Is it worth mentioning that for the North Koreans, the US’s “forgotten war” is still very much remembered? Names like LeMay and Otto P. Weyland very much etched into the collective consciousness? The worst excesses of the Vietnam War were practised on that poor, beleaguered people, leaving 18 of their 20 cities completely levelled and a million of their compatriots dead.
And how, when it is recalled, is the conflict referred to?
William and Harry’s far back ancestors were the punks and warlords who lorded over the vicinty’s only watering hole, aided by a few plunderers elevated above the herd. (Father Time has saw to them getting uniforms and legitimacy.) The mainstream media’s equally ancient forebears were the weakling creeps that, from fear and syncofancy, sat astride amongst the trophies, telling the chief how astounding were his bloody exploits, and how fragrant were his farts.
That rifle on the wall of the labourer’s cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.
Those who think access to psychoactive drugs is a matter of personal liberty are almost always opposed to the right to own a gun; and those who consider the right to bear arms inalienable are often entirety against the freedom to possess or take drugs. This is a strange state of affairs.
The dichotomy is laid bare nicely in a debate between Will Self – pro-drugs, anti-guns – and Peter Hitchens – anti-drugs, pro-guns. It is worth watching should you find the time.
Along with many leftists, Self believes the government has no legitimacy regulating who takes this or that substance. You are, as a citizen of sane mind, better placed to decide if you should get steamed, high, shitfaced, bombed or cunted, than all the civil servants in Whitehall.
Firearms, however? Good grief no, they’re dangerous, scary, and more than a bit vulgar (i.e. American). Best to leave those weapons in the hands of the State, and only there.
There is a tradition on their Left that’s largely been forgotten. One based upon faith in the citizenry, and contempt of the State. It holds that the people have a right and duty to protect themselves from oppression, namely: overbearing and tyrannical governments. The only surefire way to do that is with weaponary. In its way, the right to bear arms is the best guarantor of all other rights. Bronterre O’Brien, during the early, volatile days of the Chartist movement:
What course then, do we advise? Our advice is that you rigidly obey the law; but at the same time be prepared to make your oppressors likewise obey it. Be upon your guard against spies or madmen, who would urge you to illegal practices, but at the same time bear in mind that you have the same right to arm that your enemies have, and that if you abandon that right your liberties are gone for ever
The best way to motivate elites into doing the right thing, history has taught, has been the majority’s ability to project a threat of violence. This was true in O’Brien’s day, when the working class demanded their rights; and when Orwell was writing – when that same constituent was required to defend those rights in the face of fascism.
For neither Man nor Angel can discern/ Hypocrisie, the only evil that walks/ Invisible
While our current health secretory, and Freudian slip triggerer, Jeremy Hunt was President of the Oxford Conservatives, terrorist affiliate Adolfo Calero was wined and dined by the society. Calero provided financial and political support to the Contras, that Nicaraguan counter-revolutionary force known for, among many such outrages, ethnic cleansing, rape campaigns and torture. But this didn’t matter, for the great bulk of Oxford University Tory contingent (for there was dissent), he was an honoured guest.
It must take some gall to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of sympathising with terrorists, knowing that such colourful characters as Calero can claim to once sharing a bill. But this is, as recent events have only confirmed, what the Tories are: brazen Terrorist Sympathisers.
A little has been made of how the Conservative Party’s new partner, the DUP, has been associated with armed thugs.As George Dangerfield has shown, the Tories were aligned with Orange terror from the beginning. The DUP’s forebears were, surprisingly, not as pro-Union as all that. They disliked London, resented oversight from the old country (note how Churchill hounded away from a “northern” podium). However they hated Irish independence and republicanism and Catholics more, and that they shared with the Tories. And so, with astonishing cynicism, the Conservatives took the opportunity to undermine – the tepid, but nonetheless real – Liberal progress toward “home rule” or independence. Aligning themselves with, and lending legitimacy to, militant Protestantism (it was only with this Blue-Orange alliance that talk of separating the Six Counties came about). This went from the out and out shows of solidarity in the form of the Black and Tans, to the covert Thatcherite support for rightist paramilitaries during the Troubles.
It was with Thatcher that the Conservatives wore their terroristic sympathies with pride. Suharto (“we are best of friends”), Pinochet (who she described as a champion of democracy), South Africa’s government (by undermining the boycott campaign) and Saddam were all given Downing Street’s approval, and more importantly: access to the world’s “best” manufacturers, those based in the UK.
The Iron Lady fully supported terrorists which had entire state apparatuses behind them. Suhurto, an oddly overlooked monster of the 20th century, used British-made arms – and naval escort – to carry out a murder campaign that brings to mind recent events in the Philippines, though immeasurably worse. Up to a million people were murdered by the Indonesian secret police and army (the Killing Fields is a must watch for those interested in finding out more). East Timor, as well as “internal suppression”, was practically wiped off the map in a genocidal campaign that implicates Australia and the US too.
In comparison, Jeremy Corbyn declared that, for Irish peace talks to be successful, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army had to play a part. If you consider that shocking, then prepare yourself: despite outward fulminations, Thatcher’s government were doing just that, carrying out secret talks with the IRA. If advocacy equals sympathy and damnation, then what’s this?
Today the Saudis use British arms to lay waste to Yemen’s infrastructure and citizenry. Hospitals are being rocketed, aid withheld, and NGOs and the UN are trying to alleviate the effects of a terrible – but entirely predictable – famine. This is what happens when the world’s most sophisticated weaponry is used against one of its poorest nations. Theresa May holds the receipts.
Labour and Corbyn supporters as “terrorist sympathisers” is one of the Conservatives’ most returned to talking points (often when the formers suggest there might be a relation between our foreign policy and how we’re perceived globally). The riposte ought to go, “I refuse to be lectured to by people like you”.
Vicarious redemption, as all observers of Christianity know, will set dangerous precedents. The President of the Phillipines, Mr Duterte, has said, following calling martial law told police and military forces,
If you go down, I go down. But for this martial law and the consequences of martial law and the ramifications of martial law, I and I alone would be responsible, just do your job I will take care of the rest
He went on to “joke” that, if any of his goons go on to rape three women, “it’s on him”. Contrary to what you might think, I am cautious about pulling the Hitler Card, the Internet’s most common (and tiresome) reflex. Duterte is not the raving ideologue the other was, and neither is he quite so dangerous (if only because the Phillipines shares little of what made Germany so powerful). But he is the same in one striking, and frightening, way. In what psychologists call “agentic shift”, he offers the psychopaths and brutes of society a moral free pass: unleash your id and expect no repercussions. Responsibility lies elsewhere, in the lofty heights of state power.
Stanley Milgram set out to understand, in a series of fascinating experiments, how the “ordinary” men and women of the Nazi murder machine were able to do what they did. Using American volunteers – putting to quiet any jingoistic nonsense about the uniqueness of the German psyche – he found that a overwhelming majority would, as far as they knew, execute a stranger by electronic shock if an authority figure gave them the okay. (The “victims” were of course actors, but participants genuinely believed they fatally zapping a fellow creature for incorrectly answering general knowledge questions.) A man in a tie and white lab coat – a “social better” – with a commanding voice and reassuring platitudes, was all it took to turn Joe Everyman into a killer.
Duterte’s “law and order” campaign is so dangerous because, like the terrors of the recent past, it exploits two key areas of human failing: the urge to offload responsibility, and the propensity to mistake status for greatness.
The established ideology is on its way out*. Going with it, for citizens of the United Kingdom (a compromise that may also be witnessing its twilight), is not just EU membership and long-inflated global status, but the very political foundation on which we depended. The old antithesis of Left and Right, socialism and Toryism, worker and capitalist, somehow survived 1989 and Blair, but not, it seems, Brexit.
The new political division that will shape this Banana Monarchy is, at present, lob-sided. The traditional Right wasted no time in adjusting. As the “Left” faltered (we will likely never completely shed ourselves of the shorthand gained from the French Revolution), the forces of reaction, authoritarianism and tribalism built up what is invariably described as alt-, new-, or populist-right. And who constitutes the bulk of this movement? The group progressives have often taken for granted: the poor. For working class supporters of the Leave EU campaign (as too, Le Pen and Trump), socio-economic loyalties are secondary to those of race and nation, if considered at all.
This urge to, as Kipling termed it, “think with the blood” is, for roughly 52% of the population, a strong one. But traditions matter, especially in a nation that holds them in place of rights. None more so than liberty.
Refreshing the Tree
I am aware of the pitfalls involved in defining national “traits”. I cannot in all honesty stand by the claim, inspired by Oscar Wilde, that liberty is to the English what scepticism is to the Jews. After all, a Tory government recently passed the horribly draconian, invasive “Snooper’s Charter”. And this, as if to make the literal-minded cringe, to the voiced dismay of the highest court of that supposedly authoritarian institution, the European Union (and their manifesto promises more, more, more!). Too, the so-called Jewish State has been spewing up governments which have been taking the decidedly uncritical, self-damning policy of annexing the West Bank1.
But the country that jailed Richard Carlile and William Cobbett for the crime of voicing unpleasant facts, and Milton for republican polemic, also provided a safe haven and a stage for Pax Britannia’s greatest critics – from Karl Marx and Ernest Jones to Gandhi – and that, without a Bill of Rights.
It was the Whigs, faced with radicals who would force reform violently if need be, that manned the green trenches against the ferocious assaults to free expression directed from Tory Front Benches. They kept up this up, to varying degrees, throughout the post-Napoleon I era, up until the transition to the Liberal Party. During the Victorian era – or, better yet, the age of empire (Eric Hobsbawm’s descriptive has the benefit of being both republican and expository) – it became capital L Liberals which came to fly the flag for free-trade, free-speech and, in the form of unions, free-association. Sometimes these causes had their roots in Bentham utilitarian thinking; but, more often than not, an American-like suspicion of government overreach.
In the excellent Strange Death of Liberal England, George Dangerfield charts how this Liberalism eventually fell victim to the chain reaction of Tory, Women’s, and Worker’s rebellion. The Liberal Party proved too moderate and, at base too conciliatory, to survive the ruptures of the modern age, much like the hereditary principle it had in part neutered2. He wrote,
When codes, when religions, when ideas cease to move forward, it is always in some shining illusion that an alarmed humanity attempts to take refuge
The shining illusions in the early twentieth century were grand ideologies which promised humanity a New Man. Those gleaming trapdoors, fascism and Stalinism. Now, aggressive nationalism is the illusion competing for the imaginations of little men everywhere. (In Britain that’s all we have – what is called “the Opposition” has swayed between ignoring the new political reality, and chasing working class jingoisms. Corbyn’s Labour Party has managed to lose everything, including, somehow, the moral high ground.)
The Importance of Being Liberal
The liberalism required to counter the alt-right will bear some similarity to the tradition Dangerfield chronicled the death of. Though to best represent contemporary progressives, anti-authoriatrians and internationalists – and it must – this new liberalism must learn to be more muscular and self-aware (read: critical) than what went before. It could also benefit from some pointers offered by Bertrand Russell. It’s worth quoting him at length:
Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.
The liberal order Russell envisaged bears considerable similarity to Polanyi’s republic of Science. That self-regulating and ever-expanding community – both in number and purview – that sets out to solve the puzzles of physics, chemistry and biology. In these fields authority isn’t inherited, and it isn’t derived from being the oldest in the room. It’s gained by being proven right and right again – and even then, as the best science educators will tell you, it’s to be scrutinised.
Admittedly, there would be difficulties transplanting the science republic framework to politics. The “science community” has proven to be remarkably egalitarian and dynamic, while most of the planet lives under despots with special rooms with tongs and electrodes reserved for those citizens feeling particularly sceptical.
(But what are liberals but triers: they try to be vegan, they try to be responsible consumers, they try to be good people – and, as fellow dinner guests will attest, they at least succeed in trying patience.)
Implicit in Russell’s list is the suggestion that “good” liberalism is more of a disposition than an ideology, and indeed that’s how it should be read (Goethe made a similar suggestion before). Liberal policies – freedom of speech and of movement, the right to privacy and debate, etc. – can exist in a variety of economic and political models.
It, as a tradition, must form the bedrock of a citizen’s outlook. Progressives take note: You only have to consider its nationalistic iterations to realise what humbug socialism would be without liberty.
Conor Cruise O’Brien noted the occasion, following a biting accusation by an African leader, he had the realisation that he was a liberal and not a socialist. This was a serious charge: at the advent of the postcolonial era, Western liberals had proven themselves to be false friends at best, and not much different from their conservative adversaries on the important questions of self-determination and justice.
He was in the Congo where the new government was attempting socialist reform. The odds were stacked against them – as it was for the great swath of post-colonised societies – and to achieve success certain liberties were being taken in the courts, and press freedom had been curtailed. The ends were noble and promised great things, but, nevertheless, O’Brien felt an instinctual unpleasantness toward the means,
Whatever I might argue, I was more profoundly attached to liberal concepts of freedom – freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom, independent judgement and independent judges – than I was to the idea of a disciplined party mobilising all the forces of society for the creation of a social order guaranteeing more real freedom for all instead of just the few. The revolutionary idea both impressed me and struck me as more immediately relevant for most of humanity than were liberal concepts. But it was the liberal concepts and their long-term importance… that held my allegiance
He goes on to draw an important distinction between truth and utility in politics. There are those for whom the former would, ideally, be the means as well as ends. For them objectivity rests outside of politics, and stands as a guide. For those which seek utility, what’s “best” is what best leads to some perfect end. Trotskyists, neo-conservatives and fascists will consider the objective an obstacle if it is percieved to halt or defer that end.
In this “post-truth” age, it is of vital of importance that the “new” Left (or whatever we will come to call the organised opposition to the alt-right) should regain the highground, and declare truth’s primacy over utility. The signals aren’t good: “progressives” were only too eager to jump into bed with the Central Intelligence Agency simply because it appeared to be working contra Trump. (It hadn’t mattered they provided no proof of his wrongdoing, and that all avaliable evidence suggests that shady Agency is no friend of progress.)
But it is only with the penetrating spotlight of Truth that we’ll be able to show those shining illusions for what they really are: the fossilized turds of monsters that have had their day.
*This ideology is often described as the “liberal” or “metropolitan” elite or establishment. This is a misnomer. There is very little that was liberal – classically at least – about the Thatcherite consensus.
1 How tragic that, just when the European Christians laid down the torch of imperialism, the Jews went to pick it up.
2 Resulting from Liberal MP’s ultimately successful battle to limit the powers of the House of Lords. Before then, the Lords – born, seldom earned – had veto power over Bills brought by the Commons.
The British press permeates with a culture that was summed up by Orwell in the phrase “it wouldn’t do to say”. There are certain things considered so important that it simply wouldn’t do to share them with the hoi polli. These are things like “is the state monitoring my internet use?”, “what powers is my government ceding to corporations and others?” and “who is the state killing in my name?”
To take the last of those, and the most important: rather a lot. There’s Menwith Hill in north England, a joint US-UK venture, where spies spy on us all to keep us safe from ourselves. (Anyone else notice how these special relationship projects always seem to end up on our side of the pond?) A component of this, we learned only through Snowden, is supporting America’s drone program. Brits at Medwith employ satellites to monitor Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen seeking alleged Islamic reactionaries for Obama – and now Trump – to snuff. The fact that this campaign is itself, according to international law, terroristic (the official definition is in fact porous and vague), doesn’t seem to interest our newspaper editors or political representatives (Labour’s Fabian Hamilton being a notable exception).
Whistleblowers have revealed the whole endeavour has something like a 10% success rate. And the effect isn’t minor: people in those countries daren’t turn up to wedding celebrations, fearing that festivities will be brought to an abrupt end by Amatex sent down from the heavens. Here’s a story of gross incompetence and criminality that embroils our government, and it just passed the mainstream media by. (Is it any wonder that a great many British people look at the swaths of refugees from the Levant and beyond in disbelief?)
And then there’s the arms trade, also protected by the culture of omission that props up the Establishment. It’s a subject so full of pitfalls and contrived cynicism that it itself could be classified as a minefield. But perhaps it’s mentioning that our government is currently breaking its own rules in arming Saudi Arabia as it tears through the towns and citizenry of Yemen? And that same ruling class on the Gulf has been providing ideological and material aid to Islamic State?
(Boris Johnson, in a rare moment of sincerity last year, referred to the House of Saud’s less laudable foreign policies, before Theresa May donned a muzzle.)
The Crocodile That Croaks
I once knew someone who had served in Rhodesia. His commando unit waged war against the black nationalists – what the government, again, regarded as terrorists. By his own admission, this simply meant adult males. The nature of the country being what it is, targeted strikes were risky. The response? They were ordered to poison village wells.
They waited and watched, and it was always the same: the children fell to cramps and sickness, and then their mothers did. By the time father and husband (the “terrorist’s”) had figured out they were in the midst of battle, their sons and daughters – far too young to understand the difference between Rhodesia and Zimbabwe – had expelled their internal organs.
Due to “national security” he couldn’t publish an account of what he did.
The real reason is it may go some way to doing what Wilfred Owen’s poetry did so well: stripping its readers of their patriotic assumptions. Making blimps question that least responsible of all the classes – the governing class. It becomes difficult to maintain the narrative that Empire exists in order to propagate good values and even better manners when confronted with the bloodied actualities. Reality can be stubborn sometimes.
How many other cases have been denied their time in the courts of law and public opinion because of this shady excuse? Here’s three that I personally would like to know more about yet cannot: just how complicit was MI5 in the murder of an elderly CND activist in, of all years, 1984; what story was Daniel Morgan about to break before the Met painted a south London car park with his cortex; and why do ousted security service employees like Gareth Williams have a tendency of meeting grizzly, and pornographic, ends?
Everyone in the Westminster bubble knows about these stories, and that goes for some leading journalists too. So why aren’t the hard questions being asked and keep being asked until we get satisfactory answers? Has there been an official order of silence? Do civil servants or spooks pay journalists unexpected calls in the night, and put the fear of State into them?
Back to Orwell,
Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — things which on their own merits would get the big headlines-being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.
No, totalitarianism has never been in the British character. The most successful and well-placed just know, for whatever reason, there’s some things it wouldn’t do to think about.