SCRUTON: FOOLS, FRAUDS AND FIREBRANDS:

Thinkers of the New Left (Bloomsbury, 2015)

1/22/2016

INTRODUCTION

In a previous book published in 1995 as Thinkers of the New Left, I brought together a series of articles of The Salisbury Review…

My previous book was published at the height of the Margaret Thatcher’s reign of terror, at a time when I was still teaching in a university and known among British left-wing intellectuals as a prominent opponent of their cause, which was the cause of decent people everywhere…

One academic philosopher wrote to Longman, the original publisher, saying, “I may tell you with dismay that many colleagues here [i.e. in Oxford] feel that the Longman imprint — a respected one — had been tarnished by association with Scruton’s work.” He went on in a menacing manner…

I have naturally been reluctant to return to the scene of such a disaster. Gradually, however, in the wake of 1989, a measure of hesitation has entered the left-wing vision. It is now common to accept that not everything said, thought or done in the name of socialism has been intellectually respectable or morally right…

The reader will understand from the above paragraphs that this is not a word-mincing book. I would describe it rather as a provocation. However, I make every effort to explain what is good in the authors I review as well as what is bad. My hope is that the result can be read with profit by people of all political persuasions…

Scrutopia, 2015

p. 1–2 Thinkers of the New Left was published before the collapse of the Soviet Union, before the emergence of the European Union as an imperialist power, and before the transformation of China into an aggressive exponent of gangland capitalism. Thinkers on he left have naturally had to accommodate those developments. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the weakness of socialist economies elsewhere gave a brief credibility to the economic policies of the ‘new right’; and even the British Labour Party climbed on to the bandwagon, dropping Clause IV (the commitment to state ownership) from its constitution and accepting that industry is no longer the responsibility of the government.

p. 2–3 For a while it even looked as though there might be an apology forthcoming, from those who had devoted their intellectual and political efforts to whitewashing the Soviet Union…But the moment of doubt was short-lived. Within a decade the left establishment was back in the driving seat, with Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn renewing their intemperate denunciations of America, The European Left regrouped against ‘neo-liberalism’, as though this had been the trouble all along… the veteran communist Eric Hobsbawm rewarded for a lifetime of unswerving loyalty to the Soviet Union by his appointment as ‘Companion of Honour’ to the Queen…

Thinkers on the left therefore soon returned to equilibrium, assuring the world that they had never really been taken in by communist propaganda, and renewing their attacks on Western civilization…”Right-wing” has remained as much a term of abuse today as it was before the fall of the Berlin Wall…

…Liberation of the victim is restless cause, since new victims always appear over the horizon as the last ones escape into the void. The liberation of women from male oppression, of animals from human abuse, of homosexuals and transsexuals from ‘homophobia’, even Muslims from “Islamophobia” — all these have been absorbed into the more recent leftish agendas…Gradually the old norms of the social order have been marginalized, or even penalized as violations of “human rights”…

p. 4 Likewise the goal of ‘social justice’ is no longer equality before the law, or equal claim to the rights of citizenship, as these were advocated at the Enlightenment. The goal is the comprehensive rearrangement of society, so that the privileges, hierarchies, and even unequal distribution of goods are even overturned or challenged. The more radical egalitarianism of the nineteenth-century Marxists and anarchists, who sough the abolition of private property, perhaps no longer has widespread appeal. But behind the goal of ‘social justice’ there marches another and more dogged egalitarian mentality, which believes that inequality in whatever sphere — property, leisure, legal privilege, social rank, educational opportunities, or whatever else we may wish for ourselves and our children — is unjust until proven otherwise…

The two goals of liberation and social justice are not obviously compatible, any more than were liberty and equality in the French Revolution…how do we stop the ambitious, the energetic, the intelligent, the good-looking and the strong from getting ahead, and what should we allow ourselves by way of constraining them?…

p. 6 The contradictory nature of the socialist utopias is one explanation of the violence involved in the attempt to impose them: it takes infinite force to make people do what is impossible…It is no longer possible to take refuge in the airy speculations that contented Marx. Real thinking is needed if we are to believe that history either tends or ought to tend in a socialist direction. Hence the emergence of socialist historians, who systematically downplay the atrocities committed in the name of socialism and blame the disasters on the ‘reactionary forces’ that impeded socialism’s advance…History was rewritten as a conflict between good and evil, between the forces of light and the forces darkness. And however nuanced and embellished by its many brilliant exponents, this Manichean vision remains with us, enshrined in the school curriculum and in the media.

pp. 6–7 The moral asymmetry, which attributes to the left a monopoly of moral virtue, and use ‘right’ always as a term of abuse, accompanies a logical asymmetry, namely, an assumption that the onus of proof lies always on the other side…Thus in the 1972 and 1980s…it was rare to find any mention in the left-wing journals of the criticism that Marx’s writings had encountered during the previous century. Marx’s theory of history had been put to question by Maitland, Weber and Sombart; his labour theory of value by Boehm-Bawerk, Mises, and many more; his theories of false consciousness, alienation and class struggle by a whole range of thinkers, from Mallock and Sombart to Popper, Hayek and Aron. Not all of these critics could be placed on the right of the political spectrum, nor had they all been hostile to the idea of ‘social justice’. Yet none of them, so far as I could discover when I came to write this book, had been answered by the New Left with anything more than a sneer…

p. 8 We owe the term ‘Newspeak’ to George Orwell’s chilling portrait of a fictitious totalitarian state. But the capture of language by the left is far older, beginning with the French Revolution and its slogans…All that mattered was to distinguish those who shared the vision from those who dissented. And the most dangerous were those who dissented by so small a margin that they threatened to mingle their energies with yours, and so to pollute the pure stream of action.

From the beginning therefore, labels were required that would stigmatize the enemies within and justify their expulsion: they were revisionists, deviationists, infantile leftists, utopian socialists, social fascists, and so on. The division between Menshevik and Bolshevik…epitomized this process: those peculiar fabricated words, which were themselves crystallized lies, since the Mensheviks (minority) in fact composed the majority, were thereafter graven in the language of politics and in the motives of the communist elite.

The success of those labels in marginalizing and condemning the opponent fortified communist conviction that you could change reality by changing words…

p. 9 Newspeak occurs whenever the primary purpose of language — which is to describe reality — is replaced by the rival purpose of asserting power over it…

p. 11 …Hence, although I, an intellectual in my garret, can contemplate with satisfaction and a clear conscience the ‘liquidation of the bourgeoisie’, when I enter the shop downstairs I must speak another language. Only in the most distant sense is the woman behind he counter a member of the bourgeoisie. If I choose nevertheless so to see her it is because I am conjuring wit the word ‘bourgeoisie’ — I am trying to gain power over this person through labeling her. In confronting the shopkeeper as a human being I must renounce this presumptuous bid for power, and accord to her a voice of her own. My language must make room for her voice, and that means it must be shaped to permit the resolution of conflict, the forging of agreement, including the agreement to differ. I make remarks about the weather, grumble about politics, ‘pass the time of day’ — and my langue has the effect of softening reality, of making it pliable and serviceable. Newspeak, which denies reality, also hardens it, by turning it into something alien and resistant, a thing to be ‘struggled with’ and triumphed over.

I may have come down from my garret with a plan in view, intending the first moves towards liquidating he bourgeoisie about which I had read in my Marxist textbook. But this plan will not survive the first exchange of words with my chosen victim, and the attempt t o impose it or to speak the language that announces it will have the same effect as the wind in Aesop’s fable, competing with the sun to remove the coat of a traveller. Ordinary language warms and softens; Newspeak freezes and hardens. And ordinary discourse generate out of its own resources the concepts that Newspeak forbids: fair/unfair; just/unjust; right/duty; honest/dishonest; legal/illegal; yours/mine. Such distinctions, which belong tot the free exchange of feelings, opinions and goods, also, when freely expressed and acted upon, create a society in which order is spontaneous and not planned, and in which the equal distribution of assets arises by ‘by an invisible hand’.

pp. 11–12 Newspeak does not merely impose a plan; it also eliminates the discourse through which human beings can live without one. If justice is referred to in Newspeak, it is not the justice of individual dealings, but ‘social justice’, the kind of ‘justice’ imposed by a plan, which invariably involves depriving individuals of things that they have acquired by fair dealings in the market. In the opinion of almost all the thinkers whom I will discuss in what follows, government is the art of seizing and then redistributing the things which all citizens are supposedly entitled. It is not he expression of a pre-existing social order shaped by our free agreements and our natural disposition to hold ourselves and our neighbors to account. It is the creator and manager of a social order framed according to an idea of ‘social justice’ and imposed on the people by a series of top-down decrees.

Intellectuals are naturally attracted by the idea of a planned society, in the belief that they will be in charge of it. As a result they tend to lose sight of the fact that real social discourse is part of day-to-day problem solving and the minute search for agreement…From just the same source stems the English common law and the parliamentary institutions that have embodied the sovereignty of the British people.

When conservatives and old-fashioned liberals speak of authority, government and institutions, those on the left speak of power and domination. Laws and offices play only a marginal part in the left-wing vision of political life, while classes, powers, and forms of control are invoked as the root phenomena of civil order, together with the ‘ideology’ that mystifies those things and rescues them from judgment. Newspeak represents the political process as a constant ‘struggle’…

Hence almost nothing of political life as we know it finds a place in the thinking of those whom I describe in these pages. Institutions like Parliament and the common law courts; spiritual callings associate with churches, chapels, synagogues and mosques; schools and professional bodies; private charities, clubs, and societies; Scouts, Guides and village tournaments; football teams, brass bands and orchestras; choirs, theatre-groups and philately groups — in short, all the ways people associate, and create from their consensual intermingling the patterns of authority and obedience through which they live, all the little ‘platoons’ of Burke and Tocqueville — are missing from the leftist worldview or, if they are present (…) both sentimentalized and politicized, so as to become part of the ‘struggle’ of the working class.

We should not be surprised that, when the Communists seized power in Eastern Europe, their first task was to decapitate the little platoons — so that Kadar, when Minister of the Interior in the 1948 government of Hungary, managed to destroy 5,000 in a single year. Newspeak, which sees the world in terms of power and struggle, encourages the view that all associations not controlled by the righteous leaders are a danger to the state. When the seminar, the troop or the choir can meet only with the permission of the Party, the Party automatically becomes their enemy.

In this way, it seems to me, it is not an accident that the triumph of leftist ways of thinking has so often led to totalitarian governments…

…Intellectuals who think that way are already ruling the possibility of compromise. Their totalitarian language does not set out a path of negotiation but instead divides human beings into innocent and guilty groups. Behind the impassioned rhetoric of the Communist Manifesto, behind the pseudoscience of Marx’s labour-theory of value, and behind the class analysis of human history, lies a single emotional source — resentment of those who control things. This resentment is both rationalized and amplified by the proof that property owners form a ‘class’…the ‘bourgeois’ class has a shared moral identity, a shared and systematic access to the levers of power, and a shared body of privileges. Moreover all those good things are acquired and retained through ‘exploitation’,

pp. 13–4 Here, I believe, is the most cunning feature of Marxism: that it has been able to pass itself off as a science. Having hit on the distinction between ideology and science, Marx set out to prove that his own ideology was in itself a science. Moreover, Marx’s alleged science undermines the beliefs of his opponents. The theories of the rule of law the separation of powers, the right of property, and so on, as these had been expounded by ‘bourgeois’ thinkers like Montesquieu and Hegel, were shown, by the Marxian class analysis, to be not truth-seeking but power-seeking devices: a way of hanging on to the privileges conferred by the bourgeois order. By exposing this ideology as a self-serving pretence the class-theory vindicated its own claims to scientific objectivity.

There is a kind of theological cunning in this aspect of Marxist thought, a cunning that we also find in Foucault’s conception of the episteme, which is an updated version of Marx’s theory of ideology. And since the class-theory exposes bourgeois thought as ideology, it must be science. We have entered the magic circle of the creation myth. Moreover, by dressing up the theory in scientific language Marx has endowed it with the character of a badge of initiation. Not everybody can speak this language. A scientific theory defines the elite that can understand and apply it. It offers proof of the elite’s enlightened knowledge and therefore of its title to govern. It is this feature that justifies the charge made by Eric Voegelin, Alain Besancon and others that Marxism is a kind of Gnosticism, a title to ‘government through knowledge’.

Looked at with the superman superciliousness of Nietzsche, resentment may seem like the bitter dregs of the ‘slave morality’, the impoverished loss of spirit that comes about when people take more pleasure in bringing others down than in raising themselves up. But that is the wrong ay to look at it. But the business of society is to conduct our social life so that resentment does not occur: to live by mutual aid and fellowship, not so as to be all alike and inoffensively mediocre, but so as to gain others’ cooperation in our small successes. Living in this way we create the channels through which resentment drains way of its own accord: channels like custom, gift, hospitality, shared worship, penitence, forgiveness and the common law, all of which are instantly stopped up when the totalitarians come to power. Resentment is to the body politic what pain is to the body: it is bad to feel it, but good to be capable of feeling it, since without the ability to feel it we will not survive. Hence we should not resent the fact that we resent, but accept it, as part of the human condition, something to be managed along with all the our other joys and afflictions. However, resentment can be transformed into a governing emotion and a social cause, and thereby gain release from the constraints that normally contain it. This happens when resentment loses its specificity of its target, and becomes directed at society as a whole. That, it seems to me, is wat happens when left-wing movements take over…

p. 15 That posture is, in my view, the core of serious social disorder. Our civilization has lived through this disorder, not once or twice but half a dozen times since the Reformation. In considering the thinkers whom I discuss in this book, we will, I believe, understand this disorder in a new way — not merely as a misplaced religion or a form of Gnosticism, as other commentators have seen it, but also as a repudiation of what we, the inheritors of Western civilization, have received as our historical bequest. I call to mind the words of Goethe’s Mephistopheles, when called upon to explain himself: Ich bin der Geist der stets verneint — I am the spirit who always denies the one who reduced Something to Nothing, and who thereby undoes the work of creation.

This essential negativity can be perceived in many of the writers whom I discuss. Theirs is the oppositional voice, a cry against the actual on behalf of the unknowable. The generation of the 1960s was not disposed to ask the fundamental question how social justice and liberation could be reconciled. It only wished for theories, however opaque and unintelligible, that would authorize its opposition to the existing order. It had identified the rewards of intellectual life through an imagined unity between the intellectuals and the working class, and had sought for a language that would expose and delegitimize the ‘powers’ that maintained the ‘bourgeois’ order in being. Newspeak was essential to its programme, reducing what others saw as authority, legality, and legitimacy to pwer, struggle and domination. And when, in the works of Lacan, Deleuze, and Althusser, the nonsense machine began to crank out its impenetrable sentences, of which nothing could be understood except that they all had ‘capitalism’ as their target, it looks as though Nothing had at last found its voice. Henceforth the bourgeois order would be vaporized and mankind would march victorious into the Void.

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