Forget policy: to survive, conservatism must fight for Western civilisation

It is clear that the left is enjoying something of a moment, not just in the UK but across most of the West. It has reduced universities to censorious leftist monocultures, is busy imposing its ever more deranged zombie religion of political correctness in public debate and is so effusively full of confidence in its command of the cultural moment that ‘Acid Corbynism’ has caused quite a stir at this year’s Labour Party conference (fringe). Meanwhile the right-leaning press is full of gloomy arguments discussing the Tories’ oncoming demographic Armageddon and crisis of political confidence.

Mulling this over, it strikes me as strange that conservatives should feel this on the back foot, when there is so much to preserve, so much to care for and pass on to the next generation. The whole of Western civilisation, in fact. Why, then, are conservatives so embarrassed about wishing to conserve?

The doctrine of postmodernism, which advances a wedge of dilettante erudition ahead of its jackhammer of angry philistinism, has used its assault on the concept of canon to leave the best part of three decades’ worth of Western university graduates with barely a piecemeal grasp of their cultural heritage. Even this is filtered for them by their tutors through a lens of guilty identity politics, that reduces everything it touches, no matter how sublime or beautiful, to an ugly scrum for power under ‘cisheteropatriarchy’.

The result is three decades of graduates that simply do not see anything worth conserving. Where conservatism sees our culture as a collective endeavour worth contributing to and continuing, a flame that we all help to carry, the graduates of postmodernism see it as a monolithic engine of marginalisation. A pervasive, miasmic, indestructible force for perpetuating in-groups and injustice, to which the only legitimate reaction is resistance and subversion, and the amplification of voices deemed marginalised. It is in this fundamental perception that much of the ‘snowflake’ stereotype resides, for today’s university students naturally wish to align themselves with the marginalised rather than their imaginary plutocratic oppressors. This leads in turn to the strange phenomenon of Ivy League students, arguably some of the most privileged young people on the planet, throwing public tantrums when their pain and oppression is not validated.

But I digress. My argument is that conservatism’s crisis of confidence lies in the fact that even conservatives have been infected with postmodernism’s anxiety about whether Western civilisation really is worth saving. How could it be otherwise, when we study at the same universities, participate in (to an extent) the same public discourse, live and work with those who would take a hammer to our past? And if it isn’t worth saving, what are are conservatives but a bunch of intransigent junk-hoarders? Or perhaps conservatives just really dig the cisheteropatriarchy? Perhaps they just get off on shitting on marginalised groups and exploiting the poor?

You can see where the current leftist narrative about conservatism originates, and perhaps you begin to see why conservatives struggle to articulate counter-narrative. Because a counter-narrative to this nihilistic, pomo 21st-century mutation of leftism would require saying: I reject your basic premise. Western civilisation is a remarkable collective achievement of some five thousand years and deserves our humble appreciation and positive contribution, not this childish window-smashing. Everything I believe in stems from this premise, while you seem to believe progress can only come about when we tear it all down: the statues, the literature, the music, the architecture, the very notion of high culture itself. And as long as conservatives have even the shadow of a fear that the pomo nihilists might have a point, there is nothing to defend. Nothing to conserve. And if that is true, conservatism really does degrade merely to cheerleading for free-market capitalism or else embittered white nationalism, frothing on Twitter about Islam.

There is something worth conserving. We must say it. Own it. What is Acid Corbynism to the Parthenon, to Rilke, to the sweep of English literature from Beowulf to The Waste Land? To Beethoven’s Ninth? Chartres cathedral? We must fight for our heritage, speak proudly of it, put effort into knowing and sharing it. Don’t let it be destroyed by petty, envious philistinism disguised as radical egalitarianism. In embracing and loving our cultural heritage, and arguing without shame for its continuation, we anchor conservatism in something greater than market capitalism or nativism: in the astonishing sweep of many thousands of years of cultural achievement. A flame worth our helping to carry it on.

MRAs and trans ultras: two cheeks of the same arse

MRA and trans ultras are two cheeks of the same arse. Surely not? One is of the right and the other the left, surely. But look at the similarities.

Both groups are looking for ways to turn identity politics and victim culture to the advantage of white beta males, who feel collectively short-changes by a hierarchy of victimhood that seems to give some measure of coveted victim points to pretty much everyone except them. Both are also looking for ways to legitimise their resentment at women’s unfair exclusion of them from the sex they all imagine other males are having.

The giveaway is the strong smell of embittered sexual entitlement and the apoplectic rage specifically at being excluded *by women* – both MRAs and trans ultras respect and accept the threats of violence with which they are excluded by alpha males.

The difference between the groups is that where MRAs rage at identity politics and victim culture, ranting about the rapist immigrants and feminazis who seem to get preferential treatment from this system, trans ultras seek to appropriate the structures of the victim/identity system to become the most oppressed group ever in the history of oppression and hence claim some victimy goodness for themselves. But both are responding to the same cultural structures (identity politics and ‘intersectionality’ aka victim culture) from the same set of resentments (perceived loss of privilege within the current victim hierarchy, resentment at own sexual inadequacy and lack of sexual access to women). And both groups use very similar rhetorical tactics: trolling, doxxing, if necessary physical violence.

There is a reasonable and legitimate movement to ensure gender nonconforming people are treated well by a society that largely does not understand them. I support this movement.But it has been colonised by a mutant strain of MRA beta-masculinity, that has renamed itself ‘trans-femme’ to avoid confronting its own abjectly low rank within a male-supremacist gender hierarchy that these males have accepted without question.

These people are the Islamists of the trans movement, parasitically inhabiting what would otherwise be a movement of peace and liberation and turning it instead into a war of revenge on every woman who ever looked dismissively at them and moved on.

Reading today: Blimey, it is Brexit!

Reading Anthony Barnett’s excellent series of essays for Open Democracy on the deep history of the European project, and the situation that’s brought us to this referendum, written in the runup to the 23rd and its immediate aftermath.
 
I know for a lot of people the mood of the day is still disappointment and anger, but anyone interested in a progressive response to where we are now as a nation might find his writing well worth a look. Not least because the analysis on offer takes us well beyond the tired cul de sac of ‘racist thicko’ tropes.

Thanks poor people, for wrecking a generation’s future. No?

75percentInteresting that people are now saying ‘Thanks old people, for wrecking a generation’s future’.

Ashcroft’s poll suggests it was just as much C2DE voters (ie the poor) who swung it for leave as older people. The unemployed mostly voted Leave. Two-thirds of people living in council houses voted Leave. People with lower levels of education voted Leave.

What about ‘Thanks thickos, dole scroungers, council house types, manual workers, for wrecking a generation’s future’?

Anyone?

No?

I thought we were better than this

Perhaps more even than the dog-whistle racism from some quarters I’ve been appalled at the eagerness of many in the commentariat and even the European Commission to link poor Jo Cox’s murder with the referendum, based on facts that are sketchy and ambiguous at best and in some cases practically before her body was cold.

The police leaks and rumour-mongering are shaping up to a deliver a very poor chance of a balanced investigation into why this obviously disturbed person could have done such an awful thing. We have no facts yet, not really, and yet the politicisation of an appalling event has preceded full pelt. I have found it disgusting.

There is an ugly atmosphere developing in the country. Its emergence long precedes the referendum and the sometimes unpleasant views the campaigns have brought to the surface. These are symptoms rather than causes. The dignified thing to do would have been for everyone to step back, disentangle the referendum and murder and let the police do their job. But no, the political opportunity was too great.

If this proves decisive in swinging the referendum it will have been won for the worst of all reasons: on the back of moral panic, not reason, driven by an opportunistic exploitation by profoundly cynical opponents of democracy of a gifted woman’s murder and her young family’s bereavement. Every bit as bad as immigration-based fearmongering. I went into this campaign full of optimism about the potential for a democratic renewal after freeing ourselves from the dead hand of technocracy, but I’m starting to worry that it’s too late. I truly thought we were better than this.

“But how can you be for Brexit when [insert names of unpleasant politicians] are too?

As a Leaver, I agree that there are some arseholes on the Leave side. I think the context for this perception needs a bit of study though.

The EU is the political manifestation of a consensus among the elites of a number of countries about what politics should look like. An ever increasing number of questions are, quite intentionally, removed from democratic scrutiny and managed technocratically via treaties and laws instead of via negotiation, engagement with the public, or any kind of open debate. Big questions handled in this way include, for example, the consensus view that the right mode of government must be socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

To put it another way, the EU is a technocratic (ie non-democratic) means of narrowing the range of acceptable political options within member states to minor variants on the same centrist consensus. You only have to look at the oft-repeated fear of ‘populism’ within the European Parliament to see that. There is a profound fear of electorates, of giving electorates too much power and of them doing rash or ‘extreme’ things.

Now, perhaps you agree with that and perhaps you don’t. Personally the centrist take is pretty well-aligned with my interests and personal views. But the problem I have with using technocratic means of narrowing the Overton window is that removing from public the scope to debate or indeed democratically alter fundamental aspects of the type of government wanted or needed turns what should be a benign, self-sustaining consensus on what constitutes ‘moderate’ government into something altogether more suffocating and authoritarian. (I also think it’s a major contributor to the modern perception that ‘they’re all the same’ and it doesn’t matter who you vote for. Because, increasingly, it doesn’t, as all politicians are constrained within the same narrow band of what the EU consensus considers acceptable political policy.)

That quiet, smiling and superficially democratic suppression of any political view deemed to deviate too far from the consensus – either leftwards or rightwards – is reflected in a similarly stifling social pressure that declares that All Serious And Nice People hold views within a narrow range that corresponds to the centrist political consensus. People whose political views fall within that range tend to be supportive of the EU, because they see it as a safeguard of their moral outlook against the vaguely dangerous forces of ‘populism’, ie those riotous, under-educated plebs who persist in holding political views that don’t quite fit. Why would we want to give any encouragement to fascists or communists? Surely we’ve worked out the right way to do politics in the centre and that’s that? Similarly, at the level of culture and beliefs, surely the social consensus condemning racists, anarchists and other outlier views is a good thing?

So in a very real way the European centrist consensus has created the EU as a mechanism for keeping unruly electorates on the political straight and narrow. And the same mindset has set busily about painting anyone whose views fall outside its acceptable range as mad, dangerous, evil, racist, destructive and otherwise generally Not Our Type. In a word, arseholes.

On the whole my own views are pretty centrist. But I don’t think it’s healthy to shut discussion down like this. We shouldn’t stifle political diversity, even when it’s unpalatable: it pushes more extreme views underground and gives them a sense of grievance. You only have to look at the steady rise of right- and left-wing protest movements across Europe to see this in action. And by the same token we shouldn’t silence arseholes: we should debate them, and let their unpleasant views bury them. But fundamentally I welcome viewpoint diversity, because I think it’s a sign of a healthy civic society. And that means allowing scope for there to be a few arseholes – gasp – sometimes even politically aligned with me in some respects.

It’s really important to recognise that the eurosceptic movement – and it is a movement, that goes way beyond left and right, as well as way beyond the UK – is as much about fighting for political and viewpoint diversity in general as it is about the specific grievances that more right- or left-leaning eurosceptic groups have with the EU.

Reading today: We can’t keep the bad guys out; the turn against Marxism; the maintenance of civilisation

Rosa Brooks for Foreign Policy writes on how we can’t keep the terrorists out.

Cressida Heyes for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discusses the retreat of radical left politics into the American academy as a possible motivator for its focus on identity rather than class issues.

Sam Harris and Douglas Murray discuss migrants, terrorism, Anglicanism and Jack Monroe (podcast, 1:56).

 

Reading today: overproduction of US elites, the ‘global Calais’, scientific motherhood

Peter Turchin, writing in Bloomberg View, blames rich, overeducated elites for the modern fraying of American society.

Pankaj Mishra argues in The Guardian that ISIS is less an ideology competing with Enlightenment values than a byproduct of the thwarted global desire for convergence with the peace and material comfort visible in the West.

Graeme Wood in The Atlantic writes on what ISIS really wants.

Charlotte Faircloth writes in Sociological Research on the scientisation of motherhood and the use of ‘The Science’ as an accountability strategy for mothers.