Somewhere or other (you don’t get proper footnotes at this time of year) Karl Popper urged anyone masochistic enough to be reading his stuff to guard against the fashionable disease of our time, viz.- the assumption that things can not be taken at their face value, that an apparent syllogism must be the rationale of an irrational motive, that our choices necessarily conceal some self-seeking ghastliness. It’s a reasonable guess that this warning was part of his well-known criticism of Freudian psychology as bad pseudo-science, and in the year of Brexit and Trump it assumes a particular relevance, as the usual carnival of commentators, analysts, pundits, think-tankers and other ‘experts’ queue up to add their own fluid ounce of pseudo-science to the already deep and sulphurous ocean of jejune rationalisations which, we suppose, keeps them and their kind in lucrative employment.
The British voters wanted to leave the European Union, and their American cousins wanted Donald Trump to be president. Just that. They were not expressing a complicated series of half-understood emotional responses to globalisation or economic change or multiculturalism or anything else – emotions which, lest they fall easy prey to something called ‘populism’, call for urgent analysis by credentialed social psychiatrists who have brought themselves to believe that observing and analysing their fellow citizens like specimens in a vivarium is somehow a legitimate form of intellectual inquiry, as opposed to (a) a bloody impertinence and (b) a manifestation of precisely the kind of social order which is being emphatically rejected. Read more
This week’s coup d’état in the High Court – in which some oleaginous tort-wallopers revealed to a fascinated electorate that the best way to implement voters’ instructions is to put them in the hands of a bunch of chancers who have publicly declared that they intend to ignore their instructions entirely – is hardly a new development in the long, grubby annals of English law. As John Wilkes wrote 253 years ago:
“The most eminent lawyers have been fee’d, to find mistakes and flaws in patents, granted for the security of the liberties of the subject, and which for ages have been esteemed not only valid but even sacred.”
The North Briton, No. 37, February 12 1763.
The courts are only a branch of the state after all: why should they be more likely than any other branch to respect the people whom they ‘serve’? Read more
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
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.
“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.
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
Francesco Morosini was arguably the last great Doge of Venice, and just as Belisarius’s military exploits against the Vandals and Ostrogoths and other assorted colourful barbarians in sixth century Italy had allowed everyone in Constantinople to pretend that the Roman Empire was still a goer, so too did Morosini’s campaigns against the Turks in the eastern Mediterranean in the 1680s permit the ancient Republic to indulge in the fantasy that these Ottomans and Protestants and whatnot who had been cluttering up the Med for the last hundred years had just been a flash in the pan, and that Greece in particular would be restored to the Venetian Empire.
In September 1687, therefore, Morosini and pals were busy besieging Athens – then part of Turkey, and destined to remain so for another 150 years – when the local authorities had the bright idea of protecting its munitions by stuffing them into the Parthenon, apparently in the belief that occidentals could never bring themselves to damage such a famous symbol of western culture and civilisation. In a timely reminder that the Levant and the West have rarely understood each other, the Venetians calmly turned their artillery on it, blew it up, and attempted to loot the pieces, Morosini writing laconically in his despatches to the Senate that it had been “a fortunate shot”. Read more