25 February 2014
18 February 2014
We went to a number of nightclubs. In two years Mulcaster seemed to have attained his simple ambition of being known and liked in such places. At the last of them he and I were kindled by a great flame of patriotism. 'You and I,' he said, 'were too young to fight in the war. Other chaps fought, millions of them dead. Not us. We'll show them. We'll show the dead chaps we can fight, too.'For those who survive a war, a common feeling is that they were no better than those who did not, and possibly in some way inferior. But, if Mulcaster's sentiments reflect something Waugh was familiar with, for some of those who just missed a war, there appears to be a nagging sense of inadequacy, a failure to arrive in time that was somehow a personal betrayal of those who died or were killed. In this context, does a quest for meaning lead one to religion? But, again, there might be even more influences at play. Faulk highlights that Lewis' conversion from atheism to religion had something to do with perceiving a lack of imagination on the part of unbelief, which was somehow related to the emphasis of Enlightenment thought on reason and fact. While we often hear of the terrible crimes perpetrated by believers in Crusades, Inquisitions and Imperialisms, the Enlightenment's responsibility for Racism, Eugenics and the kind of depersonalisation of working people that occurred during the rise of Capitalism are less often commented on. I think blame for each of these can be assigned to reason's antipathy towards 'fancy', a word of various flavours that is extremely useful in this context. 'Fancy' helps us to transform mere numbers of people, or measures of their production, into individuals. The paradox is that, for the Lewis presented in Faulk's two-part documentary, the actual truth of God's Plan for our Salvation is potentially irrelevant. While we are alive humility and charity ought to make us good people, but after we are dead we won't really matter any more to the survivors, except as an influential memory. And that is exactly the impact of 'the dead chaps' on Boy Mulcaster in Waugh's novel.
14 February 2014
I have been reading Jay Cost off and on for something like a decade. He started out as something of a conservative antipode to Nate Silver, baseball sabermetrician turned political rune-reader. Cost has been very astute when it comes to interpreting the message contained in polls, although late in election cycles one might need to remember his bias. He has been writing at The Weekly Standard for quite a few years now, and recently published an article about immigration reform in the United States that contained the following paragraph:
Conservatives are pro-business because they believe that, in general, business is good for everybody. If business presents a plan that hurts a significant swath of the country for its own advantage—such as the Senate bill—conservatives should oppose it. Indeed, they should do so loudly and forthrightly, for their biggest electoral liability is the widespread conviction that the GOP stands with big business instead of with the average person.This got me to thinking about that conviction, and flavours of 'conservatism' throughout the Anglosphere.
Looking at conservative politics over about four hundred years of Anglospheric history, one can see that for the longest time conservatism was identified with preserving the institutional framework of a state, and particular the social capital of individuals who ran those institutions. Then, starting in the nineteenth century, and with the rise of the battle between management and labour under industrial capitalism, conservatism gradually acquires a pro-business wing. This is most clearly seen in the Republican party in the United States, and takes a lot longer to occur in the more specifically 'Anglo' parts of the sphere.
Cost, in this article, is seriously challenging the broadly accepted interpretation of what the GOP, as a conservative party, is historically. He is harking back to the Federalist tradition in the United States, and to what I would consider the core Tory values in Britain and the Commonwealth. In this paternalistic formation, business is an ally, but not to be trusted, because it is destructive of social capital among the elite. (As Marx and Engels put it, 'all that is solid melts into air'.) There are times when the elite remembers how its authority is rooted in the feudal principle that it has a contract with its subjects to protect their life and property from foreign enemies. Both Tories and Federalists see The State itself as an organic entity, where Jeffersonians and libertarians see it more as a parasitic cabal. During much of my lifetime, the latter interpretation has been favoured by conservatives, which thus cemented the partnership between Tories and GOP and big business. But big business, as Schumpeter recognised and Friedman largely shrugged his shoulders over, seeks a kind of privatised socialist corporatism.
Cost is basically arguing that a conservative party fundamentally exits to protect the institutions of the state, and the alliance of these with the state's subjects/citizens. (The Feudal Compact, I call it.) In this, I think he is right, and it is why I have always been unwilling to characterise the Republicans as a conservative party. Conservatives always face a dilemma when the interests of business clash with those of the state's institutions. At least since the 1840s, the business wing has always won out. If this changes, it will be a sign that we are flirting with a new historical epoch.
12 February 2014
Six of the first fifteen U.S. presidents spent time early in their careers in Britain, educating them about British ways, different from much of China’s ruling elite’s experience of the United States only from afar. Besides this, though, many nouveau riche Chinese people today cross the Pacific and enjoy downloading Desperate Housewives and The Walking Dead, postmodern versions of ambitious Jacksonian Americans’ tours of Britain and reading their Shakespeare and Dickens.As anyone who has visited Abraham Lincoln's house at Springfield, Illinois, will recall, busts of those two celebrated authors are on prominent display in his sitting room. And so, we think, this Anglo-American cultural relationship is now a thing of the past. Our future rests with cultural exchanges rooted in East Asia, as opposed to finding auduence appeal in the trivia of a 'fossilised' ruling elite. I would beg to differ. The recent marking of the fiftieth anniversary of the appearance of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan's show with a special programme should remind us that this cultural exchange between Americans and the British is a tidal thing, sometimes ebbing and sometimes flowing. At the moment, it is ebbing, but study PBS' weekend schedules carefully before deciding that we have finally reached the point where the 'pivot to Asia' has ensured this enduring cultural link is finally broken. The relationship is not what it was, but it never has been. For example, and sticking with the world of film, think of how many Britons appear in key roles in the cast of Lee Daniels' The Butler — Oyelowo, Pettyfer, Redgrave and Rickman. And who plays the sheriff in The Walking Dead, apparently beloved of the Chinese elite? That Anglo-American link remains strong, even as Britain is no longer the Britain of Americans' imaginations.
05 February 2014
03 February 2014
Instead of Plumb’s vision, however, we have the ascendancy of a past that is audacious in its confrontation with history. The dogmatic Christian worldview that he believed was discredited by the philosophes and by later scholarly and scientific inquiry is now passed off as being not only determinative for religious believers but also for the nature and destiny of the entire nation....The future envisioned by the founders was not pluralistic, not dynamic, and certainly not complex: it was dogmatically ChristianIn this, we see two 'pasts' clashing. There is the unwelcome 'Christian' past that the author objects to, and the supposedly pluralistic vision of the founders. I would suggest that the founders were rather more Christian, and rather less pluralistic, than the author implies in this article. Matthew Frye Jacobson's Whiteness of a Different Color makes a point at the start of highlighting the 1790 naturalisation law that envisages an America of 'free white persons'. Think about that 1790 context: the only substantial reservoir of 'free white persons' who might immigrate to the United States was the overwhelmingly Christian Europe. On the basis of that fact, one could equally argue that the Founders in practical terms envisaged a country with a substantially Christian European outlook. This outlook was changed because Americans, in practising their citizenship, wanted it to be changed. But I would add a further note, which is that while Plumb's vision may not apply in the United States, it is in rude health in the rest of the Anglosphere, because there is no conflict of different The Pasts. And so back to flags. It may be that the New Zealand flag no longer reflects a New Zealand of the future, and the time has come to change it. But before that decision is taken, remember that there were many New Zealanders in two world wars who fought and died under that old flag, and it was that common experience that remains a vital part of New Zealand's past, attaching it to a broader community that shares substantial settlement from the British Isles, some experience of monarchical government and a system of government that drew on Westminster as a model. All of the countries to which this applies have been moving away, since 1973 if not earlier, from a British heritage and towards an Americanised future. The United States was the first to break with the Union Flag as a pattern, and it took almost two hundred years before Canada took a similar step. New Zealand may be next on the cab rank, but as the prime minister points out in the article, is this really such an important issue? Does one really want to go down the American road, where different The Pasts make civic life a miserable arena in which government itself becomes a dirty word and Christian religion a tool of division? _____________ *Of course, the real answer is 'both'.