31 Mar

Lefties’ Review of Books

When a tawdry commercial website tells me, “You’ve been selected” to be the privileged recipient of its shabby merchandise, I just click on “skip ad” and go back to what I was doing before I was interrupted. When something that purports to be a literary magazine adopts the same technique, I know that the end of the civilised world is at hand. And so it is…

The London Review of Books (LRB) has invited me to take out a “special” discounted subscription.

Why me, I ask? Because, declares the omniscient LRB, “You know good writing when you see it.” And not just good writing, but the best: “by the world’s best authors.” (I’ll tell you who the LRB thinks some of these authors are in a minute). The LRB  boasts particularly its admiration for these writers because they write about all manner of stuff including – if I may use the LRB’s fashionable oxymoron – “popular culture.”

According to the LRB, I am some sort of paragon. Not only do I know good writing, but I “appreciate an alternative point of view.” This must mean, I suppose, an alternative to the literary establishment.

Why doesn’t the LRB understand that it is the establishment?

Here are some of its members – the authors I promised to tell you about…

Top of the list is the very unpleasant Hilary Mantel, the talkative apologist for Henry VIII’s iconoclastic toady Thomas Cromwell. You will be asking me to give my reasons for saying that Mantel is a member of the literary establishment. Very well, here are three to be going on with:

She referred to the Duchess of Cambridge as “a shop window mannequin.”

She boasted that she fantasised about murdering Margaret Thatcher and even wrote a short story about it called The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.

She wrote: “The Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.”

Next on the list is James Wood whose qualifications for membership of the leftie establishment don’t come any better than being described as “wonderful” by Martin Amis and “marvellous” by Christopher Hitchens.

Then the mythopoeic Marina Warner. As we have seen, Mantel  has nothing but contempt for the Catholic Church while Marina has it in for the nonconformists: 

“The sombre-suited masculine world of the Protestant religion is altogether too much like a gentlemen’s club to which the ladies are only admitted on special days.”

Really? Who then were all those Methodist creatures in frocks I came across every day when I was growing up in the back streets of Leeds, who officiated as deacons, sang in the choir – one even played the organ – read the lesson and preached many a sermon?

The LRB suggests Colm Toibin as one of “the world’s best authors.” His novels obsess about homosexuality – and you can’t have better establishment credentials than that. Colm begins many sentences with “I think” – only for the rest of his paragraph to demonstrate that he doesn’t.

And of course here comes the all-time favourite, the North London guru and national treasure himself: Alan Bennett. He is the grammar school boy who believes passionately in state education – a lefty establishment foible that condemns generations of poor children to ignorance.

This then is the LRB’s pantheon of “the alternative point of view.” These “world’s best authors” are all in one another’s pockets and review each other’s books – favourably, inevitably. This does not represent an “alternative.” It is just the opposite: a politico-cultural hegemony incarnate full of Guardianistas and other tribunes of the – if I may coin another oxymoron – left wing conscience.

If you’re looking for a genuine alternative, try The Literary Review

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29 Mar

The View from the Gutter

Why has the Daily Telegraph replaced its cultivated and discerning radio critic Gillian Reynolds with the arrogant oik Jemima Lewis?

This week she writes: “My ignorance of Paradise Lost is more of a chasm.”

Question: So why are you going to write about it then? Jemima is an expert in the art of the sweeping – and groundless – judgement: “Hardly anyone reads Milton’s epic any more.”

How do you know that?

Never mind, the unread elitist John Milton eventually manages to gain some street cred with Jemima on account, so she informs us, of the fact that he “inspired Pink Floyd.”

(I’m tempted to say hardly anyone has heard of Pink Floyd).

After her excursus on 17th century English verse, Jemima next shines her expertise on the subject of music in a review of the programme Is Music a Civilising Force?

Not if it’s Pink Floyd, it isn’t.

The programme was a talk by Sir Roger Scruton in which the philosopher, musicologist and church organist agrees with Plato that ”the barbarous rhythms of dance music could produce in young people traits of character which no civilised republic should allow.”

Sir Roger continued: “Beware of those rabble-rousing disc-jockeys and music in which there is nothing but a beat. It really matters what the young are listening to.”

Yes, Plato and Sir Roger are in agreement about this. But, according to Jemima, the views of the greatest of ancient philosophers together with those of one of our most distinguished modern thinkers count for nothing. These views are, Jemima instructs us from her perspective in the gutter, “absurdly dyspeptic.”

Jemima Lewis? We’d be better off reading Jemima Puddleduck

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21 Mar

Our New Whited Sepulchres

There are things to admire about John Gray’s article The Dangers of Higher Education in the current issue of Club Comment, the magazine of The Monday Club.

Gray suggests that perhaps the world would not be better managed if those in charge were intellectuals: “History offers no support for the belief that the world would be better ruled by graduates or PhD’s.” He supports his view with evidence – examples of intelligent, educated men who made catastrophically misguided judgements in political life.

He cites the philosopher Martin Heidegger who was an enthusiastic Nazi, Kim Philby who spied for the USSR and Eric Hobsbawm who remained a card-carrying Communist despite knowing all about Stalin’s purges and genocides and the atrocities committed by the Soviets in their suppression of uprisings in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968)

Gray’s article is intelligent and readable, but there is one omission so startling that only an academic could have made it: there is not a word about right and wrong in his piece, and he writes as if there is no such thing as morality in public and political life.

Instead these misguided men were simply easily led. The poor things were “often more easily taken in by mass delusions.”

Now I say that if a man possesses the intellectual capacity to understand the vileness of Communism and Nazism but persists in his allegiance to one or other of these foul ideologies, then it is not his intelligence which is in deficit, but his morality.

Heidegger understood Hitler’s programme only too well, but he maintained his support for him. A man who does such a thing does not lack brains, but he conspicuously lacks morality. In a word, that man is wicked. And i don’t care if he does happen to be Martin Heidegger, the author of Sein und Zeit.

Kim Philby was well aware of Stalin’s genocides and yet he supported the USSR until his dying day, becoming a traitor to Britain, his own country, in the process. That was an irretrievable wrong.

Eric Hobsbawm is the most culpable of the three because, as an eminent historian, he had intimate knowledge of the machinations of the murderous Soviet regime. But he was a devoted Stalinist to the end of his days. The word to describe such a man is evil.

How could John Gray not notice these things staring him in the face? Why no mention of the overriding ethical nature of the matters he discusses?

Because he wouldn’t want to be seen as “judgemental.” And that despite the fact that the capacity to form moral judgements is the one thing which renders meaning to the phrase “the dignity of man.”

I am a student of Plato who in The Republic declared that philosophers should be our kings. But we should notice what Plato meant by a philosopher: not some tenured theoretician scratching around on the edges of Deconstruction and the other diseases of Postmodernism, but one who is devoted to the Form of the Good.

When Christianity took over from Plato, we recognised this Form of the Good as God.

Gray’s colossal omission really arises out of the fact that he is himself a representative of the class he doesn’t think are fit to run the world.

He suffers from the terminal impediment of being an intellectual.

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