Friday, June 11, 2010

Pejorists and Pejoratives

Post on The world won’t stop to let Britain get off will be along in a bit. Talk amongst yourselves. If anyone's read 'Ill Fares the Land' by Tony Judt, please fill me in, because I haven't. (Look, I liked the title, and I didn't want to forget it.)

Update Fri 19:30 (ish, it'll be later by the time I finish) Thanks to everyone who commented so far. I decided to write a post (or, going by the above, not write) on this, when I often leave Aaro to D2, because I saw Sarah Ditum and David Aaronovitch exchanging pleasantries on Twitter while slagging off Blond. That's interesting, I thought, well, Aaro isn't afraid of pissing off his readers, and neither am I. Blond has been gone over, from the left, by Jonathan Raban, and the right, especially at the Torygraph has something of a feud with him: see James Delingpole and I can't find a link to Simon Heffer, but Madeleine Bunting sums his position up.

It was his [Blond's] ideas which peppered Cameron's speech at Davos; Simon Heffer was apoplectic with fury last week as he lambasted it as terrifying, meaningless, obtuse and infantile. Yes, all four adjectives were necessary.

(Link mine.) I suspect that Simon Heffer has been advised by a (presumably BUPA) doctor not to type the name 'Phillip Blond' if he wants to celebrate another Christmas. The mere mention of the oxymoronic 'red toryism' turns the fury up to 11. Naming the Blond Beast may result in apoplexy. With so many enemies, I'm tempted to like Phillip Blond, but what I've read is typical think tank bullshit. To call it hand-waving is to offend semaphorers. So, no love for Blond from me. (See also Sarah Ditum on Blond.) I can't believe that Cameron takes him seriously, but Cameron takes George Osbourne seriously, so who knows? On the other hand, what I've read of Tony Judt, I like, and though he's an ill man and close to death, I still can't picture him standing athwart history, yelling Stop.

His [David Cameron's] speech, taken in full, suggested that the economic crisis represented an opportunity to change away from a bad BWOL, with the idea of what the better BWOL might consist of left to be inferred entirely from his negatives.

This is, of course, what I both like and dislike about our Dave. It's percipient and as the silly cliche has it, double-edged - because "what the better [society] might consist of [is] inferred entirely from ... negatives" also applies to most political programmes. At least, I've always understood the Labour Party project to be working toward the removal of inequality, after which various positive benefits would follow; the same goes for my interpretation of feminism, and so on. Not being a serious journalist or think tanker, I suppose my idea of the good society is something like this one, but with fewer bad things.

Of course, and I suppose I do have to say this, like Dave, I don't have any time for the "Britain is broken" thing. Apart from the fact that most people I know are actually quite happy, the only attraction of the metaphor is its alliteration. I don't believe that Britain (or society) is a machine, so the 'broken' concept simply doesn't work. Yes, there are things I would change, and society could be better - more free, more equal - IMO. So full agreement with Dave from me there. (As Sarah Ditum said somewhere, can't think where, at the moment, she'd like DA "more in opposition". Well, that goes for me too.)

Ah, but Judt. I like John Mearsheimer:

Righteous Jews have a powerful attachment to core liberal values. They believe that individual rights matter greatly and that they are universal, which means they apply equally to Jews and Palestinians. They could never support an apartheid Israel. ...
To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few.

Which reads like a Harry's Place hit list. However, I've found the introduction (?) to Judt's Ill Fares the Land online, and I'm not that impressed.

Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose.

I think hardened readers will guess what's coming. Thirty years?

That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

My emphasis. George Mason. OTOH, Judt continues (with my approval):

The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears “natural” today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric that accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.

This is both a straightforward attack on Thatcherism/Reaganomics and yet somehow wrong. Cults are, by definition, restricted to minorities, are they not? And there is always rhetoric - the rhetoric he's talking about has been around for a lot longer, see Hayek, Rand, etc. At the moment, I'm on the fence regarding Judt. I think the conflation with Blond is unfair; one of the "Judty Blonds" is smart. I agree with Judt's principles and worldview; I just don't buy the tabescence thing. I meant, when I came up with the title, to work in Nick Cohen:

Mike Godwin held in 1990 that the longer a discussion continues on the web the greater the likelihood that some fool invoking the Nazis would reduce it to absurdity. Today, reduction to Zionism has replaced reductio ad Hitlerum.

For NC, pejorism is a given. Recently, things were OK at least; now they're worse, pretty bad, in fact, and heading toward disaster. Like Blond, Nick sees happy highways shining plain.

Aaro is pro-immigration which is a huge plus for me. But his anti-Judt bias (and his failing to acknowledge judt's really horrible personal circumstances - and I do realise that doing so may seem patronising), makes this a score draw.


Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

even from the Guardian extract I read, it's pretty clear that aaro is massively misrepresenting Judt's thesis.

I want to read Judt's book but it's about 100 pages long and costs about £17.

Mind you my book is 200 pages and costs 60...

6/11/2010 07:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Never mind the Guardian, it's a massive misrepresentation of Aaro's own quotes from Judt. He's really quite irksome sometimes.

6/11/2010 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger Sarah Ditum said...

I liked it. Mostly because it gave Phillip Blond a kicking (see Twitter) - although at a guess I'd say the anti-Blond stuff seems to seep unhelpfully into what he has to say about Judt. Still, I think I'm going to be much more pro-Aaro now he's in opposition.

6/11/2010 08:30:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Yeah, am happy with the Blond-bashing, but lumping Judt in with him is deeply unfair, I think. he article itself isn't online any more but excerpts are:

A social democratic vision of the good society entails from the outset a greater role for the state and the public sector. The welfare state is as popular as ever with its beneficiaries: nowhere in Europe is there a constituency for abolishing public health services, ending free or subsidised education or reducing public provision of transport and other essential services. We have long practised something resembling social democracy, but we have forgotten how to preach it.

not quite sure what Aaro has against that...

Aha - you can read more here:

I find Aaro especially hard to take seriously when he criticises Judt for deciding to take a job in America.

6/11/2010 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger angrysoba said...

Now, am I being unfair in saying Aaronovitch's argument is "Two authors think there is something wrong with Britain but because they have wildly divergent opinions about what that is they must both be wrong."?

6/11/2010 10:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Angrysoba: that was my impression of what Aaro was trying to say. My impression was that he was also saying that both are backward-looking and nostalgic for some golden age and wanted the world to stop so Britain could get off. In both cases this is misinterpretation: Judt and Blond look back to places where they think Britain has taken the wrong turning. They disagree, of course, about where that was and what could be done (or could have been done).


6/11/2010 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

What does Aaro have against post offices? Yet he again he bemoans the fact that people want to keep them open. Will he not rest until everyone outside a large town has to travel at least 50 miles to renew their car tax or post a parcel.

6/11/2010 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Biz said...

Ill Fares the Land is an excellent read - very much pitched at the generation after Aaro's. It is an 'idealistic' book and quite refreshing at that - it challenges us to think that we shouldn't simply strive for small technocratic reform and reminds us that previous generations of politicians used to deliver their visions of positive societal development, not simply talk about them... Don't know why Aaro implies that Judt singles out the British Way of Life - he emphatically doesn't.

6/11/2010 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

This was pretty boilerplate Lexusandolivetreeworldisflat shite wasn't it?

6/11/2010 04:20:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Yes, he weighs in there for Phillippe "Kilometres de Vol" Legrain in big size. I think what happened is that Aaro found Legrain to be in favour of immigration, and assumed that the rest of his slightly batty neoliberal bill of goods could be taken on unchecked.

6/11/2010 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I'm almost* fond of Blond - he provided my blog with its greatest hit.

*Logically equivalent to 'not'.

6/11/2010 08:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jacqueline Rose does a sterling hosannah for Righteous Jews on:

(and its dedicated to Judt).

Blondism seems to be revamped Catholic Distributism, which goes back to the Chesterbelloc. I know working class Scousers brought up in it in the fifties. For all I know there are still adherents.


6/12/2010 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/13/2010 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Sorry Ben, we don't do personal comments. Issues. Politics. That's us. Abuse is Harry's Place.

6/13/2010 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Well, that reminds of a Python sketch.

6/13/2010 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

"Cults are, by definition, restricted to minorities, are they not?"

1. I think that's true if we're talking about "cult" in the "cult tv" sense. I don't think that's necessarily true if we're talking about cults in the religious sense.

2. But if it is true, so what? Was Thatcherism really a "majority"? Under FPTP, a majority never voted for the Conservatives for instance.

6/13/2010 06:13:00 PM  
Anonymous magistra said...

I think you're bring rather unfair on Judt. The introductory bit of his book you link to seems to have a bit of rhetorical throat-clearing before he gets down to specific discussions about increased social inequality. As far as I know, there's good empirical evidence for that. He doesn't (at least in that section) say much about other social problems. In contrast, Blond can't apparently see any bit of modern life he likes.

6/13/2010 08:52:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

A choice comment from HP today.

This seems like the right thread to ask a question I’ve been meaning to ask HPers for a long time: is there a political home for you/us?....There should be a movement that included Michael Gove, Alan Milburn, David Aaronovitch and Daniel Finkelstein. Could it be built around the Euston Manifesto? Has it been and I missed it?

And I don't mean to mock - the commenter actually grasps what many of the others there don't about where the "decents" really stand politically (although I don't think Aaro would approve).

6/15/2010 04:22:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

And there is always rhetoric - the rhetoric he's talking about has been around for a lot longer, see Hayek, Rand, etc.

Yes but the point that Judt was making- and he is quite correct- is that free market ideas and free market values didn't enter into the popular imagination in a really big way until the 1980s. A tiny proportion of the population -probably far less than 5%- knows anything about Hayek or Rand but most who were adults in the 1980s will have heard of phrases like 'share owning democracy' or the 'right to buy' your council house. They will remember the 'Ted Sid' camapign for British Gas provided by the PR companies who mushroomed under the Tories. The Conservative Party was very sucessful in selling a particular way of looking at the economy and society to key segments of the population. Labour never really had any kind of counter narrative on the ecomony and this was a crucial factor in its defeats in '87 and '92.

6/15/2010 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Magistra, Bubby - I probably was unfair on Judt. I'll give the book a go if it falls into my hands, via a library of something. I'm not sure I agree with all Bubby's point(s), but some of my doubts come down to fairly pointless wrangling over definitions of 'rhetoric'.

Alex, all definitions of 'cult' I'm familiar with seem to imply 'minority'. But you may be right.

6/15/2010 06:19:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

If any libraries are able to buy books in the near future it'll be a bloody miracle.

6/16/2010 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/16/2010 09:50:00 AM  
Anonymous John Meredith said...

You are not really endorsing the idea that Jews can be divided into 'righteous [good] Jews' and others, are you? I mean, you do know the provenance of that sort of thinking?

6/17/2010 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Coventrian said...

Yes, from

Righteous among the Nations (Hebrew: חסידי אומות העולם‎, Chassidey Umot HaOlam, more literally: righteous men of the world's nations, also translated as "Righteous Gentiles") is used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

The term originates with the concept of righteous gentiles, a term used in Judaism to refer to non-Jews who abide by the Seven Laws of Noah.


The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners

Next question

6/17/2010 04:14:00 PM  
Anonymous John Meredith said...

So, 'righteous Jews' are those who hold certain, critical views on Israel? Other Jews are, what, non-righteous? Bad Jews? You are really OK with the idea that the world's Jews should be divided into two categories, good and bad, depending on the acceptability of their opinions about Israel? Ouch.

6/17/2010 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger Coventrian said...

I'd say there would be good, bad and everything inbetween - just like all people.

You, I'd put into the category of 'self-righteous@.

6/17/2010 05:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

So, 'righteous Jews' are those who hold certain, critical views on Israel?

It's not that difficult an analogy. Mearsheimer is suggesting that there is a consensus among Jews (regarding Israel) which it's difficult & sometimes hazardous for individuals to oppose, and that a sizeable number of Jews nevertheless do oppose it on what they see as higher ethical grounds. The consensus, the difficulty of opposing the consensus & the claim of ethical grounds for opposition are all that's needed to make the analogy work.

6/17/2010 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Isn't there some story about how Thatcher once got quite angry and banged a Hayek book down on the table during some meeting?

6/18/2010 01:30:00 AM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

Yes - she's supposed to have banged a copy of The Constitution of Liberty on a table some time, and said, "This is what we believe!", c. 1975 or so. I wonder whether the story is true?

Well, actually I don't care whether the story is true, but I do wonder whether she'd ever read that book. If memory serves, John Campbell's biography suggests that she was an enthusiastic early reader of The Road to Serfdom, and that it played quite a role in shaping her political approach as she began to make her way in post-war Conservative politics.

But if you look at her public references to Hayek over the course of her career, they are pretty superficial, and don't suggest that she ever really kept up with his output -- and by the time Constitution of Liberty appeared, she was in parliament, and had other demands on her time.

6/18/2010 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Cian said...

Justin: well books are currently going the way of films/TV/music. So I suppose if libraries disappear, there's always rampant piracy.

6/18/2010 04:17:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

"You are not really endorsing the idea that Jews can be divided into 'righteous [good] Jews' and others, are you? I mean, you do know the provenance of that sort of thinking?"
How do you feel about the idea that the world can be divided into righteous and non-righteous gentiles, as promoted by the Israeli government? And what precisely is "the provenance of that sort of thinking"? It's not as if Hitler or classical anti-Semites in general believed that there was any good kind of Jew.

6/20/2010 08:56:00 AM  

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