The Establishment versus the Individual
Gerry Dorrian buries the remains
Snobbery and hatred have always led the powerful to seek to hobble those that they see as beneath them. Currently nothing embodies this more than the elitist and oligarchic response of predominantly privileged groups towards the result of the EU membership referendum. Incorporating the thought of Martin Heidegger – a Nazi academic – into the Left, Remainers demand the right to voice their individuality, to be an “I”, but they knock Brexiteers into a catch all category of lesser beings whom Heidegger labelled “the they”.
The root of their fury is that each of the majority of individuals who voted to Leave has a vote equal to each of theirs. This conflicts with their Heideggerian view that some people are more equal than others. While it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the hatred shown by this hard core towards groups they look down upon constitutes anything like the Holocaust, it was this type of hatred that led to Auschwitz. Reductionist othering of groups whose members’ individuality is inconvenient to a power-invested bloc is the diagnostic symptom of fascism.
Mussolini gave fascism the characteristic that we most associate with it, that of the corporate state in which the tasks of government are tendered out to businesses, charities and unions. When Henry Fairlie described the Establishment in a 1955 issue of the Spectator as “the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised” and added “The exercise of power…cannot be understood until it is recognised that it is exercised socially”, he might have been describing the corporate state.
After the Combination Acts were passed by Pitt the Younger to prevent workers from congregating to read and discuss republican tracts, Methodist minister Jabez Bunting led a cadre of newly-minted nonconformist pastors to take control of Sunday schools, with the goal of preventing working-class children (who were also factory workers) from acquiring literacy skills. This early incarnation of the Establishment at work is echoed in modern state schools in working-class areas, where learning to think is subordinated to learning to comply.
But as the worst excesses of the Industrial Revolution became apparent, a muscular liberalism came forth. While women and children were legally the property of the paterfamilias and workers effectively that of their employers, Jeremy Bentham elaborated a radical egalitarianism summarised in his principle that “everybody is worth one, and nobody is worth more than one”.
Throughout the Industrial Revolution there was a parallel revolution in thought. It was a time of campaigns for the abolition of slavery, for the criminalisation of child labour and the extension of the franchise to women and working-class men, with proponents spanning what we now call the centre-left and centre-right. But they were opposed; Marx, for instance, derided the fight to end child labour, championed by the Tory politician Lord Shaftesbury, as “an empty, pious wish”. Might it be tendentious to suggest that somebody who wanted an amorphous collective of workers to reject the social order might want that order to appear in as bad a light as possible?
Dogmatic collectivism and robust liberalism cannot share the same space. The latter exists only vestigially now on the Left. It is hardly an accident that in Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May, the Conservative Party has provided the country’s only female prime ministers. It has also provided the first Muslim cabinet minister in Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.
Cameron, on the other hand, did little on his watch to lessen the faceless Establishmentarian brought in by New Labour, which approximated to the corporate state more closely than any western European polity since Mussolini’s fall. Slavery once more blights our island, electoral fraud dilutes full suffrage and children have been left in the hands of abusers, while officials knowingly turned their faces away. Poststructuralist thought within policing, law and the judiciary, it seems, considers certain perpetrators of rape and assault not according to the suffering visited upon their victims but in the context of the crimes within the perpetrators’ culture.
The children are not thereby seen as individuals. Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionism, which uproots what most people think of as facts – such as “a crime is a crime is a crime” – replaces them with contexts. This shows itself nowhere more than in the fourteen-year cover-up of child grooming and rape in Rotherham, where the “I” accorded by officials to each perpetrator knocked the victims en masse into the category of “the they”.
Inequality is the bedfellow of social deconstruction. Many gay people, for example, are finding their hard-won equality devalued when new communities do not accept them. And immigrants who integrate and change their voting habits find that they are forgotten or even persecuted by self-elected community leaders. While individual freedom is the quintessence of robust liberalism, the collectivist imperative suppresses individuality, encouraging minorities to see themselves not as empowerable individuals but as victimised groups, so that their victimhood can be commodified and used as tools in decentring the traditions of the majoritarian community.
Our traditional liberal values are not perfect – nothing is – but at least they have the advantage of being able to respond to injustices, as opposed to the sweeping social-engineering agendas that caused so much misery in the twentieth century and are now raising their ugly heads again. It is time to face down the oligarchic minority, intoxicated with snobbery, who demand that those who are not inebriated by the EU be cast out into the Other. We, the hoi polloi, demand a liberal, humanist polity that will embrace all people of good intent. The alternative is that freedom will continue to haemorrhage.
Gerry Dorrian is a philosopher. He writes from Cambridge
Are the “traditions of the majoritarian community” compatible with “individual” empowerment?
Why Auschwitz and not Vorkuta, Magadan or Norilsk? Or the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields? Or the Maoist “Cultural Revolution”? Why fascism but not communism?
What of the “Polish slime” that Stalin had killed at Katyn?
Why Heidegger, but not Kautsky, Lukacs, Marcuse or Alinsky?
David, the principle behind full suffrage is that the community of voters is composed of empowered individuals, so the “traditions of the majoritarian community” are compatible with individual empowerment. Problems begin when a power-invested group decide some individuals are not empowered enough to vote the right way relative to their interests. Check out the House of Commons’ Library’s figures on the 2005 general election; look at Labour’s majority over the Tories (in terms of raw votes) as a fraction of the postal votes, and check out both this proportion in earlier elections, and Judge Richard Mowray’s comments in a judgement in earlier 2005 about the UK having no system to prevent electoral fraud.
As many people have done before I’ve used Auschwitz as shorthand for the Holocaust as it tends to be the best-known concentration camp.
You’re right to ask “why fascism but not communism?” They’re essentially the same thing. I believe Elie Halévy, writing between the wars, was right to root both of them in the values of the French Revolution.
Heidegger, I believe, is symptomatic of the Left’s willingness to absolve anybody of anything as long as that person’s modus operandi contributes to their strategy of subverting the democratic process to deliver an anti-democratic polity. Heidegger’s influence on the Left, directly and through Sartre and Derrida, has been nothing less than a Nazi diaspora and the separation of people into authentic I’s and “the they” served Labour (and Cameron) well in deciding whose needs to prioritise. And their priorities have been all about electoral exigency and very little to do with the needs of those knocked into “the they”.
Your article made several shrewd points, but I wish to reinforce my disagreement re the unholy trinity of Heidegger, Hitler & Holocaust.
You are a lumper and I am a splitter. I prefer exact, accurate, specific and detailed comparisons and contrasts in the history of related or contested ideas, especially in politics, though this is particularly difficult, precisely because politicians use generalizations, labels and smears as their stock in trade. Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” is one recent example of the cons (as well as pros) of politically-driven comparative pseudo-analysis using selective data and misleading innuendo.
“Communism(s) and fascism(s)” were not “the same thing”, although there were some similarities in their ideological attitudes and practical operations.
“Heidegger’s influence on the Left” has not been “nothing less than a Nazi diaspora”.
What about globalism, egalitarianism, anti-racism, dysgenics, multi-culturalism, “Holocaust”-invocation, anti-militarism, LGBT-ism, atheist materialism – hardly Nazi or Heideggerist? Postmodernists have been less keen culturally or politically to misappropriate Heidegger than Nietzsche. Many on the (so-called) “Left” dismiss them both as morally unacceptable and prefer to “no platform” their ideas, or their supposed ideas, from entering their tiny little minds.
However, “the rise of ethnic nationalism and the claims of competing ‘civilizations’ [as well as the postmodernism of Derrida &c] has demanded a re-examination of the Enlightenment project and the claims of universal reason…. The question of the historicity of peoples, of the reassertion and responsibility of polities…and of their relation to the earth’s finite resources and their own ‘native soil’ have reasserted themselves.” – Bernhard Radloff, “Heidegger and the Question of National Socialism” (Toronto UP, 2007) p.259.
Most individuals are born and raised in families and communities with cultural traditions (e.g. mother-tongues). They are not un-anchored atomized adults even in Galt’s Gulch. Or if they are turned into such, they are dehumanized and a cause of trouble to themselves and others. Hence the importance of “tradition” in most “conservative” and some “fascist” policy formulations.
I do get annoyed when examples of persecution and democide are glibly and automatically taken from the Nazi, rather than the Soviet or Maoist, experience, not because I am pro-Nazi but because I am “anti-Communist”, believing that Kolyma, for example, deserves a bit more publicity. “The Holocaust” has become a slogan, a quasi-religion, a means of simultaneously pushing mass-immigration onto Europe and disarming criticism of Israel.
And “Democracy”? The British “party system”? – well, I had better stop this comment somewhere. Bedtime beckons.
Surely a good example of the establishment against the individual is the legal challenge brought by a group (according to a Daily Telegraph report) of wealthy largely offshore-based Remainers against the Government’s Brexit strategy (and thus the 17 million ordinary individuals who voted for this process). The establishment is no longer the Lords, gentlemen in St. James’s clubs and Tory politicians: it is the liberal-left broadcasters, the “great and the good”, the “leaders of industry” (the people who are happy to relocate industry to Poland or the Far-East, or bring the latter’s workforce to Britain in significant numbers), the militant Remainers in the financial and public sector, and all who look down their noses at the traditional British people and the United Kingdom. The cabal bringing the legal action against the Government claims to be passionate about the rights of Parliament. Yet I don’t recall a single one of them, especially their “spokesperson”, complaining about our parliamentarians being powerless to resist the EU laws which were foisted upon Westminster during 40 years of EU “membership”. Again, the establishment – the extremely wealthy but Europhile and left-leaning elite – believes it has the right to destroy our wishes for our nation’s regained freedom and sovereignty. Similarly, north of the border, we find one party attempting to remove an entire people from their neighbours in the rest of the kingdom – only to “unite” with the bureaucrats of Brussels and the bankers of Berlin!
I have often wondered if the button for triggering Article 50 is in the next room to, say, the launch-button for Polaris – so explosive does this measure seem, especially if you listen to BBC Radio 4 News! The threat to the freedom of the individual and the freedom of the country is still looming and very real, but I am sure that we will face these threats and overcome them, especially when the Government triggers the elusive “Article” – removing us completely from the EU labyrinth and ending the delusional liberal mania which it has induced in so many of our fellow citizens.
I agree entirely. The establishment has gone faceless, exercising control through quangos and focus groups and the wealthy Remainers you mention. It’s a genteel fascism that seeks to negate the egalitarian power of the vote through government at a distance by all these means.
And such is the power of the liberal delusion you mention that today Dan Hodges, a pro-Remain writer, warns of revolution if the people’s democratically-voiced will on Brexit isn’t respected: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-3839883/DAN-HODGES-want-revolution-spark-it.html
An important “warning” from Dan Hodges.
Governments of modern “nations” cannot but be run by “elites”, more true today than in the less “democratic” times of Robert Michels. The trick is to “rotate” them in the best direction, to take command of the “shoals of history”, and to learn however belatedly from enemies, such as the post-WW2 marxoid “agenda-workers” of (for want of a better catch-all) “political correctness” re “race, gender, class”.
How to select a competent governing “aristocracy” and an effective contribution and control by “democracy”? So far as I know the only British politician explicitly to raise the issue, which goes back to ancient Greece, and to outline political structures to help solve it, was the far from “genteel fascist” Oswald Mosley.
Robert Michels, of course, eventually joined Mussolini.
Robert Michels is very interesting in that he began as an anarcho-syndicalist and gravitated rightwards after WWI – as did many people who were disillusioned that the conflict failed to end war and usher in a Marxist eschaton as the Italian Communist Party had promised; Italy ended up losing half a million in the fighting.
Michels wrote “Political Parties”, subtitled “A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy”, which effectively codified fascism within a democratic shell (something that Gramsci, imprisoned by Mussolini, would ponder on at some length) in the same way that Bagehot’s “The English Constitution” codified democracy within a constitutional monarchy. Governments from 1997 on owe far more to Michels than to Bagehot, but I think they’d rather die than admit it.
If democracy won the war fascism, after slowly working its way through the institutions for a very long time, is close to winning the peace, and God help us if it does.
They would never “rather die” for anything – unlike the patriotic servicemen on both sides in WW2.
Marxism-Hedonism is the “ideology” of the Last Man.
Gerry, thank you for your interesting and stimulating article. We also appreciated the comments from David and Stuart above.
We’ve been thinking about the thought processes involved in decision-making during the Referendum campaign and afterwards. In particular we have concerns about ‘group-think’ and its effect on so many aspects of society. Allied to this, we’ve been thinking about the increasing impact of the Internet on decision-making.
As you may know, we produce fact-based ‘sound-bite’ type articles about Brexit, going to original EU, UK Government, and official sources to do our research. During the campaign we aimed all our efforts at producing voter-friendly information which people would read, rather than long academic articles. This worked and our information was used very widely during the campaign.
We still produce short daily pieces on our news page at http://facts4eu.org/news.shtml but I’m writing to see if perhaps you or Stuart might want to write a longer ‘opinion piece’? (We’re not-for-profit so we can’t pay, I’m afraid!)
Very little is being written about the mentalities, influences, motivations and other aspects of those who voted to Remain. We’re interested in this in relation to society and trends, as it worries us a lot. Why do people fall for some of the nonsense and ignore the facts? How did the majority reject the overwhelming Government-backed propaganda?
If you’re interested, please contact us via our website.
I’m just a writer on The Quarterly Review. Leslie Jones is the editor, and you can contact him through the “Contact us” link underneath the banner.