Sunday, April 14, 2013

David Priestland: Merchant Ideology Has Come to Dominate the Political Class.

David Priestland: “Merchant ideology has come to dominate the political class.” Video. The Guardian, September 3, 2012. YouTube.

Historian David Priestland is interviewed about his latest book, Merchant, Soldier, Sage, in which he argues that history can be seen as a series of battles between four distinct groups: merchants, warriors, sages and workers. When one group becomes dominant, he says, a crisis is never far away.

Whatever happened to responsible capitalism? By David Priestland. The Guardian, September 23, 2012.

Popular history has been conquered by a complacent liberalism. By David Priestland. New Statesman, November 1, 2012.

Review of David Priestland: Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A History of the World in Three Castes. New York: The Penguin Press, 2013, 343 pp. By Richard J. Evans. The Guardian, August 22, 2012.

A history of power: The mighty coin. Review of David Priestland: Merchant, Soldier, SageThe Economist, September 1, 2012.

Review of David Priestland: Merchant, Soldier, Sage. By T.H. Barrett. The Independent, September 15, 2012.

Review of David Priestland: Merchant, Soldier, Sage. By Richard Bosworth. Times Higher Education, September 20, 2012.

Route to conflict? David Priestland’s Merchant, Soldier, Sage. By David Blackburn. The Spectator, October 19, 2012.

Priestland contends perpetual power struggle in Merchant, Soldier, Sage. By Matthew Price. The National, October 25, 2012.

Review of David Cannadine, The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013, 352 pp. By David Priestland. The Guardian, April 11, 2013.

British Conservatism’s Void of Ideas. By David Selbourne.

Into the new blue void. By David Selbourne. New Statesman, April 9, 2013. Also find it here.

Toryism no longer has a distinct core of belief. The Conservative Party does not know what it wants or what it should be. How has this happened?

Leader: Bending the arc of history towards freedom and justice. New Statesman, April 12, 2013.

Archie Bunker on Gun Control and Manhood.

Archie Bunker, created by Norman Lear for the 1970s TV show All in the Family, is the classic liberal caricature of a Jacksonian as boobus americanus. Yet Archie shows an instinctive understanding of the Jacksonian concept of masculinity and its connection to gun ownership. Here in his inimitable way, Archie (Carroll OConnor) explains his objection to gun control on grounds of Jacksonian manhood to his son-in-law Mike, aka “Meathead” (Rob Reiner), referencing Jacksonian film icons John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Clint “Westwood.” This scene, which starts at 5:46 in the video, is from Season 3, Episode 1, “Archie and the Editorial,” first shown on September 16, 1972.

TV: Only by enforcing even tougher gun laws can the tide of violence and death be halted. Guns must go, before more of them go off.

Archie: Well that’s where you’re going buddy boy, off!

Meathead: Hey, what are you doing that for? I wanted to hear what he had to say there.

Archie: He’s a fairy like all them gun control guys.

Meathead: I’m for gun control.

Archie: Tell it to her, maybe she’ll get the marriage annulled.

Gloria: Daddy!

Meathead: Archie, what do guns have to do with maleness?

Archie: What do guns have to do with maleness? Duke Wayne buddy!

Meathead: What?

Archie: Clint Westwood there buddy.

Meathead: What are you talking about!?

Archie: Gary Cooper, Sergeant York. I could go on and on and on, but it’d do do no good because talking to you is like casting pearls into wine.

Meathead: Huh?

Archie: Tell that to old lady Heidgeger down the street no guns. She’d have been glad to have a rod when her two burglars bust in on her last week, huh Edith.

Meathead: Archie, how do you expect an 88-year old woman to go around carrying a gun.

Archie: I don’t know. She can carry it in her elastic stocking next to her very close friend. All I know is as an American it’s my right to pack a rod!

NRA Gun Control Arguments Predicted by “All in the Family” (Video). By Seth Abramovitch. The Hollywood Reporter, December 21, 2012.

All in the Family: Archie and the Editorial Part 1. LaughVids2, January 27, 2012. YouTube.

All in the Family. Archie and the Editorial Part 2. LaughVids2, January 27, 2012. YouTube. Complete episode in one video here.

Margaret Thatcher, The Class Warrior Who Set Britain Free. By Janet Daley.

June 5, 2012. British police lead flag waving crowds lining the monarch’s route from the Houses of Parliament to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in London. John MacDougall / AFP/Getty Images. What Thatcherism did was offer modern property-owning capitalism – with all the personal liberation that it implies – to the mass of the population.

Margaret Thatcher: Britain was set free by this class warrior. By Janet Daley. The Telegraph, April 13, 2013.

Thatcher brought a dose of Jacksonian populism to elitist Britain. She sought to remake Britain in the image of Jacksonian America.

American politics has caught the British disease. By Janet Daley. The Telegraph, July 17, 2010.

Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution. By David Ignatius. Washington Post, April 8, 2013. Also at Real Clear Politics.

Thatcher and Entrenched Interests. By Robert W. Merry. The National Interest, April 11, 2013.

How Should We Rank Margaret Thatcher? By David Cannadine. New York Times, April 13, 2013.

Thatcher Put the “Great” Back  in Great Britain. By Jack Kelly. Real Clear Politics, April 14, 2013.

Daley (Thatcher):

Everybody has his own candidate for the most important legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s time in office. Was it the reform of trade union power, the rescue of the economy from apparently terminal decline, or the release of industry from state ownership? Well, no, actually. I would make the case that while all of those things were tumultuous in their significance, they could all (God help us) be reversed. Some future government that was sufficiently benighted might legislate to remove the right of trade union members to vote on strike action. It might even seize the levers of economic activity and return vast areas of commercial life to the state.

But it would be humanly impossible to overturn the revolution in social attitudes that she brought about. And by social attitudes I mean, of course, attitudes to class. It is very difficult to explain to people under the age of 40 what this change has meant. The best way to encapsulate it is with a startling quote from the estimable Sir Jonathan Miller that has risen over this past week – like a grotesque apparition from the historic past – to remind us of what we once were like. The good doctor (as he then was) said that he hated Mrs Thatcher (as she then was) for her “odious gentility and sentimental, saccharine patriotism, catering to the worst elements of commuter idiocy.”

The greatest and most irreversible testimony to Thatcherism is that no one in public life (perhaps no one in his right mind) would today utter a statement of such shameless snobbery – such egregious, unvarnished hatred for that vast swath of the population who are now the object of every political leader’s admiration.

The “idiot commuters” whom Dr Miller loathed are none other than Ed Miliband’s “strivers” and David Cameron’s “people who work hard and want to get on.” Immediately before that, they were Gordon Brown’s “hard-working families” and even earlier – in the immediate wake of the Thatcher social revolution – they were the aspirational working classes whom Tony Blair had discovered were the lost Labour constituency.

But, as I say, it is hard to recall a time when public discourse was dominated by the unapologetic patrician elitism of public intellectuals who detested petit bourgeois virtues and particularly derided the sort of individual ambition that Thatcherism lauded. Somehow, there seemed to be no sense of absurdity in hearing people who espoused equality in one breath sounding like one of Jane Austen’s aristocrats ridiculing people whose money came from “trade” in the next.

There was a peculiar other-worldliness about this condescension that helped to undo it: a rather bizarre form of conceit which failed to recognise that even people you might have met and worked with could be part of that loathed army of idiots – or might, at least, regard it with affection and understanding.

At the time of Dr Miller’s widely quoted remarks in which he likened Thatcherism and its supporters to “typhoid”, a BBC television arts producer I knew who had grown up in a lower-middle-class family said: “Hey, that’s my mum and dad he’s talking about.” But presumably it never occurred to the Left-wing aristocracy that anyone in their own professional circle might himself have risen from the respectable working class or the truly accursed one just a notch above it. That would be because the idea of “rising” at all was faintly ridiculous and contemptible.

The very people who (most of the time) advocated educational opportunity and social freedom were driven to the most repugnant, frenzied abuse by, for example, the idea of working-class people being allowed to purchase the council houses they lived in, or being encouraged to start up businesses, or – especially this – moving right up and away from their class roots.

The romanticising of working-class life, with all its defeatism and passivity, was shocking to me when I first arrived here from the United States in the Sixties. This was paternalism at its least benign: a kind of sub-Marxist notion of class loyalty that ran deep in the Labour movement was used to bury people’s feet in the cultural concrete of their origins. It was not just risky or foolhardy to aspire to something more: it was positively wrong, a betrayal of your forebears.

Even more personally, the desire for self-improvement was a repudiation of your parents and neighbours. The Miliband “strivers” and the Cameron people “who work hard and want to get on” were not the heroes of preThatcher British politics. To Old Labour they were selfish class traitors. To the intellectual aristocracy, they were vulgar and ridiculous.

You may wonder why this vaguely feudal concept of social order came so naturally to those who surely must have thought of themselves as progressive. What struck me at the time was that Britain had somehow leapt straight from the 19th century into late Marxism. So the only acceptable advancement for working people could be through collective progress: they could move forward as a class, seizing political and economic power together, or they could stay where they were, nursing their shared grievances.

This was why “individualism” (or “selfish individualism”, as it was always known) had to be so comprehensively denounced. The achievements and successes of any one person were not just a pointless distraction: they actually robbed the proletariat of its potential for mass action. Separating out individuals for reward on the basis of merit or industriousness remains anathema to most trades unions, which is why they resist differentials of pay on the basis of results (“performance-related pay”).

What Thatcherism did was offer modern property-owning capitalism – with all the personal liberation that it implies – to the mass of the population. The vitriolic argument that began then about individual rights as opposed to collective ones is not finished. Nor has the critical question about wealth distribution been answered definitively: is it wrong that some people should be wealthier than others, even if virtually everybody has become wealthier than they were?

But the central radical idea of Thatcherism’s social philosophy would never be beaten back: everyone should have a right to progress as far from his beginnings as his talent and ambition can take him, and no one – not least the state or its agencies – should despise him for the attempt. In fact, it is one of the chief functions of government to do everything in its power to clear the obstacles to that progress, whether that involves dismantling the power of trades unions, reducing the cost of living or increasing the freedom to make private choices.

At the heart of this is respect: respect for the kind of ordinary life that Margaret Thatcher had known and that it would never have occurred to her to hold in contempt.

The Original Affluent Society. By Marshall Sahlins.

The Original Affluent Society. By Marshall Sahlins. Originally published in 1974. Reprinted in Marshall Sahlins, Culture in Practice: Selected Essays. New York: Zone Books, 2000. Also find it here and here.

The Human Motivational Complex: Evolutionary Theory and the Causes of Hunter-Gatherer Fighting. Part I. Part II. By Azar Gat. Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 73, Nos. 1 and 2 (January, April 2000).