George Walford: Ideology in the Reviews (58)

Authoritarian religion and the state appeared together as paired expressions of domination, and the novelty of the original Christian movement was soon brought into line. In Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire, Professor Averil Cameron suggests that the Christians in the Roman Empire took care that both what they said and their way of saying it should be familiar and welcome to their hearers; in praising either Moses or Constantine the Great they used the ancient conventions of panegyric. Reviewing the book, Henry Chadwick adds that the ancient Preface to the Eucharist uses not only the panegyric style but the actual formula. (TLS 21 Aug)

Claims made on behalf of liberalism reached their high point in Fukuyama’s thesis that general establishment of liberal, democratic capitalism would mark the end of history. Alan Ryan, reviewing Ken Jowitt’s New World Disorder, the Leninist Extinction (U of California Press) reports it as agreeing, at least to the extent of holding that liberal democratic capitalism has no moral or technical competitors. Adding that it hasn’t had any since the battle of Jena in 1806 (which may have looked like the end of history to Hegel), Jowitt yet recognises that this superiority does not guarantee it an absence of enemies or even eventual victory. Large numbers continue to value the family above the individual, romanticism above materialism, heroic aspiration above calculating self-interest, and traditionalism above the rational impersonalism of liberal, democratic capitalism. Or, in the terms used in s.i., he expects the ideology of Domination and Principle to survive the emergence into social practice of the ideology of Precision.

Reviewing two books by Perry Anderson, English Questions and A Zone of Enlightenment (Verso) John Gray advances, against their theme, the observation that the Enlightenment has not triumphed over its opposition. Religious and nationalist passions have returned ‘in all their pristine ferocity and immemorial vitality; and, far from being domesticated into a discreet privacy… have come to pervade the public realms of war, diplomacy and political discourse.’ Two hundred years and more after the Enlightenment enterprise won public recognition the historical realities diverge as much as ever from the expectations of progressive opinion.

For all its moral and technical superiority the Enlightenment falls far short of receiving universal support, and we have to expect this to continue, for high valuation of morality, technology and enlightenment comes as a feature of the ideology of precision. Principle / Domination prefers tradition, romanticism, heroism and other less rational qualities, while expediency also has its own values, and adherents of each of these ideologies outnumber the precisionists.

The theory that liberal democratic capitalism marks the end of history receives encouragement from the failure of attempts to establish a social system operating on any more advanced principles. British experience with nationalisation has discouraged the Labour Party from any attempt to return to it, while Marxism has not only failed to justify itself but failed in a way that calls its central conceptions in question. For Marx the industrial proletariat was to become the revolutionary class, but movements proclaiming allegiance to his theories have managed to gain power mainly in peasant countries. Reviewing a new edition of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, another of his Letters, and a book about him, Richard Bellamy remarks on the incongruity of this prominent Marxist theoretician’s having come from one of Europe’s least industrialized nations. Far from acting as herald of a revolution to overturn a developed capitalist state Gramsci was preoccupied with the need to build one. [1]

We can add that in this he was no exception. The Russian Bolsheviks, the Cuban and the Chinese revolutionaries, each produced their own version of Marxism, adapted for the construction of the social system which Marx intended his work to help overthrow. What Marxism has in fact done, wherever its supporters have won power, is to break peasant resistance to the introduction of advanced industry. To the extent that it succeeds – most notably, so far, in Russia – it deprives itself of a practical function and its supporters return to their original status of speculative intellectuals [1] TLS 14 Aug 92.

Reviewing a clutch of books on Native Americans (evidently getting born in the country no longer wins you this title; just how do you qualify?) Dell Hymes notes that before being driven west by the Europeans the Cherokees and Creeks had adopted many of their practices, including agriculture and slavery.

Tony Benn, formerly Sir Antony Wedgwood Benn, heir to a peerage, comes across as one of the more advanced and enthusiastic socialists in the Labour Party. In striving to practise his egalitarian principles he undertook a difficult but successful struggle to renounce his peerage and campaigned, again successfully, for a referendum on Europe rather than a politicians’ decision. The first of these initiatives led to the premiership of Sir Alec Douglas-Home and the resurrection of Mr. Quintin Hogg; the second cemented us into the Community apparently for ever and got the then Mr. Wilson out of the difficulties he was in at the time. Not one of these consequences was at all what Mr. Benn had intended.

Alan Watkins, reviewing Tony Benn; A Biography (MacMillan), comments that this often happens with the innovations introduced by reformers; they carry consequences different from those intended and often going directly against them. [2] Michel Brock, reviewing other political books, remarks that statesmen undertaking great reforms seldom see the full effects of their efforts, and this is well; otherwise hesitation would stultify political activity. [2] TLS 17 July 92; Ibid 24 July 92.

Alan Ryan, reviewing The End of Equality, by Mickey Kaus (Basic Books USA) points out that a hungry steelworker is likely to raise hell if he and his six-year-old daughter get equal portions at dinner, while his daughter will create if she and her friends at a party do not get equal portions. When a homeless man sleeps on the pavement outside a mansion the contrast grates. Would it improve things for the mansion’s owner also to become homeless? (NYRB 24 Sept.)

David Wasserstein reminds us that most Spaniards of the time rather favoured the Inquisition. Expressing their prejudices about religion and race, and their resentment of success achieved by converts to catholicism, it became for them part of the accustomed social landscape, familiar and reassuring. It was also ahead of its time in delivering the same treatment to women as to men. (Reviewing Spain and the Jews, edited by Elie Kedourie, Thames & Hudson. TLS 17 July 92)

Georges Labica, one of the French Communist Party’s dissidents, describes the wooden style used by that organisation: ‘a type of prefabricated speech, repetitive, closed, ending the debate from the start, providing others with a fully constituted truth, transmitted by a stereotyped vocabulary.’ (Quoted by Jack Hayward, reviewing Hazareesingh S. Intellectuals and the French Communist Party, Oxford. TLS 17 July 92)

Reviewing a batch of books on the Holocaust Istvan Deakin, who has specialised in study of these atrocities, knocks another nail into the coffin of the belief that ordinary people commit horrors only under compulsion from above. SS or Wehrmacht men who disliked the idea of machine-gunning unarmed civilians, or smashing the heads of infants, suffered no penalty worse than transfer to another unit. Some were sent home for being too soft. He knows of no single case, in all that has been written about the Holocaust, of a single German policeman or member of the SS having been severely reprimanded, imprisoned, or sent to the front – much less shot – for refusal to participate in mass murder. (New York Review 8 October)

Disraeli asked what the Conservatives intended to conserve, and the answer is evidently not ‘everything’; the Conservative Party has introduced many changes and is still doing so. Nevil Johnson, reviewing David Willetts’ Modern Conservatism, credits the party under Mrs.Thatcher with ‘an all-embracing programme of social change which is by now having a far-reaching impact on the structure, functions and extent of the whole public sector.’ The present series of conservative governments has passed a vast amount of legislation, much of it displaying an unprecedented passion for detailed prescription. Going on to list examples in government, the provision of public services, schools, universities, the NHS and the move towards Europe, he paraphrases Tocqueville to say that the past no longer casts its light on the future.

If we accept all this does it follow that, as Johnson suggests, ‘We have to take seriously the possibility that the Conservative party really has become the party of change’? Compared with the revolutionary upheaval sought by communism (not to mention anarchism) the changes effected by conservatism amount to hardly more than tinkering. But if we limit our attention, as Nevil Johnson does here, to changes achieved, then conservatism does indeed hold the foremost place. Since the eidostatic / eidodynamic distinction first appeared, the eidostatics, and particularly those known in Britain as conservatives, have exercised by far the greater power. They have provided the principles on which society for the most part operates, making the changes needed to maintain them in changing circumstances, and it is mainly they who have put into effect such eidodynamic proposals as have been accepted at all. The reason is simple: only they, by virtue of their numbers, have the power. (TLS 9 Oct)

Deprived of the flattering comparison with the socialist command economy the economic defects of capitalist democracy show up more clearly; we find ourselves driven back to defending it as the worst political arrangement except for all the alternatives. So Zygmunt Bauman, reviewing Democracy, a collective work edited by John Dunn (Oxford U.P.) and Democracy and Complexity, A Realist Approach, by Danilo Zolo (Polity).

In its beginnings democracy was about the difference between choosers and non-choosers. Widening political enfranchisement has brought majorities which preserve inequality, voting down disaffected minorities claiming a better economic deal. Kenneth Galbraith’s ‘contented majority’ seems justified. (TLS 9 Oct)

In its early days systematic ideology made the mistake of ascribing Fascism and Nazism to the primal ideology; they are better understood as expressions of Principle / Domination. Usually appearing in modern politics as conservatism (or what is known in Britain by that name), this ideology tends to take on the fascist or Nazi form when seriously threatened; this happened, for example, in Britain during the war, democratic rights and practices being largely suppressed ‘for the duration.’

Richard J.Evans, reviewing several books on German resistance to Hitler, reminds us that conservative elites were initially incorporated into the Nazi power structure. Their later disenchantment (leading to the Stauffenberg bomb plot of 1944) arose, firstly, from their getting squeezed out by more enthusiastic newcomers, and secondly from the prospect of military defeat. Committed resistance to Nazism came mainly from Social Democrats, Communists and others prepared to undertake civil disobedience. (TLS 25 Sept.)

Reviewing The Mind’s Sky; Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context, by Timothy Ferris (Bantam) Stephen R. L. Clark questions the wisdom of trying to attract the attention of any intelligences there may be on other worlds. Terrestrial history suggests that islanders far from the shipping lanes do best to keep quiet. (TLS 4 Sept)

from Ideological Commentary 58, November 1992.