Thursday, 23 October 2008

In Search of the Right Species

It is of great importance for the utopian to persuade himself and others that he is no utopian, that is to say, that his political and social conception can be realised. Hence the attempt by Marxist historians and pre-historians to find examples of genuine communes in the past. They never found any — at least, firstly: not any society where a broadly communal ownership of goods was not also subject to unequal influence, private interests, leadership, and oligarchy; for, as Edward O. Wilson put it, they were looking at the wrong species; and secondly: not any society which was beyond the small and primitive and which could therefore provide a model conception for a society much larger and less primitive. Accodingly, the claim that these primitive communities justified the communist ideal as a realisable conception was no more credible than the claim that the Marxist regimes themselves were not greatly powerful oligarchies peddling the illusion that the paradisiacal commune of equal freedom and plenty was just over the horizon. As to what would be the right species for the realisation of that paradise, it is difficult to say. Chimpanzees would be no good; whereas, I suppose, any of the species of amoeba would prove somewhat fitter. Still, hope springs eternal in the blighted heart: if every member of humanity could put aside his ego, his striving, his differences of character, talent, intellect, charm, and so on, indeed everything that makes him a person, but from which advantage and hierarchy can arise, then perhaps one day humanity could achieve the worldly paradise of the amoeba.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Fewtril no.261

It may be banal or even simple-minded to say so, but I must confess that I am often in awe of the wondrous possibilities and effects of language, such as that some new combinations of words can easily, and with little mental effort, lead to new and quite remarkable ideas. For instance, when the word “public”, referring to the people at large, is inserted into the phrase “informed debate”, referring to reliable and learned discussion, at once there is born a new and more complex phrase, out of which grows a new and more complex idea, which itself quite simply and wonderfully corresponds to nothing in the known universe.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Fewtril no.260

The most sophisticated demagogue is the one who publicly expresses the wish to engage in a rational debate with the people: even the clever can be tempted to feel he is speaking personally of them, whilst the stupid are absolutely sure.

Monday, 13 October 2008

A Tragic Destiny

“The feeling that springs spontaneously from an unprejudiced judgment of the history of humanity is compassion for the contradictory qualities of this poor human race of ours, so rich in abnegation, so ready at times for personal sacrifice, yet whose every attempt, whether more or less successful or not at all successful, to attain moral and material betterment, is coupled with an unleashing of hates, rancors and the basest passions. A tragic destiny is that of men! Aspiring ever to pursue and achieve what they think is the good, they ever find pretexts for slaughtering and persecuting each other. Once they slaughtered and persecuted over the interpretation of a dogma, or of a passage in the Bible. Then they slaughtered and persecuted in order to inaugurate the kingdom of liberty, equality and fraternity. Today they are slaughtering and persecuting and fiendishly torturing each other in the name of other creeds. Perhaps tomorrow they will slaughter and torment each other in an effort to banish the last trace of violence and injustice from the earth!”

Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class, tr. H.D. Kahn (New York and London: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1939), p.198.

An Addition to The Devil's Dictionary

science, n. the rigorous method or industry of gaining knowledge or funding.

Fewtril no.259

Nothing so wonderful as Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog could be painted today in contemporary depiction without straying into the bounds of the unusual. The wanderer would have to appear in bright synthetic clothing.

Fewtril no.258

Social justice in our lifetime is possible. All we need is a mob to lynch those who propose it.

Fewtril no.257

In nobility lies the ability to admire without hope of imitation.

Friday, 10 October 2008

The Dismal Science of Imprudence

The flippant response of John Maynard Keynes to the criticism that his economic policies were guided by short-term considerations was to say that in the long run we are all dead. His response suits well the nihilistic-consumptive character of public government, which his economics was intended to serve: nothing matters but the present and the near-future. Since our governors are not owners of the government, but rather the short-term elected holders thereof, who will leave their depredations not to kin but to strangers and rivals, and since neither they nor their descendants will have to bear personal liability for debts incurred under their tenure, they have little incentive for moderation or for securing the long-term capital-value of the state which they govern. On the contrary, since their time-horizon is largely set by the next election, or perhaps — if they are unusually “far-sighted” — by the one after that, the great incentive is for the maximisation of present and near-future income through capital-consumption at the expense of long-term capital-values. [1]
[I]t is alarming to see that after we have once gone through the process of developing a systematic account of those forces which in the long run determine prices and production, we are now called upon to scrap it, in order to replace it by the short-sighted philosophy of the business man raised to the dignity of a science. . . . I fear that these believers in the principle of après nous le déluge may get what they have bargained for sooner than they wish. [2]
Where there is a great incentive to imprudence, there are clever men willing to make it a science.
[1] As explained by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God that Failed (New Brunswick & London: Transaction Publishers, 2001).
[2] F.A. Hayek, “The Economics of Abundance”, in The Critics of Keynesian Economics, ed. H. Hazlitt (New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1995), p.130.

A Small Literary Gesture

News from Iceland: “Passing by the British Embassy just now I saw that security has been strengthened: one police-car standing outside and another driving slowly around the neighbourhood.” [1] Iceland has no standing army, but if it could manage to rustle up a few longboats to set a troop of axe-wielding loons onto the coast of Lancashire, I should be more than happy to greet them and show them the way to London.

[1] [“Átti leið framhjá sendiráði Breta áðan og sá að þar er búið að efla alla gæslu, einn löggubíll staðsettur fyrir utan og alla vega einn í viðbót sem hringsólaði hægt um hverfið.”] Kristín Dýrfjörð, “Lögguvakt hjá Bretunum”, Kristín Dýrfjörð (weblog), 9th October 2008.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Diehard Heathenry

why do you drive
your load of mist
across my land?
For remedy
I will sacrifice to you
my cow, my wife,
and my Christianity.

[Hví svo þrúðgu þú
um sveitir ekur?
Þér man eg offra
til árbóta
kú og konu
og kristindómi.]

Jónas Hallgrímsson, “Dalabóndinn í óþurrknum,” from Ljóðmæli eptir Jónas Hallgrímsson (1847), online at

Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes

“The human potential for evil and the propensity to abuse power are the bases for one of the strongest arguments against government” [1] — and the bases for one of the strongest arguments for it.

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” [2]

[1] Bob Koepp, commenting on William F. Vallicella, “Why I Call Myself a Conservative (2008 Version)”, The Maverick Philosopher (weblog), 24th September 2008.
[2] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1904), Pt.1., Ch XIII., p.84.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Lichtenberg on Books

“A book is a mirror: if an ape looks in, no apostle can look back out.” [1]

“If a book and a head collide and make a hollow sound, is that always on account of the book?” [2]

“It had the effect that generally good books have. It made the silly sillier, the clever cleverer, and the remaining thousands were left unchanged.” [3]

[1] [“Ein Buch ist ein Spiegel, wenn ein Affe hineinsieht, so kann kein Apostel herausgucken.”] G.C. Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, (Frankfurt am Main und Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1984), F.111 from Sudelbuch F (1776-1780), p.247.
[2] [“Wenn ein Buch und ein Kopf zusammenstoßen und es klingt hohl, is das allemal im Buch?”] Ibid., D.396 from Sudelbuch D, (1773-1775), p.156.
[3] [“Es hatte die Wirkung, die gemeiniglich gute Bücher haben. Es machte die Einfältigen einfältiger, die Klugen klüger und die übrigen Tausende blieben ungeändert.”] Ibid., E.128 from Sudelbuch E (1775-76), p.194.

Historical Script

Ever since the French Revolution, men have been taught to wear their passions like cockades — as visible political statements. Yet naturally one does not dress oneself by passion; one does so by habit and convention, or by deliberation; and so it is that these displays of passion are often somewhat inauthentic in their putative spontaneity.
.....Outrage is hoisted aloft like a standard, set with the formulary design of words such as “vile” and “abhorrent”, in a public ceremony that marks the occasion for political reaffirmation.
.....Acts, apparently driven by passions, are often play-acts, actually driven by conformity to precedents. It struck Tocqueville that the men who stormed the National Assembly in 1848 were like actors playing the historical role of revolutionaries, following a script that had been read and rehearsed in popular imagination ever since the Revolution, but which they had not learned by heart, at least not enough to persuade a keen observer of their complete authenticity.
.....Already when a present event is felt to be an historical moment, it loses a little of its authentic spontaneity, for part of that feeling is ham-acted to an audience of expectations. Insofar as the confidence of free imagination is lacking, history becomes a constraint rather than an inspiration to new deeds. Freedom and spontaneity and new avenues of action are lost. Men act things out according to what they think is expected of them, of what they imagine befits their roles, quite as if they had to stay true to a script which history had demanded they perform without significant change or omission. Thereof one need take no dim view. It may on occasion bring hackneyed drama, but without that historical script, we should likely have to suffer performance art.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The National Day

I am not sure what Britishness means, but, from what I hear, it has something to do with celebrating diversity, embracing and empowering communities, and working together for a vibrant society of respect and equality and democratic values — from which ugly rash of words I am led to imagine that it is some frightful disease engineered and released by a committee of sociologists, Fabians, and women with “ethnic” earrings. (As one thing after another succumbs to it, the remnant and feeble body of native culture will slowly perish.) And now it is proposed that Britishness should itself be celebrated — yes, that word again! — on a day inaugurated for that very purpose: “British Day”.
.....To help us understand the meaning and purpose of this day, Liam Byrne, HM Government’s Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, has published a pamphlet, from which the following is taken:

My own party members wanted a happy — rather than a mournful or solemn — day, which had space for expression and celebration of the wonderful diversity of British life, woven with opportunities to come together in a celebration of what we have in common. They wanted to see colour and celebrations of costume — what we called ‘kilts and saris’ with a strong emphasis on celebrating foods traditional and new. Hodge Hill members were keen on local, neighbourhood celebrations, like street parties, before coming together in broader civic gatherings: the proverbial ‘Party in the Park’.
Members were not keen on placing much emphasis on the ‘trappings of nationalism’, by which they meant too much emphasis on ‘saluting flags’. They wanted the media to see ‘the unity within the community’ but a community that also celebrated the ‘colours of the British tapestry’. Around Britain, people had many similar ideas, reflecting perhaps a very healthy lack of order. [1]

Mr Byrne has listened to members of his party and to those of the public, who are healthily disordered, and, based on their suggestions, has drawn up a list of twenty-seven ways to celebrate the national day. I reproduce below a section from his pamphlet which includes this list and a list of those who should be involved. It necessarily makes for unsightly reading; for it was written by a government-minister in the style of an undergraduate who has just been reminded that his essay is due to be submitted in two hours. I have added some comments.
Here is a list of 27 ways to celebrate a national day:
  1. as a national event, celebrated in local areas
  2. with a good [vibrant and diverse] cross-section of society on the organising committee; lots of small community events; have a particular theme different theme each year, set by organising committee [without which modern, diverse, vibrant Britain could not be modern, vibrant and diverse.]
  3. by using TV to inform about British history [the story of the slavery and oppression of other peoples, but which happily leads to vibrant and diverse modern Britain]; a speech by the Queen [who is still too hideously white and represents a divisive and oppressive class-order]; TV link-ups around country [because that sounds like an exciting and modern thing to do]
  4. in the form of a remembrance day celebrating the bravery of veterans [because the existing one is not diverse and vibrant enough]
  5. by encouraging young people to visit or help older people [who still hold opinions that have no place in diverse and vibrant modern Britain]; celebrate voluntary work [but leave it to the state]
  6. through school involvement teach history [i.e., slavery, oppression, dirt, disease, misery, the struggle against abhorrent and ridiculous ideas, but ending in the triumph of the right ideas], choirs singing [for the glory of vibrant and modern Britain]
  7. through daytime activities [to be organised by government councils and committees] to involve whole community [naturally vibrant and diverse], and evening for partying [because Britain is an exciting and vibrant and diverse place to live]
  8. by holding street parties [organised by government councils and committees] and neighbourhood get-together [with neighbours you have rarely ever met]; would work as a street party exchanging food and culture [because that is just the sort of thing that happens in a vibrant and diverse land such as Britain]
  9. as a carnival similar to the Notting Hill Carnival; big procession similar to St Paul’s Carnival; fireworks [but the Health and Safety Executive might have something to say about fireworks and carnivals and processions — apart from the Notting Hill Carnival, of course, which is safely vibrant and healthily diverse and just the sort of thing that vibrant, diverse, modern Britain should be celebrating]
  10. through music British or world music [because Britain is a vibrant and diverse land which celebrates all cultures]; concerts like Live Aid [promotional opportunities for rock-stars]; British music, etc; play local music [rap, bangra]; local dress [such as American workman’s denim; tee-shirts; tracksuits; saris; kilts]
  11. through dance British dancers; Morris dancing; folk dancing [but bearded men with bells around their ankles, waving handkerchiefs, and dancing gaily, tend to be unwelcomed by local youths with tracking-tags around their ankles, shouting mockery, and swaggering menacingly; still, at least it makes for a vibrant and diverse spectacle in tolerant, vibrant, diverse, modern Britain]
  12. through food British and other cultures; regional food; different cultures’ foods [Indian, Chinese, etc]
  13. through drinking [for, in this context, the side-effect of memory-loss is a benefit]
  14. through art [i.e., tat sponsored by organisations funded by the taxpayer]; involve theatre [because actors and directors love this kind of thing]; free film viewings on history of Britain [slave-trade, triumph of vibrant and diverse modern Britain against the forces of evil, etc]
  15. by having a sports theme all nationalities can take part; football [a good game, invented of course in China, now celebrated religiously in Britain]
  16. by celebrating different cultural dress [though guidelines on how to celebrate different cultural dress will have to be issued]
  17. by holding community discussions; meetings in town halls [providing more opportunities for spiky-haired women with rimless spectacles and “ethnic” earrings to tell everyone what diverse and vibrant things to celebrate.]
  18. by promoting posters of iconic figures, eg fallen heroes [Gandhi, Che Guevara], Winston Churchill [frightful racist and imperialist]
  19. by holding a ceremony to remember the good things over the past year [I am at a loss for words]
  20. by appreciating the country; weather; enjoyment [ditto]
  21. cheaply so people get involved [for the poor of Britain have little money left over once they have bought life’s essentials: flat-screen televisions, mobile phones, games-consoles, heavy gold jewellery, tattoos, takeaways, cigarettes, lager, etc]
  22. by holding free events around the city [but not free for the taxpayer]
  23. by incorporating countries that used to be part of the Empire [because making British Day about the nations of Britain would be discriminatory and divisive]
  24. by making it about integration [because we wouldn’t want to leave anyone out]
  25. by using publicity to ensure people get involved – like Children in Need [which means you will participate, even if it takes a man dressed up as a bear to make you do so]
  26. by emphasising the theme of British life, immigration [for there’s nothing more British, or more fit to be celebrated as British, than the cultures of Somalia, Poland, Pakistan, India, Jamaica, China, etc], remembrance [but of nothing worthwhile]; cost should be met locally [by the taxpayer] as [this] shows that putting into the local community helps to get something good back [i.e., a letter from the council detailing an increase in council-tax]
  27. in an understated but firm way, without fuss; show good and bad aspects of living in Britain (and how bad aspects are being addressed) give honest picture. [Bad aspects: inequality; population is still too hideously white; reassure that the problem is being addressed. Honest picture: Britain is the closest thing to an earthly paradise, for it is an exciting, vibrant and diverse place to live]
Members of the public felt that the following people should be involved:
  • the whole community [yes, yes, vibrant, diverse, etc]
  • the Queen and the Royal family [who are an anachronistic reminder of Britain’s non-vibrant and non-diverse past]
  • politicians, the Prime Minister, politicians [sic], MPs [because we cannot do anything without them]
  • councillors [who never miss an excuse for an “executive buffet” down at the town-hall]
  • celebrities with the right values (eg David Beckham, Kate Moss) [The right values in a celebrity: being good-looking; being dumb as a badger; having never said anything rude about foreigners; having not yet been convicted of a sex-offence]
  • veterans [who are not as appealing as celebrities and are often quite ugly]
  • children [who are the future, teach them well, and let them lead the way, show them all the beauty they possess inside, etc, but watch them swear and spit in the street]
  • community leaders and representatives [mountebanks and demagogues]
  • young people [who are mostly unpleasant, but let’s try and pretend otherwise]
  • corporate sponsors [who never miss an opportunity to sell]
  • famous people who have been immigrants [who are the people who made tedious and benighted Britain a vibrant and diverse place to live]
  • sports people [who are also celebrities]
  • [more] celebrities to attract [more] young people [who are more vibrant and diverse than old people] [2]
It should be quite a day. I, of course, will mark the occasion in my own humble way: by trying to ignore it.

[1] Liam Byrne, A More United Kingdom (London: Demos, 2008), p.61-3. (Demos is a political organisation, or “think-tank”, which I had presumed was part of the Fabian Society, of which Mr Byrne himself is a member; but Wikipedia informs me it was founded by journalists from Marxism Today, the now defunct organ of the now defunct Communist Party of Great Britain.)
[2] Ibid., pp.62-64.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

In the Old and Canny Manner of Peasant-Lore

“I tip-toed my way through the ranks of men gathered for induction into the Volkssturm and installed myself meekly at the rear. My gaze swept along the row: there they stood, the old peasants of the neighbourhood, prematurely worn out by work, weather-beaten and hunched figures. They had raised their right hands, and, in harsh and throaty voices, were repeating the words of the oath. And their left hands — really and truly, this one and that one, here and there, all along the row, each left hand was hanging down with the oath-fingers pointing to the ground — they were dispelling the oath in the old and canny manner of peasant lore. — Oh, peasants! It was as simple as that!”

[“[I]ch ging auf den Zehenspitzen die Glieder der angetretenen Volkssturmleute entlang und baute mich bescheiden hinter der letzten Reihe auf. Mein Blick schweifte diese Reihe entlang: da standen sie, die alten Bauern der Umgebung, von der schweren Arbeit vorzeitig zermürbt, verwitterte und gekrümmte Gestalten, sie hatten die rechte Hand erhoben und sprachen mit rauhen und kehligen Lauten die Eidesformel nach. Und die linke Hand, — wahrhaftig, da und da und dort, hier und hier und die ganze Reihe entlang immer wieder, da hing die linke Hand herunter, und die Schwurfinger der linken Hand, sie wiesen alle zu Boden, — sie leiteten ab, sie leiteten den Eid ab, nach einer alten, pfiffigen Bauernregel. — Oh, Bauern, Bauern! So einfach war das also!”]

Ernst von Salomon, Der Fragebogen (Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag, 1951), p.411.