On the essays shelf:
My grandmother had a big illustrated copy of Poor Richard’s Almanac, which I had practically memorized by the time I was 6 years old. The illustrations were goofy and elaborate, and I somehow “got the joke” that so
much of it was a joke, a satire on the do-good-ish bromides of self-serious Puritans who worry about their neighbor’s morality. Obviously I wouldn’t have put it that way at age 6, but I understood that the book in my hands, the huge book, was not serious at all.
Clearly, many others did not get the joke. Benjamin Franklin, throughout his life, was a master at parody and satire, as well as such a master that he is still fooling people! He was his very own The Onion! He presented ridiculous arguments and opinions in a way where people nodded their heads in agreement, and then afterwards wondered uneasily if they were being made fun of. Their uneasiness was warranted. Yes, Benjamin Franklin was making fun of them.
Franklin played such a huge role not only in creating bonding-mechanisms between the colonies – with newspapers, his printing service, the Almanac – but in science and community service (he started the first fire-brigade in Philadelphia on the British model. He opened the first public lending library in the colonies), as well as his writing. He was an Elder Statesman of the relatively young men who made up the Revolution. There were so many of “those guys” who played a hand in the Revolution, but perhaps Benjamin Franklin played the most crucial role in his time as a diplomatic presence in France, where he became so beloved a figure that the French fell in love with him, commemorated him in songs and portraits, putting his mug on plates and cups and platters and buttons – so that in a time when nobody knew really what anybody looked like, Benjamin Franklin was instantly recognizable the world over. Read the rest of this entry »
The philosopher talks to Mick Hume about politics, marriage and Islam.
Mick Hume writes: Ours is an age of intellectual conformism, in which expressing offensive opinions often seems to be deemed the worst offence of all; academia is decreed a ‘safe space’ where ‘uncomfortable’ ideas are banished, and using the wrong word can see you accused of committing a ‘microaggression’. And you are supposed to apologise at the first sign of a wagging finger.
“When I was in Paris in ’68 I became indignant at the total ignorance of the people who tried to tell me that this revolution was something important. I couldn’t argue with them about the thing that really mattered to me, culture. To them that was just ‘bourgeois’. This word bourgeois really got up my nose.”
Roger Scruton apparently didn’t get the memo. During our conversation, the conservative philosopher gently but unapologetically delivered blunt and cutting opinions on subjects ranging from Slavoj Zizek to Jeremy Corbyn, from banning the veil to Islamist terrorism, from homosexuality to fox hunting. Whatever anybody thinks of his views, they should surely endorse his aversion to the ‘radical censorship of anything that disturbs people’ and his insistence that the controversial ‘needs to be discussed’ rather than continually ‘pushed under the carpet’.
“I decided, yes, of course there is such a thing as the bourgeoisie and you are it, these well-fed, pampered middle-class students whose one concern was to throw stones at working-class people who happened to be in a policeman’s uniform.’”
Now 71, Scruton has been the bête noire of British left intellectuals for more than 30 years, and gives them another beastly mauling in his new book Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. It is a tour de force that, the introduction concedes, is ‘not a word-mincing book’, but rather ‘a provocation’. In just under 300 pages he Scruton-izes a collection of stars, past and present, of the radical Western intelligentsia – the likes of Eric Hobsbawm and EP Thompson in Britain, JK Galbraith and Ronald Dworkin in the US, Jurgen Habermas, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze in Europe. An expanded and updated version of his controversial Thinkers of the New Left(1985), the book ends with a new chapter entitled ‘The kraken wakes’ dealing with the ‘mad incantations’ of Alan Badiou and the left’s marginally newer academic celebrity, the Slovenian Zizek.
The slightly pained look on his face suggests that I am not the first to ask Scruton why he has devoted a book to taking on a collection of largely declining or deceased intellectuals and a culture that he concedes ‘now survives largely in its academic redoubts’. ‘They may seem like obscure intellectuals to the man in the street but actually they are still dominant on the humanities curriculum’, he explains. ‘If you study English or French, even musicology or whatever, you have to swallow a whole load of Lacan and Deleuze. Take Deleuze’s book, A Thousand Plateaus – the English translation has only been out a few years, but it’s already gone through 11 printings. A huge, totally unreadable tome by somebody who can’t write French.’
“Defending academic freedom against the forces of conformity matters to Scruton because ‘My life began, insofar as it had a beginning, in the university. That’s where I grew up, and I love my subject, philosophy, love the whole idea of the academic and scholarly life, that one has a place apart where people are pursuing the truth and communicating that to people who are eager to learn it.”
‘Yet this is core curriculum throughout the humanities in American and English universities. Why? The one sole reason is it’s on the left. There is nothing that anybody can translate into lucid prose, but for that very reason, it seems like a suit of armour around the age-old prejudices against power and authority, the old unshaped and unshapeable agenda.’
“‘And this thing has completely destroyed the intellectual life.’ He considers these leftists prime culprits in what might be called the closing of the university mind, though ‘whether they caused the closing of the mind or are the effect of it is another matter’.”
Defending academic freedom against the forces of conformity matters to Scruton because ‘My life began, insofar as it had a beginning, in the university. That’s where I grew up, and I love my subject, philosophy, love the whole idea of the academic and scholarly life, that one has a place apart where people are pursuing the truth and communicating that to people who are eager to learn it.
And this thing has completely destroyed the intellectual life.’ He considers these leftists prime culprits in what might be called the closing of the university mind, though ‘whether they caused the closing of the mind or are the effect of it is another matter’.
“Scruton’s powerful aversion to ‘the French gurus of ’68 and their jargon-ridden prose’ dates from that student revolt in Paris in 1968. It gave birth to a generation of radical thinkers, and, in the process, helped turn at least one young Englishman into a conservative.”
Scruton’s powerful aversion to ‘the French gurus of ’68 and their jargon-ridden prose’ dates from that student revolt in Paris in 1968. It gave birth to a generation of radical thinkers, and, in the process, helped turn at least one young Englishman into a conservative. ‘I was there in Paris and I was indignant at the stupidity of what I observed. I was a normal young person in England, I was brought up in a Labour Party family and as far as I had any views they’d be vaguely on the left.’ His father was a working-class lad from Manchester who became a schoolteacher and moved his family south, where Scruton attended High Wycombe Royal Grammar School, played bass guitar and listened to The Beatles before being expelled shortly after winning a scholarship to Cambridge University. Read the rest of this entry »
Mark Judge writes: Ernest Hemingway. Ernie Pyle. Jack London. Christopher Hitchens.
Whatever happened to journalism as a manly profession?
While newspapers and magazines have always attracted many types of writers, the most notable journalists often gained fame and recognition through their bravery in the face of extreme conditions. Hemingway and Pyle were war veterans. Hunter Thompson took on the Hell’s Angels and paid for it with a severe beating. Christopher Hitchens earned his scars through decades of dangerous stories and by challenging the orthodoxies of the culture.
Somehow names like Dana Milbank, Christopher Hayes, and Don Lemon don’t equally inspire.
My father was a writer and editor for National Geographic for thirty years, from roughly 1960 to 1990. From him I got my earliest impression of what a journalist did. A journalist—like a good male novelist—was a man who would go away for several months on a story assignment, usually to exotic-sounding places: Borneo, Australia, Thailand, the North Pole. He would have adventures and, if he was single, might even experience a James Bond-like liaison with a lady or two. Dad would return home tanned, sweaty, sometimes sick and disheveled. And the stories! Almost capsizing in the Caribbean while searching for the spot where Columbus landed in the New World; being chased by government censors for taking pictures in the old Soviet Union; contracting a life-threatening fever in Africa after being warned by a medicine man to not take anything out of the country.
There was an intense physicality to my father’s job; journalism was a job of grit and hard effort, like boxing. There was also a correlation between the roughness of the reporter’s life and the quality of his work. Being in danger, or even knowing that someone you wrote about might want to confront you physically, made you care about honor and accuracy. Jack London, author of Call of the Wild, was a hard-drinking oyster pirate and world traveler who risked his life reporting on the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Russell Baker knew the dirty Depression-era streets of New York.
Eric Sevareid of CBS got his start reporting World War II from Europe, but that was only the beginning of his career of derring-do. As the New York Times obituary of Sevareid noted in 1992, “His was an adventurous life, which included a harrowing month among headhunters in the Burmese jungles. That was in 1943, after the plane in which he was riding developed engine trouble as it was flying over the Himalayas from India to China. Mr. Sevareid and 19 others had to bail out on the India-Burma border but made it out of the jungle on foot.”
Ernest Hemingway began as a journalist, and his experience in the First World War gave his work an introspective and poetic quality, as well as a hunger for pursuing the truth. There were no Twitter wars, with their childish resentment and petty back and forth of gotchas and ad hominem attacks. If two journalists had a beef with each other they dealt with it mano a mano.
My father died in 1996. One year earlier Bill Gates wrote a memo outlining “The Coming Internet Tidal Wave.” Increasingly journalism didn’t require street smarts or derring-do; it often didn’t require journalists to leave their desks at all. Read the rest of this entry »
[VIDEO] REWIND: ”Is England Still Influencing America?’ Christopher HItchens on Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr., 1990Posted: December 4, 2014
Subject: ‘Is England Still Influencing America’
Firing Line 1990
Conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza said that after the success of 2016 Obama’s America, he didn’t want to just make a sequel, another film about politics, or another biography, he wanted a “bigger idea”. If you’ve seen the trailer America, it’s nothing if not ambitious. Watching his appearance on The Kelly File last night, I was struck by his artful command of the medium, using his time well to convey his message and promote the film. (though producer Gerald Molen didn’t get much air time) Dinesh D’Souza immigrated to the U.S. in 1978. He says,
“…[I] chose America because it’s a place where I can be the architect of my own life.”
“Today we have kids who can’t find America on a map,” Molen said. “We have kids who probably can’t even spell America, and I think that we have, you know, left them out, we have done them a great disservice by not [… ] showing our patriotism a little more.”
D’Souza is natural successor to controversial media wizards like Andrew Breitbart, but with academic flair and debate skills reminiscent of the late Christopher Hitchens. As an ascending public intellectual, he’s a man to watch.
Here’s the introduction text from Fox News Insider:
D’Souza, who immigrated to the United States, says he “chose America because it’s a place where I can be the architect of my own life.” He said the film is about what makes America lovely.
Charles Cooke on Piers Morgan: “…reflexive disdain for his audience that he never quite managed to overcome…”Posted: February 25, 2014
“Attempting to overcomplicate the decision, the New York Times’ David Carr submitted that there are fatal “tells in [Morgan’s] speech . . . that suggest that he is not from around here.” Suffice it to say that if Morgan takes any succor at all from this peculiar misreading of his fortunes, he will have rather spectacularly missed the mark. What distinguished him from successful and beloved British imports such as Alistair Cooke, Christopher Hitchens, and Craig Ferguson was not the voice but the attitude. Most Brits move to America because they adore the place — becoming “American on purpose,” as Ferguson gracefully puts it. Morgan, conversely, came for work and work alone — believing, as Simon Cowell told him, that his fortune lay in America — and he demonstrated a reflexive disdain for his audience that he never quite managed to overcome…”
Not since Christopher Hitchens was alive, engaging intellectual opponents in debates, on stage, anywhere, at the drop of a hat, or when Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy did speaking engagements as a duet, on tour, do we have an unlikely pair like Ayers and D’Souza sharing a stage…
Roger Simon has some good analysis–including a candid comment about a genuine nightmare he experienced after seeing Ayers speak at length for the first time, and the dizzy depression that followed– jump over to his site to read the whole thing. Here’s a money quote:
“Bill Ayers is Saul Alinsky on steroids”
Roger L. Simon writes:
It’s a testament to Dinesh D’Souza’s mettle that he even showed up for his scheduled debate at Dartmouth (his alma mater and mine) with Bill Ayers last Thursday. D’Souza is only recently under what is apparently selective prosecution by the federal government for campaign law violations (see “Amnesty, but Not for D’Souza” by Andy McCarthy) and that was probably some of the reason the pundit/filmmaker seemed off his game.
He fared much better debating the existence of God with the late Christopher Hitchens. But that was in part because Hitchens played fair, enjoying the intellectual jousting and search for truth between two exceptionally bright people. D’Souza’s Thursday adversary, Mr. Ayers — former Weatherman revolutionary and retired professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he held the titles of Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar — did everything but.
Nick Gillespie writes: Christopher Hitchens died on this date two years ago. Hitchens was the model of a public intellectual. He was certainly public in his positions and arguments, which allows for anyone interested to assess a person’s arguments. And he was intellectually honest in a way that is uncommon, with many (most?) thinkers curtailing their views if they threaten a broader ideological identity. Though definitely a man of the left, Hitchens was never orthodox and ran into trouble given his positions on issues such as abortion (he was against it), foreign interventionism (he was for it), free speech deemed offensive to certain groups (he was for it), and more. While he rarely missed opportunities to offend right-wing sensibilities (he once joked about Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s clearly having started with the president was still in office), he didn’t hold back against the left, either. He had few kind words about Martin Luther King, Jr. and he dismissed Gandhi as a “poverty pimp.”
He admitted to Reason in a wide-ranging 2001 Reason interview conducted a few months before the 9/11 attacks that his connection to the left was fraying (he would break definitively with The Nation magazine shortly after the attacks). Part of the reason stemmed from his realization that the forces of creative destruction unleashed by capitalism were remaking the world in a way that he – along with Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto – could appreciate:
The thing I’ve often tried to point out to people from the early days of the Thatcher revolution in Britain was that the political consensus had been broken, and from the right. The revolutionary, radical forces in British life were being led by the conservatives. That was something that almost nobody, with the very slight exception of myself, had foreseen.
When looking back on the life of the late Christopher Hitchens, one sees that his persona is oddly like that of Oscar Wilde’s character Lord Henry Wotton from The Picture of Dorian Gray: loved by an assortment of people for assorted reasons, often when they cannot square with him on something else. Like Wotton, Hitchens was popular with individuals, not because they agreed with him, but because they disagreed with him. When faced with the cultivated erudition, wit, conviction, and eloquence such that “Hitch” displayed, peacocking before a podium or a writer’s desk, one couldn’t help but fall like those in Dorian Gray who despised the hedonist Wotton, and yet couldn’t stay away from his conversation.
It’s hard to say where Hitchens’ greatest popularity lies, but much Hitch-love comes from his status as the successor to George Orwell. Orwell’s manner, if anything, was the opposite of Hitchens’ strut. But the two are compared because they both criticized the Left from within on matters of international policy, albeit in independent ways. Hitchens broke from the Left over the so-called war on terror, quitting his literary homestead, The Nation, and making particularly derisive comments about his comrades. These actions were viewed as the strongest individual leftist dissent by a writer since Orwell’s infamous break over the Spanish Communists and the Soviet Union. To boot, Hitchens offered strong, vocal admiration for the elder English author and polemicist, and invoked Orwell on matters of principle and ethics regarding his own conservative turn. Indeed, the two are similarly noteworthy for their incorporation of morals into their politics.
Nevertheless, does all or any of this suffice to anoint Hitchens the inheritor, not of Orwell’s work, but of Orwell’s pen? The idea certainly has its critics. In his obituary on Hitchens, the New Statesman’s editor Jason Cowley argued that many of the comparisons made between the two are false. And although it’s popular to identify Hitchens with Orwell, the only serious, fleshed-out argument for exactly how the younger furthered the elder’s work that I’ve seen is from the Orwell scholar John Rodden, whose excellent essay on the topic appeared in The Kenyon Review in 2004. Rodden considers the idea thoroughly and concludes that there was “an intellectual passing of the torch between the two men,” and that Hitchens viewed his break with the Left as what Orwell would have done, although Rodden writes that the comparisons were too simplistic and he had reservations about such phrasings of inheritance.
However, the connection is a very useful way, if not the best way, to understand Hitchens’ importance—one that hasn’t been properly discerned. Because Hitch didn’t just follow Orwell in similarities over leftish dissent. What he did was to further Orwellian work on the totalitarian, namely by showing the importance of overcoming tyrannies held over the individual through a lack of robust criticism. This, along with his exceptional personality, is why Hitchens will be remembered and studied, because it takes the idea of the totalitarian to the next level, treating the concept as more sublime than is often believed. “The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy,” Hitchens said in his final interview…