Monday, 29 December 2014

One rejoinder to another.

1: He retreats from his nostalgia accusation, saying it was aimed at something called ‘the reactionary press in general’ (whatever that may be, such a construct would have been out of date in 1965, let alone now. Does he actually *read* the papers?). It looked pretty specific to me, but I’ll always take surrendered ground when offered, and not fuss too much about the face-saving words which the retreating person sometimes feels the need to say.

Well, the Murdoch press may peddle in soft-core porn but its political agenda has been to shift the discourse rightwards on welfare, immigration and economics. It’s a different sort of reaction to the variety found on the Hitchens blog. The desire to level the welfare state and return to the social squalor of a bygone age is the agenda of many reactionaries – particularly, Thatcherites. Not that I think this is the mission of the Hitchens blog.

To be fair, I did not mention nostalgia but I did say ‘turn the clock back’ in reference to Evelyn Waugh. It was a conflation, though it’s not necessarily in regard to nostalgia. A better metaphor might be GK Chesterton’s white post and the lick of paint.

2: But this was not my ‘main problem’ with what he wrote. It was his evasion of the problem of the left, that they cannot possibly have meant to foul up our society so completely, yet will never attribute any of the disasters they have caused to their own ideas.

It’s a somewhat weak point to dismiss my article as ‘evasive’. I did argue that the Hitchens prognosis is inaccurate. I think much of the social change since the 1960s largely came out of compromises. Overall, the picture looks ambiguous from where I’m sitting: in many ways progressive, in other ways regressive.

Multiculturalism is mostly a liberal compromise to manage newly settled communities. It conveniently presupposes culture as a self-enclosing entity, the truth is that it is neither the case nor should it be the case. Hybridity and immixing is far better than regulated forms of diversity.  Not only do I think monoculturalism isn’t preferable, I don’t think it’s possible. Even before non-white immigration, British culture was composed of a vast multiplicity of influences.

I don’t see the Left in the driving seat of such change for the most part. As Noel Ignatiev puts it, the momentum of neoliberalism “tends to reduce all human beings to abstract, undifferentiated, homogenous labour power”. None of the liberalising measures initiated since the 1960s threatens capital accumulation. On the contrary, this cultural revolution has been matched by Thatcher’s economic revolution. Capital can do without the old boundaries of sexuality, race, and gender, so it’s no problem to circumvent them.

I can’t accept the grammar of the question. For starters, I couldn’t really accept the presupposition of the Left’s role in this, or the claim that it is necessarily the case. Otherwise I would only be able to accept such points, either to affirm the aims or to denounce them. So I can only maintain an oppositional standpoint by giving the premise a good prod. Oh well, that’s adversarial politics for you!

3: After following the link, I still don’t think he addresses this. Perhaps he would care to.  I do very much recommend that he actually finds out what I think first. There are a number of books which he may read, starting with ‘The Abolition of Britain’, which may help. But he needs to grasp that I am not a Thatcherite or any kind of economic liberal,  and that I loathe the Tory Party, probably more than he does.

Maybe I’ll write a review of ‘The Abolition of Britain’, or ‘The War We Never Fought’. Right now, I’m more perplexed by what could only be a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of my views. In my first article, I clearly pointed out Hitchens takes issue with the Tory Party and Thatcher’s legacy.

I never suggested Mr. Hitchens was a Thatcherite; in fact, it speaks rather well of his writing that he’s not a market liberal. He’s not an unscrupulous phony like David Cameron. Nor does he face the problem of how to reconcile economic liberalism with social conservatism. It’s much more consistent, as I’ve already said, if you’re a traditionalist conservative, to see Thatcherism as just another problem and not a solution. This the Left has in common with Peter Hitchens.

Though I did imply that the line Hitchens takes on addiction comes across as more liberal than conservative, e.g. the view of the individual and their agency as prime. I don’t mean to suggest one has to be a determinist, but it’s evident that individuals don’t choose the circumstances under which they act. This extends as far to the culture they are born into and as deep as the genetic predispositions they inherit.

I don’t expect a reply to this post, Mr. Hitchens probably has a long list of enemies to engage with, and his patience must be wearing thin at this point. But I think the readers have enjoyed this back-and-forth.

This post was a response to a post by Peter Hitchens. Should anyone want to ask me a direct question, you can email me at:


Anonymous said...

I've come to Peter Hitchens' writing lately, through his book 'Short Breaks in Mordor'. Because I don't live in the UK and am not terribly wonkish, I tend to read his reviews while only glossing his policy pieces and controveries (addiction included).

That said, I appreciate your measured assessment. I demur of your ascription of 'principle' or 'integrity', however - to any conservative.

This is a compliment, I understand, and one Mr. Hitchens or anybody should cheerfully accept. But to say such a thing is a little bit like calling a man of the left 'pious' or 'noble'. These are alien compliments.

The better sort of conservatism, like that of Mr. Hitchens, is less a matter of principle than a kind of critical synesthesia, and his actions less an expression of integrity than constancy.

Bill. Pt. 1

Anonymous said...

As an example of what I mean, take a moral critique of the disease or public health model of addiction. As I said, I am not intimately familiar with Mr. Hitchens' specific position, but in what (rare) discussions I have had or observed on the matter, the positive case often argues just from the evidence you do: it is proven drug and alcohol use (and other things) alters the body. Therefore medical treatment, therapy and harm reduction are the obvious courses to deal with the physical effects. And we do not ignore the element of choice involved, as a prickly conservative may charge, but we cannot choose for people, or restrain them absolutely, and it would be monstrous to try. So better to ameliorate the antecedant social conditions that are correlative with destructive addiction, like joblessness, untreated mental illness, etc.

A moral harangue seems out of place. One encountering a medical and social problem, but who seizes on a purported moral failing (or a moral/aesthetic failing) not only blames the victim, but misses the point, like one who sees the equation 1+1=2 (or 1+1=3; I am neither arguing nor assuming addiction is a disease or public health issue, here) and claims it is all wrong because the wavy penmanship smells awful.

Maybe our conservative just has a cognitive defect. But sometimes, and in Hitchens' writing this is often true, implicit in the harangue is a deeper critique of the liberal's tendency to see the world -and in people - a tangle of problems and solutions: a dangerous underming of personhood (an undisputed value of the better sort of leftism, too!).

Has someone been harmed by addiction? Pick him up, dust him off, remove any sharp objects from the vicinity, or at least make certain those edges are clean and there is a professional with a first aid kit around, and voila! Society advances!

What's unsettling is that this can appear - and become - a worldview wherein a person or 'city' is just a system of inputs and outputs: something that is only managed and maintained. You cannot honor or love such a thing. Maybe you could finally banish hatred, fear and jealousy from the world by this route, but is that worth it? I am glad I am not an Alpha. Such a hard decision!

The liberal objects this is not at all what he is doing or trying to do. The person is not abolished, but as a matter of public policy, we cannot touch him. He must be private, because that is the only way we can keep him safe from a grasping public power.

'Too true', says the arch-conservative, 'and so much the worse for public power as such and meliorism of all stripes.' But since he is a man of prudence and not iron-willed integrity, he adds, 'With exceptions, of course.'

So perhaps concerning any given issue, Mr. Hitchens is not wrong when he pounds the blackboard and solemnly declares one and one do not make something so foul-smelling as two. Perhaps he is pointing there remains another way to express the matter to make a complete account - and maybe one one more fundamental, as in this example: binary. Ten would smell very different from two to a rare sort of synesthete.

It may cut the other way, too, which is why we so dearly need good-faith foils.
-Bill (end)