Skip to content

Club Outing: the Hellfire Caves of West Wycombe

There are few ways to spend a Bank Holiday Monday more worthwhile than in the footsteps of some eighteenth century hellraisers. Quite apart from anything else, it reminds us that the unlamented Bullingdon cabal so recently dragged from public office and sent back to the Cotswolds were in reality mere parvenus – smashing pianos and throwing wine bottles at scholarship swots or whatever it is that the Bullingdon gets up to, not to mention that thing with the pig, would have struck the well-born and well-connected of earlier and nobler times as rather meek ways of letting one’s hair down.

We are talking, of course, about the notorious Hellfire Club of Sir Francis Dashwood, or more accurately the Order of the Friars of St Francis of Wycombe: ‘Hellfire Club’ was, in fact, a generic name given to an exclusive private society got up by a clique of sporting fellows for the purposes of drinking like pirates, dining like ogres, entertaining young women of negotiable virtue and generally giving the local vicar cause to suspect that he may not be getting his message across. Read more

Where’s Herod when you need him?

 

Oscar Wilde’s line about the rage of Caliban not seeing himself in the mirror has been taken to heart in the last week or so by young people claiming to be suffering from profound emotional responses to the EU referendum result. We defy readers to read this thread at The Student Room without feeling like Eric Cartman rejoicing in the tears of Scot Tenorman. In person – overheard on public transport, for instance – they are even funnier, wearing expressions of virtuous sincerity and stoicism in the face of disaster, taking it in turns to say the same thing in ever so slightly different ways, shuddering deliciously at the dread name Farage like Harry Potter and his pals contemplating the word Voldemort, remorselessly reinforcing each other in their invincible certainty in their own goodness.

Amusing though they may be – and the ones claiming that they may fail their exams because of Brexit have surely attained to a comic genius on par with Charles Chaplin and Stan Laurel – it is when they begin to expatiate on the prospects and desirability of overturning the result through protests and phony petitions and political sleight-of-hand that it becomes clear just how dangerous is the prevalent world view amongst young people today. They would quite explicitly prefer to live in a kind of banana republic where plebiscites are overturned by an alliance between a self-righteous mob on the one hand, and the rich and powerful on the other (of whom more below), rather than accept what they see as the unpalatable outcome of a free election. Read more

Et tu, toupee…

We take no side in the seething debate within the Republican establishment as to whether Donald Trump is a fascist or a fraud or some unedifying combination of the two, but we are certain that their truly visceral hatred of The Donald has an entirely different source – one which is not so much Republican as republican in the classical meaning of word, being derived from the cold fear which grips the hearts of powerful élite groups when one of its members attempts to win power over the group as a whole by allying himself with the powerless millions outside it.

The Roman republic in its final years is, of course, the famous prototype, with the transition to empire largely brought about by the breakdown of the Roman oligarchy’s collective solidarity. As the expansion of Roman wealth and power made the potential prize of domination commensurately greater, some oligarchs became tempted to reach out to the lower classes for support in their competition with each other. The murder of Caesar in the Senate was merely the last of a series of tyrannicides where ‘tyrant’ was defined not as one who enslaved the people, but as a popular man who undermined the aristocracy by appealing directly to the people. Livy, for example, once described how one Maelius wickedly distributed food to the people from his own, rather than the Senate’s, account, and was in consequence bumped off by Servilius in order to rid the Republic of an incipient tyrant. Read more

On Turncoats and Tories: Quote of the Day

A couple of passages from Number 33 of John Wilkes’ The North Briton, published January 15th 1763, seem appropriate as battalions of ‘Eurosceptic’ ministers like Theresa May line up to pretend they believe that some minor change to in-work benefits arrangements constitutes a major reconfiguration of the European Union.

Firstly:

“Why do they not tell us the reasons on which they have changed their faith, and assign some fair methods by which they have satisfied the doubts of conscience? Till they do this, we certainly have an undoubted right to consider their pretended change as a mere piece of finesse, calculated to advance the worst of purposes, or to regard them as men of inconstancy and levity, acting from caprice and not reason; consequently in either of these respects unfit to take part in the direction of affairs.”

Secondly, and in a more general vein:

“A Tory, in the true and original meaning of the word, not to gloss it over with vain and artificial interpretations, was a maintainer of the infernal doctrine of arbitrary power, and the indefeasible right on the part of the sovereign, and of passive obedience and non-resistance on the part of the subject…The Tory maintained, that the king held his crown of none but God; that he could not by the most flagrant violation of the laws, by the most tyrannical exercise of his power, forfeit his right; that the people were made entirely for him, and that he had a right to dispose of their fortunes, lives and liberties, in defiance of his coronation oath, and the eternal laws of reason, without the subject having any right to demand redress of their grievances, or if their demand was denied, to seek it in themselves. Doth not the Jacobite hold these very tenets?”

Shrewd fellow, was Uncle Jack.

Quote of the Day

It is easy to forget that we Whig-liberals and libertarians are the real socialists in the only meaningful sense of the word: we understand the nature of social relations and we want them to go on working, hence our opposition to the State’s gumming up of the works with its deranged schemes for perfecting them. It was a pleasure, therefore, to come across this passage in the Diary of a Pilgrimage, written in 1891 by Jerome K Jerome, the British humourist and accidental philosopher – and accidentally is the only way for a true-born Englishman to be a philosopher, since the English genius has always been to build institutions on insights derived from practical experience, rather than from abstract cogitation like a mere Frenchman. Jerome, musing on the nature of modern society while waiting for a train, shows an instinctive understanding of Adam Smith’s hidden hand and the self-organising character of complex systems:

“What a wonderful piece of Socialism modern civilisation has become! – not the Socialism of the so-called Socialists – a system modelled apparently upon the methods of the convict prison – a system under which each miserable sinner is to be compelled to labour, like a beast of burden, for no personal benefit to himself, but only for the good of the community – a world where there are to be no men, but only numbers – where there is to be no ambition and no hope and no fear, – but the Socialism of free men, working side by side in the common workshop, each one for the wage to which his skill and energy entitle him; the Socialism of responsible, thinking individuals, not of State-directed automata. Read more

The Croaking of a Boiled Frog

The European Union, an enormous and dysfunctional agglomeration of squabbling nations with less in common than the average cast of I’m a Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here, has a north-westerly sort of province called the United Kingdom. About this place the other provinces know little and care less, but they have a nebulous idea that it is inhabited by an uncooperative, usually inebriated and almost completely irrational collection of hideous-looking savages who apparently gave up on evolution after the invention of the deep fat fryer. Mysteriously, however, not only have these people somehow managed to be a bastion of freedom, pluralism and liberal democracy for centuries, but have even been responsible for either restoring or introducing those things to the rest of Europe, frequently after emerging victorious from yet another horrific war started by the other provinces themselves. Naturally, those other provinces chafe at any sense of obligation and relative failure vis-à-vis a people whom so many of them despise, but what appears to make some of them angriest of all is that many Brits seem to find the idea of living in a political union with other Europeans to be about as alluring as sharing a toilet cubicle with a rabid dog.

In fact, they are about to have a vote on whether or not to leave the Union! Just think of it, one imagines Guy Verhofstadt muttering to himself as he fiddles with the nightly dental floss: these greedy vulgarians are actually spurning us! Can you even conceive of the sauciness of a people like that deciding that they would be better off without being joined at the hip to Luxembourg and Bulgaria? In the interests of the eternal rightness of things, and also for their own good, they must be brought to see that they need to share a polity with the rest of the continent, through whatever trickery, bullying and bare-faced lies may be necessary. But fear not, Euro friends, for you have forgotten one important thing: these people are as insane as they are repulsive, and therefore will vote to remain in the EU even though they know perfectly well that it is a corrupt, undemocratic and remorselessly anti-British racket run by bungling nobodies whose institutional framework appears to have been designed by Coco the Clown. The JWC is here to reassure you about just how insane they really are. Read more