonable by being reasonable yourself. Fifth, you begin to calmly and logically recite the facts.

And then something remarkable happens. You witness the full power of a person’s intelligence being deployed in the service of burying the truth beneath nonsense. Instead of responding to the points that you are making, your accuser deliberately obfuscates. They make random statements that have a superficial relevance to the topic but no logical relevance. They deny blatant truths, then, moments later, contradict their own denials. They draw preposterous conclusions from your words, in order to make you look unreasonable. They repeat what you are saying in a sarcastic voice. They roll their eyes. They bluster with outrage. The interrupt you relentlessly, denying you the opportunity to finish a single sentence. They abuse you personally. They swear and shout and sulk. They accuse you of attacking them. They engage in whataboutery – for instance, telling you everything you’ve ever done wrong. And they go through this repertoire on loop, repeating the same nonsense over and over, in order to make you sound repetitive while you insist on the plain truth. In sum, they reason in an irrational way so as to aggress against you: they engage in irraggression, to coin a word. Irraggresion is the means by which an unfair accusation is held in place; the tar that makes the feathers stick.

In the event that you are subjected to irraggresion, you’ll find that if you to continue to try to reason with your accuser, either of two things are likely to happen (or maybe both). On the one hand, you may become frustrated. Perhaps you will raise your voice, or offer a rebuke, or even an insult. Alas, your frustration will only serve to make you seem guilty, which is precisely the outcome you were trying to avoid. This is especially galling if there is a bystander present, who will at best draw the conclusion that you and your accuser are ‘both as bad as each other’. On the other hand, your accuser may have a furious meltdown, as my work colleague did. Their covert aggression will become overt aggression. Either that, or they will summon up a hysterical self-pitying emotional response that makes you look like a cruel bully.

I understood all this during the ‘argument’ with my work colleague. I even tried to ‘go meta’ – to explain to her what she was doing while she was doing it. I explicitly suggested that she was being ‘manipulative’, but of course she responded with more manipulation – ‘don’t use them big words on me’, she hissed. I confess that I wagged my finger at one point, whereupon she called me ‘patronising’ (I declined to mention that ‘patronising’ is itself quite a big word). I tried softening my voice, to try to make her realise I wasn’t attacking her, to which she responded, ‘you’re not my school teacher’. Then I smiled, in awe of her skilful display of evasiveness, whereupon she promptly accused me of ‘laughing’ at her. ‘You think you’re better than me, don’t you?’, she snarled. My response – ‘Well, I think I am behaving better than you’ – triggered the final showdown. As she bouldered towards me, yelling ‘Come on then! Let’s have it outside!’, she even had the temerity to add ‘… I’m not scared of you’, as though I was asking her for a fight; again, bizarrely, she was trying to pin the blame on me. All the while, her indignance was fuelled by a simple fact: she knew she was wrong.

I wish I had a transcript of the whole conversation. It was truly remarkable. By this I don’t mean that the subject matter was remarkable. Quite the contrary: the issue itself was extremely trivial – it was so boring, in fact, that I refuse to write it down. (Suffice it to say: I was 100% in the right.) The remarkable thing is that such a caterpillar of triviality could morph into such a fantastic flapping butterfly of insanity. Watching my colleague’s outburst, I began to feel like a caterpillar myself. My reasonable approach seemed woefully mechanical, like an evolutionary throwback, compared to this all-singing all-dancing irraggression against which I was powerless, other than to escalate the situation. Fortunately, another of our colleagues stepped in at the last.

Me being me, I reflected on the incident afterwards. One of my fellow drivers once described the woman as a ‘fat bitch’, which seemed a little harsh, but now I’m not so sure. I think my colleague’s fatness was indeed a relevant factor in her bitchiness. She was fat in an aggressive way: aggressively fat. By this I mean that she was fat because it made her more powerful; it supplied her with more weight to throw around. I am sure there are many other explanations for people being overweight (not least the obvious one) but I do wonder if the current epidemic of obesity in Britain is, in part, a reflection of the increasing aggressiveness of British culture. Maybe you can eat your way up the pecking order.

At the same time, my colleague was one of those fat people who complain constantly of digestive problems. She had the most severe case of hypochondria I have ever seen. Obsessed with monitoring her food intake, she would eat nothing all day, which made her stomach hurt, then she would binge on food in the evenings, which supposedly caused her even more pain. In other words: she was fat because she was fat, and vice versa. As a result, she frequently took days off sick, her income being supplemented by generous benefits from the government. Her obesity was a source of strength for her even insofar as it weakened her.

After the incident, I also couldn’t help ruminating on one specific thing my colleague said, the only comment of hers that hurt me: ‘You think you’re so clever, don’t you?’. I am sensitive about being accused of intellectual snobbery. I have a PhD from Cambridge University but I was so repelled by modern academia I decided to self-fund my career as a writer. For a decade I have worked in a succession of casual jobs, to provide me with both the money and the mental space to be creative. I also wanted to learn about real life, all the better to write about it.

In short, I have made great sacrifices to avoid being the sort of intellectual who looks down on other people. Moreover, having spent so much time among Britain’s ‘working people’, my worldview has changed to the point where I am now more detached than ever from the intellectual mainstream. Having experienced the ‘cost of living crisis’ first hand, and having seen how the establishment is ignoring the needs of working Britons, I have written in support of Brexit, and against the damaging politically correct socialist shibboleths that currently dominate almost all British institutions. In doing so, I have driven a wedge between myself and academia; I couldn’t be an intellectual snob now even if I wanted to. By hurling this epithet at me, my colleague engaged in her most exquisite piece of manipulation. She knew my views. She knew what I stood for. By accusing me of enjoying privileges that I had categorically renounced, she knew she would cause me a deep sense of injustice. I would rather she had nutted me.

Ironically, by accusing me of being an intellectual snob, my colleague was once again, albeit inadvertently, accusing me of sins of which she herself was guilty. Anyone who has ever defended capitalism or Brexit in conversation with a socialist or persistent Remainer (‘Remoaners’ as they are aptly called) will know how staggeringly manipulative these people can be in defence of their establishment privileges. As members of the establishment, they tend to be intellectuals, or at least well educated. If you dare to challenge their self-serving worldview, they engage in relentless sloganeering, dousing your every utterance with random catchphrases, which are skilfully tweaked to have a superficial relevance but no logical relevance. They bluster with outrage. They interrupt you relentlessly. They resort to whataboutery. They shut you down, by calling you a fascist or a racist or a xenophobe. And so on. Their deliberate irrationality is designed to make you feel guilty for telling the awkward truth about the EU and socialism. In other words, they engage in irraggresion, dancing around the reasonable points you make, floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee, attacking you instead of acknowledging their own wrongdoing. This strategy, after all, is how they make their living. They demand endless reparations, because as self-styled benevolent overlords, shepherds of the wayward, they believe they are entitled to nothing less.

In all of this, they are fortified by the weight of their learning, accumulated during years of education. There is nothing wrong with education, of course. But in today’s universities, especially in humanities departments, much of what counts as learning is more like loading a vessel with ballast. Many educated people carry around a blubbery hide of theories and jargon and abstraction and ideology, the main purpose of which is to intimidate. They are intellectually obese, all the better to overpower reasonable people. When you make a reasonable point to Remoaners and socialists, they will likely roll a great boulder of pointless knowledge at you, squashing you and your point of view. In addition, their pointless learning makes them strong by making them weak. They don’t know how to live, because they never bothered to learn anything so trivial; indeed, normal human life is obstructed by what they did learn. So they live off the government. Supposedly, their intellectual burden entitles them to endless solicitousness from the likes of you and me. They are philosophical hypochondriacs.

No, I am not one of these intellectual snobs. I am one of the people who are saying: enough is enough. I intend to keep telling the truth, keep insisting on responsibility. Looking around me, I can see that I am not the only one. There is a ‘culture war’ taking place, and I am on the side of the people who do not want to fight. Patiently, focusedly, resolutely, we will keep making the arguments in the face of a grotesque level of manipulation and intellectual bullying. Will we prevail? I do not know. But I do know that we are apt to be blamed whatever happens. I fear that a national meltdown is on its way. I fear that people like you and me will be caught up in a wildly aggressive showdown that we didn’t deserve, even though we ourselves provoked it by insisting on being reasonable.

Monday, 29 January 2018

The Rules of Unreason #2: Branded

[This essay is part of a series of essays on the use of 'covert aggression' in religion and politics. For an introduction to the series, and an explanation of the concept of covert aggression, click here]

In 2008, a BBC radio show hosted by Russell Brand sparked national outrage. Brand and his guest, fellow comedian Jonathon Ross, made some on-air phone calls to the actor Andrew Sachs, whom Brand had invited onto the show. Sachs wasn’t picking up his phone, and Brand was piqued by this. He and Ross proceeded to leave a series of lewd messages on the answer machine of Mr Sachs, who was 78 years old at the time.
‘He f--ked your granddaughter!’, Ross blurted out, in reference to the fact that, just before the call, Brand had bragged to his listeners about doing that very thing. In subsequent messages, the two comedians proceeded to repeat – and revel in – the allegation, while nominally ‘apologising’ for Ross’s outburst. At one point, Brand riffs that the liaison ‘was consensual and she wasn’t menstrual’. Ross imagines Sachs ‘sobbing over his answer machine… he has probably got a picture of his grandchildren when they were young and innocent right by the phone’. Brand continues, adding bizarrely and sinisterly: ‘We can keep ringing, and even after the show’s finished, kick his front door in and scream apologies into his bottom’. Later in the show, Brand makes a fake announcement: ‘The main news again… Andrew Sachs hung himself today’.

The Rules of Unreason #1: Impolite Company

They say you should never discuss religion and politics in polite company. But why not? The obvious answer is that people get heated when talking about these topics. But why? Why do people get heated when talking about religion and politics? The answer to this question is far from obvious. And that’s part of the problem. When you get involved in a discussion about religion and politics, the onset of mutual animosity can be subtle and surprising. You often find yourself inexplicably feeling defensive, or exasperatedly trying to make yourself clear. Your temper rises the more you feel unsettled.
I used to think religion and politics were both inherently controversial topics. But now I think otherwise; I think some people needlessly make them controversial. The penny dropped for me when I was reading one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read: In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, by psychiatrist George K. Simon. In this unheralded masterpiece, Dr Simon describes the phenomenon of ‘covert aggression’. You’ve probably never heard of covert aggression. But I guarantee you’ve encountered it. You may even have practised it yourself – especially if you hold strong political or religious views.

Wellbeing on Campus

[This article first appeared on the School of Life blog in 2011]
According to the popular image, most students indulge in years of hedonism capped by raucous post-exam celebrations – a privileged minority enjoying the “best days of their lives”. No doubt there is some truth to this caricature, but a recent report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists reminds us that every silver lining has its cloud.
Mental illness is a serious problem on UK campuses, explains the report, which is entitled Mental Health of Students in Higher Education. In the last ten years, studies have shown as many as 65% of female and 54% of male undergraduate students scoring positively on the General Health Questionnaire, which screens for minor psychiatric disorders. One team of researchers found 29% of students describing clinical levels of psychological distress, whether anxiety, depression, obsessiveness or social alienation. More recently, a survey of higher education institutions revealed that, of those who responded, 80% recorded an increased demand for mental health provision over the previous five years.

Working Definitions

[This article first appeared on the School of Life blog in 2011]

“I'm a bit of a perfectionist… See, for me, it's got to be the best, or it's nothing at all. Like, if things get a bit dodgy, I just can’t be bothered.”

Spud, Trainspotting
The Journal of Modern Wisdom, a new volume of essays of which I am editor, is imperfect. And I don’t care. Don’t get me wrong: I care very much about promoting wisdom. The point is: I believe that doing so is important enough that even imperfect wisdom is better for the wellbeing of society than none at all.  
To judge by the irate emails I’ve received from a few philosophers, you’d think I was working for the Thought Police. Apparently “you can’t define wisdom” – or at least not without, bizarrely, recognizing the impossibility first. That’s funny, because contributors Richard Layard, Theodore Dalrymple, Judith Rich Harris, Stephen Bayley and David Cooper, among others (not to mention numerous lexicographers), have all had a good crack at it.