Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sounds familiar?

As luck would have it, I heard of a philosophical gentleman today whose views piqued my interest. I want to know about this worthy thinker, said I to myself, for truth be told I had it in mind to compose a short blog post on the fellow.
I used a search engine called Google to look for his writings. For reasons I shall not tire the reader with now, Wikipedia is often the first page that admirable search engine offers, but it was not of much help, apart from telling me that the man was Dutch, and was born in Amsterdam.
Now, if the reader is scientifically minded, he (or indeed she, but I cannot imagine these political discussions would interest any ladies) might care to indulge me in a little experiment. If you would be so good, would you click on the Google link above? Thank you so much.
This is what I had.
Hit #1 Cornelius de Pauw - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Hit #2 Cornelius de Pauw: Information From
No, don't go: this is the good one.
Hit #3 anti-American: Definition and Much More From
Hey! That looks interesting!

Anti-American sentiment in Europe originates with the discovery of America, the study of the Native Americans, and the examination of its flora, fauna, and climate. The first anti-American theory, the "degeneracy thesis," portrayed America as a regressive and culturally bankrupt continent. The theory that the humidity and other atmospheric conditions in America physically and morally weakened both men and animals was commonly argued in Europe and debated by early American thinkers Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. In 1768 Cornelius de Pauw, court philosopher to Frederick II of Prussia and chief proponent of this thesis, described America as "degenerate or monstrous" colonies and claimed that "the weakest European could crush them with ease." The theory was extended to argue that the natural environment of the United States would prevent it from ever producing true culture. Paraphrasing Pauw, the French Encyclopedist Abbé Raynal wrote, "America has not yet produced a good poet, an able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science." (So virulent was Raynal's antipathy that his book was suppressed by the French monarchy.)

Edited slightly to remove links to footnotes. This blog's sub-title is incorporating Nick Cohen Watch, so I won't keep you any longer.

In 1770, a French naturalist called Cornelius de Pauw looked at the new experiments with democracy in the American colonies and was repelled. You could tell the land was cursed by its animals, said the Richard Dawkins of his day, which were for the most part inelegantly shaped and badly deformed. America was inundated by lizards, snakes and by reptiles and insects monstrous in their size and in the strength of their poison. Their sickness was contagious. When well-bred European animals crossed the Atlantic, their size diminished and they lost a part of their instinct and capacity. Dogs stopped barking and women became infertile. In all of America, from Cape Horn to the Hudson Bay, there has never appeared a philosopher, a scholar, an artist or a thinker whose name merits being included in the history of science. (This in 1770, when Paine, Franklin, Jefferson and Hamilton were alive and getting ready to kick.)

When I read that entry I had the funniest feeling of having been here before (for I read the Cohen piece first, and it was through him I learned of Cornelius de Pauw). The Dutch may have a word for it.
UPDATE: The date and time on this post will make it appear as it is out of sequence. I wrote it on Thursday, and then sort of changed my mind. The article above is essentially a copy of the Wikipedia entry on anti-Americanism, which is the first result on Google for the term. This is merely an observation. Your deductions are your own.
Now I'm not going to tell Nick how to write book reviews (except, well, yes I am). The Telegraph review of Why God Won't Save America ended very significantly.

There is also a curious lacuna in the mini-biography of Walden himself, which glides straight from his years as a civil servant in the Foreign Office to his fellowship at Harvard, chairmanship of the Man Booker Prize and career as a "cultural commentator". Has the copy-editor inadvertently deleted a sentence? Or has somebody decided that anti-American slacker dudes are unlikely to fork out £16.99 for a book by a minister in Margaret Thatcher's government?

Is the author that George Walden? It strikes me as significant, because when I used to read the Staggers, it was earnestly anti-Thatcherite. So positive review of a book by a former Thatcherite Minister in the Statesman comes as a surprise. If the book contains an attack on Chris Patten (and this isn't Nick ad libbing in his review), some declaration that Patten and Walden used to share a boss seems in order. Walden's publishers Gibson Square's site is no help. (I've tried writing to them, there's a first for me on this blog. Research! I'll update if I hear anything.)
Iain Dale is pleasingly caustic about the former MP: George Walden is a Pub Bore.

Former Tory MP George Walden was one of Britain's worst ever High Education Ministers. Since leaving Parliament he has earned a living writing pseudo-intellectual drivel about politics and culture. It's usually unreadable. I attended a discussion evening with him and his wife a couple of years ago, organised by Living Marxism. He was insufferable and spent the whole evening putting down his wife.

UPDATE 2 Monday 2 October 8:23 PM. Gibson Square got back to me. "Dear Sir, yes one and the same. Regards ..." Good for them.


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