Monday 30 October 2006

Fewtril #137

Perhaps the depth of our downfall should be measured by the number of sociological schemes for our salvation.

Friday 27 October 2006

Fewtril #136

In some circumstances, it takes a great effort to tell the difference between a clever man doing us wrong and an idiot doing his best.

Fewtril #135

What explains the absurd confidence in dialogue and debate but that they provide innumerous opportunities for the loquacious to try their luck at charming the spots off leopards?

Fewtril #134

Every new idea runs the risk of becoming surrounded by pitchforks and firebrands; though it must be said it would serve us well if some of them were lynched.


“If you want to make a good impression in society, you have to submit to being told all sorts of things you already know by people who don’t even know them themselves.”
Nicolas-Sébastien Roch de Chamfort, Reflections on Life, Love and Society, tr. & ed. by Douglas Parmée (London: Short Books, 2003), §165, p.84.

Thursday 26 October 2006

Tuesday 24 October 2006

A Dust and a General Disorder

Disbelief is a most useful servant for the glib and shallow soul who might like to impress with the fancy of his sober incredulity. Anyone – even a fool – might discern the obvious, and for want that he be taken as a sage seeing beyond common sight, and for want moreover that his thoughts remain unprovoked by sense, a man may shut off his sight, and set himself immodesty to decrying as myths all threats to his repose. This is the aspect of false scepticism which T.H. Huxley noted:
When I say that Descartes commemorated doubt, you must remember that it was that sort of doubt which Goethe has called ‘the active scepticism, whose whole aim is to conquer itself’; and not the other sort which is born of flippancy and ignorance, and whose aim is only to perpetuate itself, as an excuse for idleness and indifference. [1]
There is another aspect of false scepticism, however, noted by many, and to which G.C. Lichtenberg gave succinct expression:
With most people disbelief in one thing is founded on blind belief in another. [2]
Thereby a man might describe as a persistent myth any fact that stands against his beliefs. I suspect that this aspect largely underlies the other. Whatever the case, with both aspects in full play, we find that a mass of men sets about exploding “myths” all over the place, such that a dust and a general disorder is thrown up around every matter, to which it is then difficult to attract clear and calm attention.
[1] T.H. Huxley, Aphorisms and Reflections From the Works of T. H. Huxley, selected by H. A. Huxley (London: MacMillan & Co, 1907), §.XVII, published online at The Huxley File.
[2] G.C. Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, (Frankfurt am Main und Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1984), L.670 from Sudelbuch L (1796-1799), p. 514. [“Bei den meisten Menschen gründet sich der Unglaube in einer Sacher auf blinden Glauben in einer andern”.]

Monday 23 October 2006

Silly Old Trout

In the opinion of Germaine Greer, the better kind of art is that which one cannot collect. Therefore, since one can collect the works of, say, Hogarth, Rembrandt, Turner, or Caravaggio, she must think them necessarily inferior to works such as Martin Creed’s The Lights Going On and Off, an uncollectable work to which I presume Professor Greer alludes in the following passage:
The artist positions you in a dark room and turns the light on, and off again. He does no more because there is no need to do more. In finding yourself equal to the encounter, you are empowered with the artist’s own intellectual energy. For the time you are together, you are sharing the same cerebral space. [1]
If she really finds herself intellectually stimulated by a light going on and off, one might suggest she take up a vocation more suited to her level of intellect, though, considering that she now frequently writes opinion-pieces for the The Guardian, one might suspect she has already found it.

Friday 20 October 2006

Fewtril #133

We often shy away from understanding and talking about the adverse and harmful consequences of our actions; for those actions seem so much the better if we concentrate instead on the principles that guided them. Such is the mannered and callous way in which we remain faithful to our principles come what may.

Under the Watch of Liberalism

Ms Soumaya Ghannoushi of The Guardian asks:
Are liberal societies completely immune to totalitarianism and despotism? Could the boundaries between these systems not be blurred? Could the liberal system itself not slide into tyranny, whilst still preserving its veneer of freedom, tolerance and pluralism?
She then gives three supposed examples of liberal societies descending into tyranny: the United States of America during the McCarthy era of the nineteen-forties and -fifties; France during the student tantrums of the late nineteen-sixties; and Britain during the miners’ strike of the mid-nineteen-eighties. It should be clear, however, that these are examples of relatively liberal societies trying to defend themselves against far more illiberal movements, against whose advance illiberal means were necessary. After all, if liberal societies were to allow — by a consistent application of liberal principles — the spread of ideas and movements antithetical and hostile to them, then they would soon enough fall to their enemies.
.....Yet there is in the purest form of liberalism the seed of an insane optimism — a belief that everyone will act well and wisely, or at least not evilly, once he is set free from authority, superstition and adverse circumstance, such that society will progress to ever-greater perfection — an optimism which permits the growth of tyranny if it is not first made sane by the admission that freedom does not by itself teach goodness or halt evil. It is because liberal societies tolerate in the first place ideas, sentiments and movements which are antithetical to freedom that they become so illiberal in the end; for they allow the growth of those things against which they must eventually respond in kind, or be overthrown.
.....In the nineteenth century, Jacob Burckhardt wrote:
The word ‘freedom’ sounds fair and rich, but only he who has never experienced slavery under the baying masses, called ‘the people’, seen it with his own eyes, and suffered civil unrest, should talk about it. There is nothing more piteous under the sun, experto crede Ruperto, than a government from under whose nose any club of intriguers can steal the executive power, and which then must tremble before zealous ‘Liberalism’, churls, and village magnates. I know too much history to expect anything from this despotism of the masses other than a future tyranny, wherewith history will have its end.
Even when liberty is extinguished under the watch of liberalism, however, its slogans and principles may remain, in whose lip-service a thousand laws seek the security of everyone from everyone else, over which the State is the sole and all-embracing judge.
.....The trouble is that, as long as authority is disdained in the name of freedom, we shall fall victim time and again to power that sets itself no limits.
[1] Soumaya Ghannoushi, “Skin-deep Liberalism”, Comment is Free (Weblog of The Guardian), 19th October 2006.
[2] [“Das Wort Freiheit klingt schön und rund, aber nur der sollte darüber mitreden, der die Sklaverei unter der Brüllmasse, Volk genannt, mit Augen angesehen und in bürgerlichen Unruhen duldend und zuschauend mitgelebt hat. Es gibt nichts Kläglicheres unter der Sonne, experto crede Ruperto, al seine Regierung, welcher jeder Intrigantenklub die executive Gewalt unterm Hintern wegstehlen kann, und die dann vor dem “Liberalismus” der Schwünge, Knoten und Dorfmanaten zittern muß. Ich weiß zuviel Geschichte, um von diesem Massendespotismus etwas Andres zu erwarten al seine künftige Gewaltherrschaft, womit die Geschichte ein Ende haben wird.”] Jacob Burckhardt, Brief an Gottfried Kinkel, 19. April 1845, Briefe (Leipzig: Dieterich, 1929), pp.119-20

Tuesday 17 October 2006

Fewtril #132

The poser who fancies himself a man of the Enlightenment, taking all matters through reason rather than authority, reveals his imposture when the position which he has adopted from clever and celebrated men, and in which he has invested his whole credulity, is proven to be untenable by the argument of a nobody — for whose impertinence he damns the man’s eyes and asks who the hell he thinks he is.

Monday 16 October 2006

An Undue Complaint

Upon a slowing pace of change towards his ideals, the radical is wont to complain unduly of a regression therefrom, a deceit by which he hopes to impel a greater pace of change. An example:
[G]overnment and society are socially progressive on a whole range of issues and the Church of England is more reactionary than at any time since the English civil war. [1]
Now, the Church of England may well be having trouble keeping up, but it can hardly be described as “more reactionary than at any time since the English civil war”. Indeed, not so long ago, it was said that the Church of England was the Tory party at prayer, whereas nowadays it would be more fitting to say that it is the Liberal Democrats at a loose end.

[1] Michael Hampson, “A loss of faith”, The Guardian, 16th October 2006.

Herr Lichtenberg Again

“It is sufficient for a man’s justification if he has so lived that he deserves forgiveness for his faults on account of his virtues.”
[“Es ist für des Menschen Rechtfertigung hinreichend, wenn er so gelebt hat, daß er seiner Tugenden wegen Vergebung für seine Fehler verdient.”]
G.C. Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, (Frankfurt am Main und Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1984), J.1014 from Sudelbuch J:1789-1793, p. 422.

Thursday 12 October 2006

Narcissist Hari

Ink-slinger and paid narcissist Johann Hari tells us that, after he had begun taking Seroxat — an anti-depressant which he has been taking every day for the last ten years —, he felt “no more self-absorption” [1], which leads me to the suspicion that the drug acts to suppress self-awareness.

[1] Johann Hari, “My week of withdrawal”, Evening Standard, 6th October 2006, reproduced online at

Fewtril #131

When a fool cannot find the reason for something, he might say it lacks a rational basis, when in fact it is he who lacks the means to find it.

Fewtril #130

There are some people who are so political that they might feel that even paradise would be incomplete without a constitution.

Fewtril #129

Some persons prefer their vulgarity to go by the name of honesty.

Wednesday 11 October 2006

The Hubris of Liberal Philistinism

For the liberal philistine, there is some profit to be had in his indifference to art; for thereby he can seem open-minded and even magnanimous, of which he is then keen to boast. Consider the following, for instance:
I have always thought it to be a badge of liberal right-headedness to find it impossible to be offended by a work of art. [1]
Naturally one is never offended by those things to which one is indifferent, and if one cares nothing for art, but everything for the arrogation of magnanimity, then one can tolerate all depths of degeneracy—a badge therefore not of liberal right-headedness or generosity but of liberal indifference, fixed to a self-congratulatory and contented philistinism that is willing to sacrifice all things to the idol of tolerance.
.....There is no clearer sign of liberal philistinism than in its conception of art as little but a totem of tolerance—especially for those things by which it is hoped the sensibilities or convictions of its enemies are offended, as our rag-scribbler reveals:
[C]ontroversial art has a worth quite besides its quiddity. First, if it offends the bourgeois sensibility . . . Second, if it offends the bolder, more Nazi sensibility that any risqué subject matter will have a degenerate effect on its viewer. [2]
In the first, we glimpse a little of the infamy of liberal pretension and ingratitude; for liberalism was born of bourgeois sensibility, and is still maintained on its account. In the second, we glimpse a little of the liberal conceit by which a semblance of moral justification for its own indifference to decadence is sought in the defamation of its enemies. Alongside all this, however, is the sight of liberal hubris in the strange boast of being impervious to offence. For sure, the liberal-as-philistine may not care much for art, and can stand any degree of degeneration therein, but should you stand against his idol—in art or in life—you will learn that there is no-one on this earth who is quicker to take offence.
[1] Zoe Williams, “Enraged by the apples”, The Guardian, 11th October 2006.
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday 10 October 2006

Atomic Moonbattery

North Korea’s first test of an atomic bomb is declared by one commenter to be “one huge step toward peace!” [1], while another believes “[c]ongratulations are in order”, [2] while another wishes, “good luck to all those who also want them” [3], while another opines, “I don’t care who has them”, [4], while another thinks we should “give every country a nuclear weapon” [5], while another plaintively declares himself “far more frightened of the Americans and Israel than any of the other so-called rogue states” [6], while another, as if speaking for them all, finds that “it is difficult to argue that North Korea shouldn't have nuclear weapons.” [7]
[1] “TimothyL”, commenting on Simon Tisdall, “'Happy bomb' kills ideas of regime change”, The Guardian, 10th October 2006.
[2] “Peter”, commenting on “North Korea nuclear test: Your reaction”, BBC Newsforum.
[3] “Weeper”, commenting on Dan Plesch, “North Korea's nuclear policy is not irrational at allThe Guardian, 10th October 2006.
[4] “Cactuscat”, ibid.
[5] “Brandon”, commenting on “North Korea nuclear test: Your reaction”, op. cit.
[6] “PHOXIND”, commenting on Dan Plesch, op. cit.
[7] “Colin”, commenting on “North Korea nuclear test: Your reaction”, op. cit.

Changing Money

There are some ideas so lowly that they deserve not even the slightest attention, and yet, when those ideas are taken seriously by persons in authority, it behoves us to pay them heed and due ridicule, lest without such they become emboldened and broadly embraced. I should not therefore like to sully these pages with mention of the embarrassing academic rash that is Gender Studies, but feel bound to do so, having strayed upon the following words:
What is the gender of money? Depending on the audience, such a question might elicit blank stares or furrowed brows. The tacit assumption of neoclassical economics, for example, is that money—just like the field of economics itself—is genderless. However, a growing number of feminist economists have challenged the field’s claims to scientific objectivity. Their work exposes the sexist and heterosexist assumptions of neoclassical economics and its foundational myths. [1]
I beg that you desist for a moment from staring blankly or furrowing your brows or rolling your eyes to the heavens in a silent plea for strength, and let instead your mind fall to the understanding that Professor Cady thinks that money is male; and insofar as an argument for this conclusion can be gleaned from amongst the blather, it runs as follows:
Privileged things are male,
Money is privileged (as the measure of value or the medium of economic exchange),
Money is male.
Here I shouldn’t think it unseemly if you permitted yourself a tut, though I ask that you remain attentive; for Professor Cady goes on to tell us that money has not always been male, since, for much of the Middle Ages, “it was not the general equivalent of economic exchange”; and since it was not male, she assumes that it was female, an assumption that some of her more exotic colleagues might find deplorable, since it assumes the social orthodoxy of only two genders, very much a faux pas in the purview of Gender Studies, and excludes the possibility, for instance, that money was — and still is — a transvestite. At which point, I think it only right that you should go on your way, muttering darkly, and find something more worthy of your attention.
[1] Diane Cady, “The Gender of Money”, Genders, 44, 2006.

Wednesday 4 October 2006


The Reverend Michael Wishart, vicar of St Mary’s in Bishops Lydeard, has provoked the ire of Somerset Racial Equality Council after writing in the parish newsletter that:
The mornings have a decidedly autumnal feel to them, there’s a little nip in the air.
Which is what they said when they hanged the Japanese criminal! [1]
It comes to something when we have institutions that preside on the assumption that some races are so wretched that they need to be protected from the feeble jokes of country vicars. Yappari baka-gaijin.

[1] Quoted by Richard Savill, “Vicar says sorry for ‘nip in the air’ Japanese joke”, The Telegraph, 4th October 2006.

Fewtril #128

So often the simpleton sees the premises and draws the conclusion before the sophisticate has even begun to doubt his own senses.

Fewtril #127

One might well wonder how much of the disdain for parochialism stems from the drive for power without limits.

Tuesday 3 October 2006

Off the Leash

“[A]rt has broken its elitist leash to inspire collective purpose”, reads the strap-line for Madeleine Bunting’s latest Jacobinical scribble [1], in the midst whereof she rejoices to tell us that,
[T]here has been a democratisation of culture. The appetite for the drama, shock, delight, intrigue and sheer bewilderment which the visual arts so abundantly provide is growing apace. Perhaps it reflects the increasingly well-educated country in which everyone is steeped in a sophisticated visual literacy — on television, on the internet and in advertising. [2]
It must be a funny kind of “sophisticated visual literacy” that leaves one shocked and bewildered, and the suggestion that Britain is becoming an “increasingly well-educated country” strikes me as nothing but the delusion of a purblind ideologue. Still, she is right to say that there has been a democratisation of culture, though I cannot find anything to celebrate in this fact; for the anti-elitist doctrines of accessibility and inclusiveness are the democratic acids by which culture is being corroded. As Richard Weaver pointed out:
The questioning of apartness, the suspicion of difference, the distrust of distinction, the jealousy about allowing privacy—these are all features of a modern mentality which, often without even knowing what it is doing, may put an end to what has always been the source of culture—a particular kind of development in response to particular values. Thus the plight of the individual is reenacted on a larger scale. Not only is the single human individual being pushed toward conformity, but the individual group or culture is met with the same demand to go along, to become more like the generality, and so give up character. [3]
This is the spirit of destruction to which Sylvain Maréchal gave expression during the French Revolution: “Let all the arts perish, if need be, as long as real equality remains!” [4]
[1] Madeleine Bunting, “Culture, not politics, is now the heart of our public realm”, The Guardian, 3rd October 2003.
[2] Ibid.
[3] R.M. Weaver, “Reflections of Modernity”, Speeches of the Year, Pamphlet, (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1961), reprinted in In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963, ed. by T.J. Smith III (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000), p.113.
[4] Sylvain Maréchal, Manifesto of the Equals (1796), tr. M. Abidor, from Buonarroti, La Conspiration pour l'Égalité, (Paris: Editions Sociales, 1957), published online at