These days to be switched on and ‘hip’ is to be devoid of any idealism, to affect a dreary disillusioned scowl, which has become a cultural shorthand for intelligence. This attitude, or pose, is the most prevalent among academic people, or in the sphere of media professionals. These atmospheres have seeped into the arena of middle management and administration – the civil service and commercial office spaces where the majority of graduates work.
Among genuinely working class people, or among more courageous entrepreneurs, you’ll encounter more optimism and, ironically, more openness to dissenting views.
In a discussion among nurses or construction workers, any criticism of Islam, for instance, or any talk of the myths of feminism, will not be met with the same scorn and reproach as they will be in council offices, real ale bars or newsrooms.
It’s a curious fact that the more educated one is these days, the less able one is to deal with new ideas or competing interpretations of everyday experiences. The paradox of this is made more strange by the fact that intransigence and consensus thinking is often accompanied by a smug, affected and simplified form of irony that rarely amounts to anything more than sneering and sanctimonious self-praise.
Go to a party or a gig or any social interaction involving 20-35 year olds, and you will encounter the ubiquitous educated cynic, the foot-soldier for consumerist nihilism, the type of person who unwittingly propagandises safe, consensus thinking while deluding themselves that their acerbic, non-conservative tone of voice puts them on the vanguard of independent thinking.
Most likely this person has a passing knowledge of Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud and Marx, without actually having engaged with these ideas in any deep way. Like owning a blues anthology and thinking you know everything about Blind Lemon Jefferson, this dilettantism makes people think they have the inside scoop on the folly of cultural values, regardless of what those values may be.
Everything is relative; Christianity is just as bad as Islam; America is just as bad as Russia; all love is reducible to a sexual agenda, and all beauty is a matter of opinion and most likely the product of some conspiracy of white men.
The blandness and despair concealed in this worldview is buried under the affectation of edgy scornfulness and sarcasm. The apparent irony gives the snotty cynic the sense of being cut off from the crowd – an ‘observer of people’, when in actual fact their nihilistic insouciance is an excuse for doing nothing, for conforming to the flow of consumer pressures and pop culture fashions.
This is what irony has become. As long as you pull off the odd wisecrack, and perfect a visage of imperishable non-surprise you can fool others and yourself that you are an independent thinker, without ever having to take an intellectual risk, or feel humiliated for taking an unpopular point of view.
True irony involves self-deprecation. Not the socially polite kind, but a deeply-held knowing of your intellectual limits.
Thinking independently means caring less about having the ‘correct’ views, and devoting one’s energies to the process by which those views are formed.
Disputation is not a sport. It’s not something to pass the time away, or a platform for showing off. It’s a way of making doubt and scepticism a kind of neural institution, part of the fabric of your inner world.
The real test of an independent mind is sacrifice for a higher ideal. It involves suffering. Commitment, in a word.
Scepticism is a habit of thinking, it is not an ideology in itself. If we allow doubt to become an end, rather than a means, then we start to celebrate meaninglessness.
Being a cocksure, manipulative and sneering teacher’s pet may garner cool points when you are down and out on the scene, but it also helps to cultivate a sense of moral capitulation too. Slavish nihilism is the lifeblood of the tyrant.
Trump is a buffoon. Farage is a demagogic narcissist. Fascism is bad. Unaccountable power is bad. So what?
I see no need to join the chorus of people online sharing their outrage about things that are obviously wrong. So I don’t do it. The exercise frequently ends up in being one of self-congratulation and superior scoffing.
Public life depends on the health of public debate. And public debate depends on the integrity of the language that pervades the public space.
Far worse than even the bloody crimes of Hitlerism, are the crimes of rhetoric that allow decent people to become monsters in the name of supposedly “good” and “charitable” causes.
I know that I am the least enjoyable to be around when I am behaving like a boorish, righteous moron just because I know I have God on my side.
This is the state of the Left. Just because we fight for fairness, charity and equality, does not mean we are beyond criticism.
In fact, it means we deserve it more than the worst Rightwing fascists, because it is all the more difficult to see our faults as faults, and our crimes as crimes.
To those who say I don’t criticise the Right enough, and reserve my anger only for the Left, it is for the following reasons:
1. The Left depends more on consensus for legitimacy of argument, rather than disputation. The Right haven’t had a consensus since the fall of the church in public life.
2. Free speech is my biggest guiding value, and the Left seems hell bent of reducing this to some product of white supremacy and western imperialism. That’s horse shit, as the history of dissent and civil rights proves.
3. It is one’s duty as an independent mind to dissent from the opinions of your own side. That’s the only way you can trust the legitimacy of your views. It’s not about being contrarian, it’s about being committed to truth.
4. I know the face of the fascist Right, and I admit, I have underestimated its power in the last year. That said, I genuinely believe the Left’s ideological fanatics are a greater threat.
5. The danger of Left wing revolutionary fanaticism is that it really believes it has compassion on its side. The Right admit their love of hierarchy and divine right to rule, wheres the Left argue that their rage and violence is in the name of equality and good will. Nothing more worrying and threatening than that.
6. I believe the Left has forgotten its roots. It’s become about middle class people giving credibility to their bourgeois grievances. The ideological love of the EU is a great example. If people were really concerned with the working class they would know that globalism is a big threat to communities and social order, and it turns us all into “human capital” rather than human beings.
7. I see it as good practice as a Leftist to make my mind up issue by issue. I failed to do this in my younger years, and I was wrong. To be against fascism, the best weapon is reason, not ideology.
8. The Left failed in its response to the France massacres over the last year and half. The reluctance to hold Islam responsible for the fanaticism of its current factionalism, is fake compassion. I notice that many on the Left don’t give Catholicism the same free pass.
9. I have changed my views only in so far as I no longer believe western democracy and constitutional values (equality under the law) is the product of, or necessarily connected to imperialism. I notice that many on the Left still cling to this conflation. In truth, the constitutions of western liberal democracies are the only things standing between the world and tyranny, however flawed, corrupt and war-mongering their supposed advocates have been.
10. I don’t and never have actually, subscribed to Marxism. What little I have read of Marx, I respect him the way Muslims respect Christ, not as The Prophet, but as one among many dissenting philosophers whose voices were needed to end aristocratic tyranny.
I am an Oscar Wilde, William Morris leftist, and I believe beauty is truth and truth is beauty.
I am a classical liberal, and to say that does not make me a conservative. Far from it. Nor does it make me “alt-right”.
If the only way you assess someone’s progressive social conscience is by whether they virtue-signal, and rant against Trump and Nigel Farage or not, then you have a very simplistic view of politics. Politics becomes just a fashion statement.
There are plenty of issues that I don’t talk about online. Plenty of things I feel very passionate about, that I don’t feel the need to profess.
From the decline the Scottish fishing industry, to the justice system in Pakistan, I have many things I care about, but am not able to contribute anything change-worthy to.
The Left’s shift of focus to identity politics endangers public life itself. If we can’t disagree with each other, we don’t have a society.
This is a battle that I not only want to fight, it’s the number one battle I know I am fit for. I know I have the tools and the skills, the ideas and the passion enough to defend liberty over ideology.
There are many other battles worth fighting, and many other liberal issues to shout about.
However, this is the one area in which I know I can have the greatest effect. If I seek to challenge the seductive, intoxicating virtuousness of ideological thinking, then I am making the world a better place in the only way I have a hope of doing so.
I can’t get rid of the Trumps of this world. Neither can you. But we can stamp out the desire for simplistic political causes among ourselves, and thereby hold public life to a higher standard in the process.
“The liberty of man in society is to be under no other legislative power but that established by consent in the commonwealth, nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what the legislation shall enact, according the trust put in it. Freedom for man under government is not for everyone to do as he lists but to have a standing rule to live by, common to everyone of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; to have a liberty to follow his own will in things where the ruler prescribes not, and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary Will of another man.” John Locke
The voice of the people is the voice of God. As the Romans knew all too well, that voice is never measured or cognisant of worldly comforts and stability. The people, and the Gods, speak with tongues of dynamite, like the voices of trapped souls exploding from the underworld.
During the course of the debate over whether Britain should pull out of the EU or not, two central confusions seemed to exist. These had nothing to with economics, and everything to do with political philosophy.
The first was a confusion about internationalism and globalism. The two ideas seem to be synonymous in people’s minds, particularly those defending the EU.
The second, was a general misunderstanding of the meaning of sovereignty. To those in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, sovereignty was an archaic idea, a kind of party-pooping throwback concept that has no place in the peaceful, future-loving consensus of European state-building.
Internationalism and Globalism
Global capitalists tend to defend absolute unregulated free trade, and the free movement of labour, with the rhetoric of unity and open-mindedness. They claim their economic interests correspond to global solidarity.
Globalism, however, is an ideology, a principally economic one designed to keep wages down and maximise profits for big business. It seeks to erode the natural regulative effect that national borders and democratic sovereignty put up against rampant imperialistic capitalism. It’s a new form of imperial, privateering capitalism – expansionist, faceless and with no thought for the public order provided by communitarian, grass-roots culture.
Internationalism on the other hand, is the recognition that working class people across the globe share the same fight to ensure they are not exploited. It actually has nothing to do with government. It’s entirely grassroots. If anything, the working class small-c conservative vote in favour of Brexit was a resounding declaration of solidarity with the workers of Greece and Spain who have been equally abandoned by economic mismanagement and corporate favouritism on the part of the Eucocracy.
Internationalism recognises the borders and national identity. It recognises cultural diversity. The great achievement of internationalism is not the erosion of these markings of identity, but the acknowledgement that regardless of tribe, colour and creed, human beings seek the same goals of equality and happiness and community wherever and whoever they are in the world.
The globalist class of the EU and the corporatists they represent, have hijacked the nobility of this ideal. Like the corporate empire builders of America who hijacked the libertarian ideals of the US constitution to legitimise their unregulated takeover of the country’s economy, the European globalists hijacked the Churchillian “never again” values of a peaceful Europe to give credibility to an expansionist market-driven ideal of public life.
The people have rejected this. Just as they did in Greece. Just as they did in Scotland. However the media-types and dislocated Londonistas try to play these worker-mobilisations off against each other, the fact is that grass-roots rejection of the the globalist ideal is springing up on the right and left sides of communities across the world.
Brexit is the beginning of a wake-up call. Democracy has spoken. And as history shows us, once it opens its mouth, it rarely shuts it again without a fight.
Sovereignty is intimately tied up with the concept of consent. All democracies are governments by consent. This is different from the arbitrary will of the crowd, or government by constant plebiscite. It exists as much in the institutions of law, due process and social management that perform the greatest good for the people, as it does in electoral votes.
As John Locke said, the legislature performs with power entrusted in the ruler, by the people. If that executive power is misused, or fails to perform for the good of the people, then the tradition of British liberty asserts that the legislature is no longer legitimate. The people have the right to build a new one.
The problem with the EU is that there was no semblance of a social contract. The mass centralisation of power, based on a trade deal between economic officials, was not in any way comparable to the establishment of a parliament like those of the great European nations. The EU has a judiciary, a parliament, and an executive and even a common security policy. It has all the trappings of a sovereign state, without one thing crucial factor: consent.
The European Commission constructs bills designed by officials, and then allows ministers of member states to review them. Parliament is a kind of second house, which reviews, amends, and suggests legislation.
The Commission does not govern by consent. It governs by consensus, a force which carries its own momentum, and which ignores the voice of the people, in favour of the juggernaut of ideology.
The free movement of people is a perfect example. The good of the people of a sovereign state was at best a secondary consideration to the good of big business, in the implementation of this policy. Economic growth put cultural and social pressures on communities, and by doing so eradicated their rights.
A government by consent prioritises rights – the basic needs of individuals and communities that are required for them to take command of their lives and propel themselves to their greatest potential.
The free movement of people pretends to do this for desperate workers in desperate parts of the world, but very often it serves only to prop up low-wage service industries, exploit poverty, and trap people in debt and servility.
If a government is governing by consent, it must prioritise due process, individual liberty under the law, public health, and community. It is the ideology of the day to think that you can’t have these basic rights unless you have a lucrative, explosive economy growing at the rate of a virus.
But this ideology contravenes the heritage of British liberty. The sovereign’s duty is to the welfare and happiness of the people first, and the economy later. The economy serves the community, not the other way round.
The EU, as opposed to any abstract notion of a united Europe, is fundamentally opposed to sovereignty. By “pooling sovereignty” you destroy it. Because consent becomes consensus, and at the very best you acknowledge that the will of the people takes second place next to the the momentum of consensus.
Within the EU, there is not even a pretence at a social contract. Legitimacy is assumed by the rulers, not entrusted to them by the people. In the interests of consensus, countries and their voters are expected to get in line, or be banished – as Britain will be from now on.
You cannot build a truly sovereign state out of the foundations of trade deals. This is the fundamental flaw in the European project.
Those who claim that centralisation and state-building are not the core aim of the European Union are living in a fantasy land.
If a political body has a judiciary, a parliament, a flag, a national anthem, a security policy, makes laws that can overrule local justice systems and has aspirations towards building an army – that is an outfit with pretensions towards statehood.
That the EU can claim to govern with consent is fatuous. The rights of the people have very little to do with trade tariffs and product regulations.
Consent is about entrusting the happiness, health and liberty of the people in the hands of a parliament that can be held to immediate account. The people vote against parliament if they disagree with proposed legislation. No such accountability exists between the European Commission and the people of Europe. You will be hard pushed to find the word liberty anywhere in the bureaucratic, executive documents of the European Union.
Without sovereignty, or the consent of the people, what is a state? It is not a state, in fact. It is an empire.
The general liberal conception of what the EU is, seems to to rely on mistaking European unification with a utopian vision of geopolitics.
Difference, bad. Sameness, good.
The tantrums and outrage still echoing through the halls of Westminster, and still plastered over every progressive’s social media profile, all converge on the belief that the eradication of national sovereignty and borders brings us closer to ending all wars, forever. This gives the bruised Remainers the aura of righteousness. Even in defeat, this ideology of world peace, is dangerously imperialistic.
In the parliamentary system as exhibited in the British heritage of civil rule, there is no claim to unity, world peace, or a brighter future. There is no supervenient ideology, however noble and progressive.
The virtues prized by the common people are embodied in the machinery of sovereignty. British people have themselves often wondered why there is no official constitution, like that of the USA, here in the UK. But there is a beauty the to the parliamentary system without it.
The core constitutional value is government by consent. The public good, and the public good only, is what legitimises power. The British have greater common sense than to try and stand for abstract visions like world peace, global stability and unity at all costs.
The hot mess of parliamentary contest and equality under the law are good enough for the simple common sense of the British people. This was proven by last week’s historic vote.