Caldwell Redux: Another Look at The Age of Entitlement

 

caldwell

Christopher Caldwell

Christopher Caldwell

The Age of Entitlement:
America Since the Sixties

New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020

P. J. Collins

In January, when I first read and reviewed Christopher Caldwell’s The Age of Entitlement, I couldn’t help noticing that the book was being hit by a broadside smear-attack, impressive in its vitriol. Four days before the book’s publication (that is to say, January 17) the New York Times warned the reader that it was an “overwrought and strangely airless book”:

Perhaps the author should have come up for oxygen when he found himself suggesting that the Southern segregationists were right all along.

[The book’s argument] leads nowhere. It proffers no constructive alternative, no plausible policy or path. The author knows perfectly well that there will be no “repeal of the civil rights laws.” He foresees only endless, grinding, negative-sum cultural and political warfare between two intractably opposed “constitutions.” His vision is a dead end.

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal said it was “a book suffused with anger—at the system, at the movement of history.” But the most elaborate trashing came from the “conservative news site” Washington Examiner, in a review lip-smackingly entitled “Trumpism for Highbrows.” Here the reviewer, one Wesley Yang, effectively characterized Caldwell as an aggrieved white male in a MAGA hat, angry about the civil-rights revolution because people of other races and sex-permutations were now getting a slice of the pie. With this ad hominem attack, the reviewer simply dismissed evidence and argument as lacking any substance:

In the absence of any real evidence that the civil rights state has done grave material harm to white America, Caldwell settles into a long rant against political correctness… [He] fails to note that the overwhelming majorities of people of every ethnicity, including 3 out of 4 blacks, and upwards of 80% of Asians, Native Americans, and Hispanics, dislike political correctness.

As if that had anything to do with the price of eggs.

These reviews described a book so different from the one I read, I concluded they were parroting a list of talking points that the publishers had sent out pre-publication, in order to gin up controversy and buzz. I would assume that Simon & Schuster was afraid potential readers would pass by this new offering from the tweedy, self-effacing Caldwell, imagining the book to be erudite yet soporific, like the many opinion columns he has written over the years for the Financial Times, the New York Times, the NYPress, etc., etc. That is just an educated guess.

Anyway, the advance promotion did create a buzz, at least in the Twittersphere. Gloating over a bad review, the Russian-Jewish neocon Cathy Young gaily tweeted: “Somehow unsurprising that [Christopher Caldwell], whom I used to know ages ago, has gone hard right.” She hadn’t read the book, and neither had The New Republic‘s omnivorous hot-take artist Jeet Heer, who jumped in with: “He’s a really gifted writer, so this . . . . makes me sad.” Others bemoaned Caldwell’s intellectual decline since 1998, when he wrote about the directionlessness and moral vacuity of the Republican Party (“The Southern Captivity of the GOP“).

But then the sun came out, and we started to see reviews from ink-stained wretches out in the provinces and wire-services, people who actually read the damn thing, and found it to be insightful and cogent. (“The Age of Entitlement Is a Fascinating Read.”—Associated Press.)

The main difference between these favorable mainstream reviews and the early hit-jobs is that the early notices focused entirely upon such hot-button issues as civil rights, the legitimacy of the 14th Amendment, and the legal sanctity of gay marriage. But later reviewers (those who read the book, without a cheat-sheet) took The Age of Entitlement to be as much a popular social history as it is a political treatise, something along the lines of William Manchester’s The Glory and the Dream (subtitled A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972).

Caldwell’s book could be subtitled Angst and Pop Culture in America, 1963-2015. We briefly revisit: waterbeds; Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion and round bed; “sexist” commercials from Eastern Air Lines and “feminist” ones for Virginia Slims cigarettes; the brief rise of the CB radio fad in the 70s and the downfall of the IBM Selectric typewriter in the 80s; Gay Lib; Rush Limbaugh and the talk-radio cult; the Trayvon Martin affair; immigration and the demographic transformation of America; and what it means to be “red-pilled.” Financial matters figure greatly: the S&L and bank failures of the 80s and 90s; the student loan crisis (Caldwell blames Pell Grants); junk bonds; leveraged buyouts; global outsourcing; and the mortgage debacle that crescendoed into the 2008 Wall Street crash. But these too were pop-culture trends of a sort, enabled by deregulation and political opportunism.

The biggest fad of all, though, is the equality-and-diversity cult. This initially seeded itself with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since then it has gradually metastasized, sprouting bureaucracies, oversight agencies, and judicial diktats. The legal framework of this cult has come to form a kind of Deep State (a “Second Constitution” in Caldwell’s phrase), against whose authority all appeal is futile. But you cannot describe this monstrous apparatus without talking about those other artifacts of pop culture. They are mutually enabling. The Sexual Revolution led to Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges; not because it had to, but because it gradually changed popular opinion, meaning there was opportunity to litigate, particularly in an over-lawyered society where you can sue a ham sandwich for violating your civil rights.

Pace the New York Times review—”It proffers no constructive alternative, no plausible policy or path”—Caldwell’s book does indeed give a roadmap for those who want one. It’s not a silly how-to guide for activists (1. Write your Congressman; 2. Organize a Tupperware party), but rather a description of where we’ve been and what dangers we must avoid, going forward. 

The Age of Entitlement brings a clarity to the Right-nationalist schema that wasn’t there before. For decades we muddled on with an inchoate set of high-flown theories about race and ethnicity, and who has the best IQs and test scores and time-preference. And we kept losing, year after year, decade after decade. We didn’t understand what was happening. We just knew something didn’t feel right in our gut, and we were ashamed that we didn’t have an impressively abstruse explanation for it all. The magic of Donald Trump in 2015-2016—however much a disappointment he turned out to be—was that he crashed through all the fluff and abstraction and told our inarticulate instincts that some moral principles need no justification or apology: we need, and we deserve, to run our own country. And our nation must be populated by our own people; in its simplest formulation, we need a mostly white country.

Trump never said this, of course, and neither does Caldwell. But that’s where the bien-pensants seem to think they’re both headed. Hence the anger and alarm in those book reviews I describe up top.

The Age of Entitlement shows us that the political cant of race-grievance and perversion is only that, empty words, like the patter of the three-card-monte shark as he prepares to take your money. From now on, any jabber in praise of the civil-rights cult and its destructive offspring is going to be recognized as the sanctimonious humbug that it is. 

 *  *  *

One weakness in this book—more a feature than a bug, perhaps—is that it seems to dribble off inconclusively at the end, with the Donald Trump announcement for President in 2015. And here we are now in 2020. I suspect Caldwell was looking for a coda with the Trump Administration, and so he held up publication.

His last big book was Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, which came out in 2009, and which The Economist called “the best statement to date of the pessimist’s position on Islamic immigration in Europe.” That too lacked a coda, because the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan massacres in Paris wouldn’t happen till 2015, nor would the crest of the European “refugee crisis.” But sooner or later you have to make an end, and publish. When I ran into him in Washington DC at the November 2016 NPI Conference (aka Hailgate), Caldwell said he was writing an opinion piece for the New York Times‘s Week in Review section (which he did: “What the Alt-Right Really Means,” Dec. 2, 2016). But now I realize he must have been searching for a conclusion to The Age of Entitlement. He didn’t find one.

Something else that’s askew in the book is its treatment of the role of finance and capital markets in the promotion of civil-rights culture. He regards political faddery as the horse pulling the cart of capital. To my mind it’s quite the other way around. The civil-rights culture was enabled, and encouraged, by changes in financial markets that occurred in the 1960s-80s: a short-term, “high time-preference” mentality, with a willingness to take on massive debt and chase quarterly earnings rather than invest for the long run. With this corporate mindset, public relations become paramount. Boardrooms pander to trendy and “woke” opinion, worry about getting a bad press, and fear vexatious lawsuits about “discrimination.” There are good reasons why things like Affirmative Action were complacently accepted by the corporate suite in the 1980s and 90s, when they never would have been in the 1920s or even 1950s.

Similarly, progressivist public policy was not the prime mover behind the financial debacle of 2008. No, that had its roots in the deregulation that began during the Jimmy Carter administration and ran all the way up through George W. Bush years, and was driven by lobbyists from Wall Street, S&L’s and commercial banks. Caldwell says the remote causes of the crash were politically driven, I say they were politically enabled. His version makes for a clearer, juicier story, one more adaptable to a film script or book tour. And he’s absolutely marvelous in tracing the origins of that financial failure to a specific point in time. In The Age of Entitlement and more recently in a New York Times column, he starts the tale with the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles race riots. George H. W. Bush signed the Housing and Community Development Act, lowering underwriting standards for “underserved areas,” i.e., “minority” neighborhoods. Bill Clinton went a step farther, forcing banks to write mortgages for risky, low-income borrowers, often without any down-payment at all.

The less likely you were to pay off a mortgage, the more likely you were to get one. . . . No well-informed accountant thought these loans could survive an economic downturn, and they did not. The politicization of poor people’s mortgages in a single country . . . brought the world to the brink of economic disaster. (New York Times, February 15, 2020)

To my mind, Caldwell’s telling begs the question of why banking executives were so easily gulled and strong-armed into an arrangement leading to disaster. It was because they had long lived with the high-risk, short-term outlook endemic to their industry. By the time the crash hit, they expected to have moved on and perhaps retired, with their own assets safely locked away. Après eux, le déluge.

 

Race and Class in the Films of Basil Dearden

clapper

Dearden and his clapper.

For decades now I’ve been waiting for someone to package an oversize picture-book called The Films of Basil Dearden. The 1970s would have been a good time for that, since Dearden died in ’71 (car accident), and this mid-rank British director was in need of appreciation. Great big coffee-table books about cinema were then much in vogue (Truffaut/Hitchcock, The Citizen Kane Book, Flesh and Fantasy). But now, in this current era of poorly designed, un-illustrated e-books, I’m not exactly holding my breath.

Dearden has had a fair, if marginal, reputation in America, but on his home ground critics have been dismissive, often hilariously so:

His films are decent, empty and plodding . . . [1]

Dearden typifies the traditional Good Director in the appalling performances he draws from good actors; and in his total lack of feeling for cinema. [2]

Basil Dearden will never join the frontline of British film directors. He won’t be canonised, nor does he deserve to be among “Britain’s Best,” alongside Michael Powell, Alfred Hitchcock or even David Lean. . . . A workmanlike and very British drudge. [3]

Why no love for our Basil? Too much “sociological seriousness” is one recurrent gripe. Dearden had a fatal attraction to mawkish exposés of such things as juvenile delinquency, homosexuality, and miscegenation. Typically he’d attempt a heartfelt plea for tolerance and equality, or something like that, but his direction tended to misfire. So what we get instead looked like prurience and sensationalism, or even the message that tolerance and equality are bad juju, best avoided. Dearden threw irksome ingredients into a film just to be edgy. Supposedly he is responsible for the first-ever interracial relationship in British film (1951’s Pool of London). There the race angle is minor and gratuitous, tossed in to add spice to a workmanlike but unexciting production. This theme stuck with him, so that in two of his later films the interracial business is at the heart of the story (Sapphire and All Night Long, discussed below) and leads, seemingly inevitably, to violence and/or death. The moral to these films thus appears to be that miscegenation is transgressive and dangerous—so don’t do it!

The other complaint about Dearden’s work is his versatility. His output ran counter to the faddish, if dubious, auteur theory. In the course of his fifty-odd films, he made hilarious low comedies, and high-toned caper films; along with sociological thrillers, dramas, police procedurals, science fiction, science-fiction comedy—an indecipherable thing with Kenneth More called Man in the Moon—and at least one David Lean-style historical blockbuster, Khartoum, that was praised at the time but gets little respect these days, mainly because top-billed Laurence Olivier clowns around in his role. In the 1960s as today, such a range of subjects was suspect in itself. In Dearden there’s just not enough sense of authorial vision of the kind you see in French New Wave directors, who often enough seemed to be making the same film over and over. Or, for that matter, the films of such British contemporaries as Carol Reed or Hitchcock, whose high-strung narratives had a recognizable look and feel.

If you look at Dearden films indiscriminately, you sometimes get the sense of a hack-for-hire. You imagine him wrapping one film, and moving on to whatever likely project someone handed him. For example, in 1957 he directed a delightful Ealing-style comedy called The Smallest Show on Earth, about a penniless young couple (Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna) who think they’ve inherited a lavish provincial cinema from a distant uncle. The movie house turns out to be a broken-down “fleapit” in the care of some ancient, incompetent retainers (Peter Sellers, Bernard Miles, Margaret Rutherford). After some low comedy and inadvertent arson, the couple sell the fleapit to the greedy rival whose movie palace just burned down; whereupon they pocket a small fortune, and head off to Samarkand.

Dearden followed up this screwball classic with something called Violent Playground (1958), which inhabits an entirely different filmic universe. Now we’re in the Liverpool slums, where a police detective (Stanley Baker) is trying to find the young delinquent who’s setting fire to buildings. The arsonist is none other than young David McCallum, six years before his Man from U.N.C.L.E. stardom. On the lam from the police, McCallum grabs a machine gun, flees to a school, holds a classroom of children hostage, and nearly kills the local priest (the ubiquitous Peter Cushing) by pushing him off a ladder. No happy resolutions here, no uplifting moral. The unintended takeaway isn’t that the welfare of the urban poor needs to be improved, but rather that bad people live in housing estates.

*   *   *

And this brings us up to Sapphire (1959), a beautiful if (yes) plodding police procedural, one of Dearden’s few color films of the era. A young woman is found dead on Hampstead Heath. A police detective (Nigel Patrick) does his job, and all kinds of surprises unfurl. The victim, Sapphire Robbins, turns out to be an improbably Caucasian-looking mulatta who recently had begun “passing for white.” She was due to wed an earnest, duffel-coated Cambridge student whose lower-middle-class (English) family seems to have no idea of Sapphire’s origins. Our detective spends much of his screen time unraveling how and why Sapphire managed to “pass,” which initially is as much a mystery as her murder. We learn that she cut her social ties to black lovers and friends, lest they give the game away. Sapphire may well have got herself pregnant in order to trick the Cambridge student into marrying her (though the script is too bien-pensant to dwell on that point). When the circumstances of her murder are finally revealed, we get a truly surprising and unexpected ending, one too good to spoil here. But the major plot twist in the drama is something we might not have guessed at the beginning, and that is Sapphire’s low moral character. This is one police procedural where it seems the murder victim deserved her fate.

Begun in late 1958, after the Notting Hill Riots, Sapphire was inevitably probed and praised for its wide-ranging and rather sympathetic exploration of the black community in London. The blacks here are not generally poor or badly done by; some are snobbish, well-to-do professionals. Yet, although it won a BAFTA Best Film award, Sapphire is reviewed today mainly as a well-meaning curiosity, a clumsy if well-intentioned social critique that “reveals the shocking intolerance of many in the white middle class.” But what it really shows us is that blacks who arrived in England after World War Two were outsiders with their own subcultures and needs, and who had little regard for white folks and their condescension.

Sapphire is one of four Dearden films that were bundled up on DVD by the Criterion Collection in 2011 and released under the heading, London Underground. This quartet includes Dearden’s other big race-themed movie, All Night Long (made in 1961, released 1962). All Night Long is a very different kettle of fish from Sapphire. The screenwriter had the idea of writing a modern version of “Othello,” substituting a black American jazz-band leader for the Moor of Venice. The character is named Aurelius Rex, which suggests the scenarist’s mind was on Thelonious Monk. However the tuxedo-clad, silky-smooth black actor here (Paul Harris) is more along the lines of Chico Hamilton from Sweet Smell of Success. Likewise the jazz we get is conventional nightclubby stuff of the era. It’s played in an elegant private performance space, with the musicians and male guests mostly attired in dinner jackets and under-collar black bow ties. Roger Moore in his early-60s TV role as “The Saint” would be very much in his element. Nearly everyone’s dressed in black and white, and—lobby card notwithstanding—this is most appropriately a black-and-white film.

“Rex,” as everyone calls the black jazz-maestro, is married to a tall blonde chantoosie who has retired from the circuit, since Rex doesn’t like sharing her with the public. One of Rex’s sidemen is a conniving drummer (TV’s Danger Man/Secret Agent star Patrick McGoohan, speaking an uneven attempt at American demotic). The drummer plots to steal the blonde singer away so she can front his own band. His ruse is to convince Rex that the blonde has been fooling around with the saxophonist. So the jealous Rex challenges his wife, nearly strangles her to death, and almost kills the saxophonist too, for good measure.

And that’s the story. It’s not much, and the Shakespearean analogies seem forced and perfunctory. Our Iago figure, McGoohan, is too nervous and chatterboxy to be a creditable confidant. Rex meanwhile is presented as cool and amiable, not a jealous husband easily riled. And the jazz-singing blonde (Marti Stevens) looks to be a hard-bitten babe of forty, rather than a dewy-eyed, clueless Desdemona.

If the story is creaky and unpersuasive, the script credit gives a hint why. The writer is one “Peter Achilles,” a pseudonym for blacklisted communist writer Paul Jarrico (alias Israel Shapiro). Jarrico seems to be making some point about the Hollywood blacklist, and betrayal, and false friends who “named names” to save their careers. But the “Othello” plot is a poor vehicle for such political agenda. Iago is a lousy villain to begin with, as he has no motive; while McGoohan’s version isn’t aiming at anything more nefarious than starting up his own jazz combo.

Fortunately the film doesn’t depend on this wobbly plot. The script is just a pretext to display the lavish production values in the film, and these are superb. The setting is an all-night music session, hosted by a jazz-loving toff (Richard Attenborough), who is celebrating Rex and Mrs. Rex’s wedding anniversary. The Canadian actor Bernard Braden has a broad turn as an irascible Jewish booking agent. He comes in, sits down, gets offended, leaves; his function in the plot being merely to raise the evening’s tension a few notches. This is an absolutely necessity, because for the first half of the movie everyone’s having a great time at the party, while the plot is going nowhere. Jazz notables on hand include the chubby, shy, polyglot Charles Mingus, who doesn’t have many lines but dutifully plucks his double-bass through much of the film. A goofily grinning Dave Brubeck arrives in a raincoat and heads straight for the piano, which he proceeds to play for twenty minutes while the camera shows us close-ups of his nimble fingers.

The set itself is a wonder, specially constructed to permit wide-angle shots and long camera takes throughout the building. Most Dearden films have no soundstages or special sets at all. They’re shot at outdoor locations, and in whatever cramped offices or houses happened to be available. But this cutaway film stage was intricately designed for this single production, and however wasteful and indulgent it may have been (the kind of thing Jerry Lewis or Orson Welles would do when they were in funds), it goes a long way to compensating for this early-60s jazz film disguised as pseudo-Shakespearean drama.

league-victim

Jack Hawkins in The League of Gentlemen; Anthony Nicholls, Dennis Price and Dirk Bogarde in Victim.

The other two Dearden films in Criterion’s London Underground collection avoid racial matters. They have other lurid social issues to attend to. These are The League of Gentlemen (1960) and Victim (1961). League is a gentlemanly bank-heist film. It’s shot through with sophisticated comedy and, like a Rat Pack caper, has very nearly an all-star cast, beginning with retired colonel Jack Hawkins as the leader of the merry band. Then there’s the versatile Richard Attenborough again, no toff this time but a token oik who seems to be good with his hands; smooth Nigel Patrick once more, as a piss-elegant scrounger and former black-marketeer; and hoarse-voiced Richard Livesey as a fake clergyman with a long rap sheet for indecent behavior and related activities.

The ur-text for League is a familiar genre of war film: the kind where an assortment of brilliant scapegraces put together an escape from Stalag Luft. Only it is now ten or fifteen years after the war, and these ex-army officers are going to use their various specialties to escape poverty and abandonment by a society where they are misfits. One of our anti-heroes is a pathetic cuckold, another makes a living as a gigolo. The Nigel Patrick character goes broke while trying to run illegal gambling parties out of his flat, where the house never seems to win. (Period note: gambling casinos would become legal in London in another year or two.) The Attenborough character’s dark secret is that he passed secrets to the Soviets in Berlin, 1945—for money, not politics; and with the same mercenary motive he now rejiggers one-armed bandits for East End spivs. And then there’s a physical trainer and onetime Mosleyite named Captain Stevens, a presumptive homosexual who’s behind in his blackmail payments.

Actually the whole script is propelled by a kind of blackmail, since our Jack Hawkins colonel threatens to expose all his men’s dirt if they don’t cooperate in his little bank-robbery scheme.

So we have eight ex-officers in all, and they pull a double-heist. First they steal guns and explosives from an army base, posing as commandos from the Irish Republican Army. Then on to the main event: a bank near St. Paul’s, where someone has just delivered £1m in old, untraceable banknotes. Our gentlemen very nearly get away with it all. They get arrested at the end, thanks to the British Board of Film Censors. This is the film’s only wrong note. The bad ending hangs on an unlikely plot-point: it seems there was a little boy outside the bank, and he has a hobby of writing down out-of-town car license numbers.

Victim (1961), Dearden’s next major feature, is self-importantly noirish, much grimmer than the frolicsome League of Gentlemen. But visually, thematically, and in its tight, thrillerish pacing it feels like a sequel. Blackmail threats, only a background note of the earlier movie, here form the core of the plot. Once again we’re dealing with upper-middle-class professionals and others who are haunted by dark secrets in their past.

Supposedly the secrets in Victim are of the sodomite variety, but since there isn’t any sex or seduction in the film, I’d argue that the “queer” angle is really a convenient allegory for deviant politics, particularly those murky old spy-ring associations that would fascinate the London press for many decades. Films and serials about espionage and Cambridge Spy types would eventually congeal into a durable genre (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy et al.). But we weren’t there yet in the early 1960s, so if you wanted to tell a story about dark rumors and illegal activity, you had to titillate with suggestions of perversion. The titillation worked a little too well in the American market, where most distributors wanted nothing to do with it, because Dearden refused to edit a scene where a policeman utters the word “homosexual.” For the next two decades, Victim gained an unwarranted reputation as a daring, “underground” piece of cinema, something that in the 60s and 70s would turn up as late-night fare on the art-house circuit. Gay film festivals discovered it in the 1980s and presented it as a kind of Stone Age plea for Gay Lib. (Meantime the star, Dirk Bogarde, used Victim to escape from his matinée-idol typecasting, and moved on to weirdo roles, e.g., in The Servant, The Damned, Death in Venice, and The Night Porter.)

Superficially, the plot of Victim revolves around a successful 40-year-old barrister, Melville Farr (Bogarde) who has taken it upon himself to expose a ring of blackmailers preying on mostly mature and well-heeled gay men. One of the blackmail victims is a businessman-peer, another a successful photographer, yet another a famous actor (performed by Dennis Price in a near-libelous caricature of Noël Coward). But our white-knighting barrister is soon shocked and baffled to discover that his blackmailed friends don’t feel particularly victimized. They’re happy to pay, as they are wealthy and welcome this extortion as protection money. And then we find that two of the key operatives in the blackmail ring are also “that way.” Nearly the only upright, honest man in the film is a seasoned old policeman, who doesn’t judge anyone’s sexuality, because he’s after real criminals. Cops are really the good guys, the script tells us. Whereas homos are sort of like rampaging Comanches, preying upon each other and everyone else.

Like Sapphire, Victim has suffered from superficial reading by inattentive critics. You will often read that the gay men here are upstanding innocents, and that the film presents them sympathetically. Obviously, from what I’ve just said, this is hardly the case. Furthermore, you’ll read that Farr himself (Bogarde) is a closeted homosexual who sacrifices his career by chasing the blackmailers. In reality the script tells us that married-man Farr hasn’t actually had any homosexual relationships (though he confesses to inclinations). Once upon a time, at university twenty years ago, there was a fellow student who became infatuated with Farr and, when rejected, killed himself. This supposedly is the great wound in Farr’s past. But it’s the merest ghost of a hint of personal scandal, about as compromising as an old rumor that you had Leftist friends in the 1930s, and they raised funds for the Spanish Loyalists.

Ultimately the film is a critique of social class. The upper-class characters have money and connections to buy their safety. The real victims are lower-middle- and working-class characters who impoverish themselves to pay the merciless blackmailers. Here is an obvious parallel between the film’s comfortable homosexuals and such Soviet spies as Philby and Blunt who were long protected by government and colleagues, and then rewarded with cushy jobs in art and journalism when their spook days were over. Meanwhile, the little lowly-born mice in the Soviet espionage apparatus were neatly rounded up by MI5 and packed off to prison.

*   *   *

On a lighter note, I want to finish up by talking about Khartoum (1966), which is at once Dearden’s most uncharacteristic and “commercial” work. Well, maybe not that commercial. After opening to stunning reviews, it failed disastrously at the box office. Through the years it’s steadily sunk in critical esteem, in spite of—or because of—its intelligent script, its visual beauty, and its epic grandeur.

The great flaw in Khartoum is the casting of Laurence Olivier as Muhammad Ahmad, the great Mahdi, leader of a great jihad in 1880s Sudan. Nobody seems to have realized it at the time, but Olivier treated the whole project as a joke. He was one of the initial choices as co-star in 1962, when Khartoum entered development as a Lawrence of Arabia-style spectacular. He was then slotted to play opposite Burt Lancaster as General Charles “Chinese” Gordon. But time and commitments marched on: Lancaster dropped out, Olivier dropped out, and Charlton Heston came on board. By the time shooting was about to begin in 1965, Olivier was back in the cast, but he could only do a few scenes, and wouldn’t do them on location (which was Egypt, not Sudan, as Sudan was in upheaval again). So when the location shooting was finished, the main production unit moved to Pinewood Studios near London, and shot the Olivier scenes on a soundstage.

For some reason Olivier decided to do the Mahdi as high-camp comedy, with blackface, flamboyant gestures, and a comical voice. In many promotional stills and European posters, Olivier is wearing light-tan makeup and looks not unlike Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia. On the film set, though, Olivier went for ultra-dark makeup, so that his face is an unrecognizable smudge. In fact, the first time I saw this film, I was close to the end before I realized that this clown in blackface was Laurence Oliver. Like Basil Dearden, Larry was there for the paycheck, not to be memorialized in what he must have regarded as an overblown, overproduced embarrassment.

khartoum-olivier

Re-screening Khartoum in 2009, a critic in the Guardian commented that, “Just about everyone involved in this 1966 epic about Britain’s imperial adventure in Sudan deserves to have sand kicked in their faces.”

[Olivier’s] stab at a Sudanese accent sounds like Sebastian, the singing Caribbean crab from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, pretending to be a Russian spy. “Oh, beylovvids!” he says to his beloved followers. . . . Heston plays it straight, leaving Olivier looking even more like he has escaped from a racist panto.

Quite. But what the Guardian writer seemed to miss is that Olivier’s low-comedy turn was intentional. The difference between his “promotional” makeup and what he slapped on for the screen is, well, night and day. You have to think Dearden permitted these antics because he was too much in awe of the great Laurence Olivier.

Charlton Heston had no great regard for Basil Dearden as director; Dearden was a last choice, after Carol Reed and other directors refused the project. In this one instance, at least, maybe Heston’s judgment was right. Dearden couldn’t direct Larry. On the other hand, Heston could have complained about Olivier’s clownishness, and evidently did not. And so to this day, if you search out stills and posters for the film, you will find the Olivier character in a variety of hues ranging from Caucasian to deepest Shinola.

Today as in 1966, the Khartoum viewer is constantly reminded of Lawrence of Arabia. You have the lingering desert vistas, and hordes of savage Muslim tribesmen. There’s also a score by Maurice Jarre, and a very driven, confused central character. Instead of a mystical, fatalistic T. E. Lawrence played by a then-unknown Peter O’Toole, we have Heston as the mystical, fatalistic Gordon. Like Lawrence, Gordon is sent off on an exotic, vaguely defined mission, and like Lawrence he goes rogue in his own heroic and foolhardy way. Alas, he doesn’t get to return to England or die many years later in a motorcycle accident. He’s speared to death and ends up decapitated, with his head twirling atop a long pole in the final scene. And that’s not the most appalling scene in the film. (Someone thought the twirling-head bit was too gruesome, so it’s cropped out of TV and DVD editions.)

The trouble with Heston in the role is that he was already a familiar screen presence, so it’s hard to get engaged with the quirky character of General Gordon. When O’Toole did Lawrence of Arabia, nobody knew Peter O’Toole and few but the ancient remembered much about T. E. Lawrence (mainly from the lecture/travelogue show that Lowell Thomas and Dale Carnegie toured with in the early 1920s). So when O’Toole’s film came out in 1963, you got to meet Lawrence with fresh eyes. In Khartoum, you can’t stop seeing Charlton Heston, acting away with the same grim, perturbed mien we see in other roles of the period (whether in 55 Days at Peking or Planet of the Apes).

And yet, during its brief honeymoon of critical acclaim in 1966, Khartoum was widely praised, mainly for its cinematography and “very literate” screenplay by Robert Ardrey. A few people caviled about historical inaccuracies, but these were generally not Ardrey’s fault; they were things that needed to be inserted into the script for marketing reasons. The real Mahdi and Gordon corresponded but never actually met, although they do twice in the film. It simply would not have done for the co-stars merely to be pen-pals, when there were all those posters splashed around, showing them side-by-side and cheek-by-jowl . . . as though they were always trotting off together into the Ultra Panavision desert, like Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole.

Notes

[1] David Thomson, 1980; quoted in Alan Burton and Tim O’Sullivan, The Cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), 2009.

[2] Victor Perkins, 1962; quoted by Meredith Taylor, in “Neglected British Film Directors: Basil Dearden,” in Filmforia, 2018.

Link: http://filmuforia.co.uk/underrated-directors-basil-dearden/

[3] Taylor, Filmforia.

Review: The Age of Entitlement

Christopher Caldwell00Rauch2-superJumbo

The Age of Entitlement:

America Since the Sixties

New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020

The big takeaway in Christopher Caldwell’s The Age of Entitlement is that since the mid-1960s, the cult of Equality and Diversity has been an unremittingly destructive and subversive force. It first embedded itself with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and their attendant bureaucracies and compliance authorities. It formed a kind of Deep State, and it’s grown quietly and steadily ever since. Caldwell calls the phenomenon a “Second Constitution,” as it is based on a body of legislation and judicial rulings that often oppose and override the safeguards of the real Constitution, the 1788 one. Over the last half-century this has led to the demographic disfigurement of our country and the destruction of our economic and industrial base.

How did all this happen? It was neither intentional nor clearly foreseen by most people fifty-odd years ago. It’s not an easy thing to explain or undo. You’re not going to overturn it by marching in the streets or by voting out Congress in the next election. Caldwell is here to describe the history of the illness, not offer possible nostrums. He has a subtle, many-branched argument, and he builds it patiently as he takes us by the hand and leads us through all the passing fads, legal rulings, and economic downturns of recent decades. The book often seems more a popular social history than a political treatise, rather along the lines of William Manchester’s The Glory and the Dream (subtitled A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972). We briefly revisit waterbeds; Hugh Hefner’s round bed; Ms. Magazine; that early-70s self-help classic, Our Bodies, Our Selves; the disappearance of the IBM Selectric; the Rush Limbaugh cult; the Trayvon Martin affair; and being “red-pilled.”

He breaks off his narrative in 2015, just as Donald Trump comes onstage. In the meantime he shows us how the Equality cult hopped upon current enthusiasms and social trends, and leveraged them to take control of law and popular opinion.

For example: Women’s Lib—or “Second-Wave Feminism,” as they call it now. Initially it came across as a kind of fashion statement or maybe an advertising “hook.” (“You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!”) But as the late 60s passed into the 70s, ideologues and activists began to spin this new “feminism” as a struggle for Freedom & Equality: a new civil rights movement, built on the desegregation template. “Women” were said to be victims of oppression; their past suffering deserved redress. Later on, and more preposterously, the Gay Lib agenda went from a simple demand for tolerance and justice, to an insistence that since they were a “minority,” homosexuals needed their own anti-discrimination legislation. In the end they demanded “rights” that nobody else had ever had: that of legally marrying a member of your own sex. The excuse for this was, again and paradoxically, “Equality.”

What’s baffling here is not that special interests lobbied for self-serving causes, but rather that the American people so readily rolled over and said yes. Often enough they even championed these causes. Caldwell has the idea that this happened because the largest age-cohort of the population, the “Baby Boomers,” were growing up as these movements emerged in the 1960s and 70s and beyond. By the time Boomers had all reached voting age in the mid-80s, they were 38% of the electorate.

Furthermore, Baby Boomers grew up in an age of plenty and optimism, in an America that was almost entirely white, in which modern social problems were unthinkable. Surely we could never be inundated by nonwhite aliens. In 1970 only 5% of the population were born abroad, and that 5% was almost entirely from Germany, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe.

While Caldwell begins his story with the JFK assassination and the Civil Rights Era, the really pivotal period in the narrative comes with the Reagan administration. For good or ill, demographics and industrial decline ensured that the Reagan 80s would be a turning-point in economic and social policy. Things went rather ill. For the first time in the 20th century, the US became a net-debtor nation. This was hardly inevitable. The Reagan administration had promised to cut social spending and racially driven social programs, but didn’t. It chose instead to buy “social peace,” continuing and even expanding the welfare and entitlement programs: a net transfer of wealth from whites to blacks. For similar reasons, after making a couple of half-hearted proposals to dismantle Affirmative Action, the Reagan people allowed it to stand.

Illegal immigration was badly in need of a remedy by the 1980s, but when an immigration bill was finally enacted (Simpson-Mazzoli Act, 1986), it was misconceived and toothless. Employers, not aliens, were the ones who would be prosecuted and fined for breaking the law. And employers meanwhile also had to comply with Federal equal-opportunity and non-discrimination rules; they couldn’t single out probable aliens, based on appearance, language, etc. It was a contradictory, lose-lose arrangement, and the bill’s provisions soon proved unenforceable. To make things worse, Simpson-Mazzoli gave blanket amnesty to nearly all illegals who were living and working in the country.

The Reagan years were an optimal time for reversing course. There was an immensely popular President who was elected on a platform of reducing the Federal bureaucracy and shutting down the Johnson-era civil-rights and social programs. His opponents, for the first six years of his tenure, were weak and generally unpopular. The Reagan administration failed to meet any of its promised agenda. In social policies, economic policy, and illegal immigration, the Reagan people left us worse off than we were before.

And then there’s that debt. The 1980s was the period when America began to be fueled by debt: Federal debt, overleveraged savings-and-loan debt, no-money-down mortgage debt, and the innocent beginnings of the current student-debt crisis. Caldwell traces the student-debt problem to Pell grants, which were meant to help poor students who couldn’t get financial aid otherwise. But their main beneficiaries were for-profit “universities” such as the University of Phoenix. That esteemed chain-school of higher learning created about $35 billion of the current outstanding debt, and has a student-loan default rate, Caldwell tells us, that is higher than the graduation rate.

Another legacy of the period is the practice of “outsourcing” and “offshoring,” which like unbridled immigration is just a concealed form of borrowing against the future. Beginning with clothing makers, American industry began to job-out its manufacturing operations to China and elsewhere. They could slough off their domestic manufacturing workers and much of their middle-management, ditch the onerous Federal employment rules; slash operating expenses and even get tax deductions for moving plant. By the early 90s the gutting of American industry was proceeding full-throttle.

Caldwell does not suggest any kind of “conspiracy theory” in his argument. He’s not a neo-segregationist or someone campaigning for immediate repeal of the 14th Amendment. He thinks (or says he thinks) the initial wave of civil rights legislation was well intended and perfectly understandable, given the social sentiments of the mid-60s. It was soon after the JFK assassination, and Lyndon Johnson promoted the new bills as part of a supposed Kennedy legacy. Civil rights and voting rights bills had been languishing in Congress since the 1950s, but now they sped through, along with a new immigration bill that dropped national-origin quotas for the first time in forty years.

The civil-rights bills were the most radical legislation passed by Congress since Reconstruction. But no good deed goes unpunished, and the Negro community did not seem particularly appreciative. It was all too little and too late.

The mostly Northern whites who legislated against Jim Crow saw themselves as making a grand and magnanimous gesture, cutting a heroic figure…. Black people, and the most zealous among the civil rights activists of all races, saw whites as having entered a guilty plea in the court of history…

Caldwell pretty much sidesteps two other key factors behind civil rights in the 1960s. One is the Cold War. Southern segregation was bad optics for a USA trying to curry friendship with nonwhite countries around the globe. It was an ever-popular topic for Soviet propagandists. The other factor is the role of the news media, with its relentless anti-Southern, anti-segregation slant, and its TV footage of colored schoolgirls, protected by Federal troops while running a gauntlet of white protestors in Little Rock in 1957; as well as the matriculation of negro college students in Mississippi and Alabama a few years later. These are vital considerations, but Caldwell left them out, perhaps because they’d be distractions from his main narrative. Or maybe, since he was born in 1962 (a Late Boomer), they’re just not on his personal radar.

Some reviewers have been amazingly hostile to this rather anodyne social-political history. They take aim mostly at Caldwell’s thesis on the “rival Constitution” which, as I say, is but a small if essential part of the book. They say Caldwell is a “highbrow Trumpist.” That he is against desegregation, nonwhite immigration, homosexual marriage, and generally the whole skein of “equal rights” decisions that have been handed down since Brown v. Board of Education in the 1950s. As is usual with this point-and-splutter technique, the opponents don’t have any cogent criticism or opposing argument. The New York Times review by Jonathan Rauch (January 17, 2020) is a masterpiece of invective:

Perhaps most depressingly, Caldwell’s account, even if one accepts its cramped view of the Constitution and its one-eyed moral bookkeeping, leads nowhere. It proffers no constructive alternative, no plausible policy or path. The author knows perfectly well that there will be no “repeal of the civil rights laws.” He foresees only endless, grinding, negative-sum cultural and political warfare between two intractably opposed “constitutions.” His vision is a dead end. Unfortunately, it also seems to be where American conservatism is going.

 

This makes me wonder if the reviewer really read the book, or is just repeating some talking points sent out by advance readers. Rauch makes no mention of Caldwell’s pop-culture forays, or his discussion of the debt economy. And as for proffering no constructive alternative, the policy portions of the book are a detailed examination of colossal mistakes and mendacious neglect. It’s hypocritical to blame the doctor for not having a miracle cure when he tells you you’re diseased and you don’t want to hear it.

The Age of Entitlement is an ambitious history of America in our times, an attempt to explain What Went Wrong. It’s sometimes uneven and definitely unfinished, but dazzles with insights throughout. Reject or accept those insights, or damn the “Second Constitution” thesis if it doesn’t fit your political cant, but you cannot fault the book for its encyclopedic breadth.

 

 

Review: Our Borders, Ourselves

Laurence Auster
Our Borders, Ourselves:
America in the Age of Multiculturalism
Litchfield, CT: VDARE, 2019

On dipping into this book, I was hit with a sense of cruel nostalgia, mixing memory and despair. Assembled from writings that Lawrence Auster did in the 1980s and 90s, it’s a window into how forthrightly we then approached problems of race politics and nonwhite immigration.

This was the period when Proposition 187 (banning state social services to illegal aliens), was overwhelmingly approved by voters in Pete Wilson’s California. That vote was in 1994, and I was one of those voters. Implementation was stalled almost immediately by a legal challenge, alas; appeals went on for years. But meanwhile, former Senator Eugene McCarthy had published a memoir in which he apologized for having backed the 1965 Hart-Celler immigration bill, conceding it was a disaster for the nation (A Colony of the World: The United States Today, 1992). Sen. McCarthy also joined the board of FAIR, Federation for American Immigration Reform. And then, in 1995, Forbes senior editor Peter Brimelow published his landmark Alien Nation. 

The immigration issue was unruly, but not totally unmanageable, and the race-realists seemed to be on a roll. As John Derbyshire once recalled of the mid-1990s, they were a kind of “interglacial warming period” in matters of race and immigration. You could talk about things. The Derb was mainly referring to discussions of race and IQ, but it was also a time when you could openly propose the deportation of illegal aliens. That was not a radical view; at least, no more edgy than talking about legalization of marijuana.

This is one of the paradoxes of reading Our Borders, Ourselves. Lawrence Auster is forever a Cassandra, telling us how bad things are . . . here and now in the . . . 1990s!

Way back then, he didn’t think things could get much worse. But from today’s perspective, six years after Larry Auster’s death, the 90s look pretty good.

Most of this volume is an abridged version of a much longer work on immigration, cheerfully entitled The Death of America. Auster didn’t finish it till 1998, and by then it was too politically incorrect to publish. The interglacial period was over. The major publisher who had agreed to bring out the massive tome balked upon receiving the typescript. I gather from Larry’s entries on his View from the Right blog (an excellent repository of trad-Right discussion in the years prior to his death in 2013) this had less to do with the book’s length or its nominal subject than the fact that there was a chapter called “Jews—The Archetypal Multiculturalists.”

Two decades and more later, Auster’s analyses stand up well, are still relevant, and help remind us of how we got to the state we’re in. His essays are like snapshots of a nation in free-fall: the hard ground is still far off but we know there’s a crack-up coming.

America: The Multicultural Mental Construct

In the 1980s and 90s, pundits had all kinds of rationalizations for ignoring the immigration problem as it careened out of control. They’re still being recycled today. We were told that illegal aliens were basically hard-working family people, “doing jobs Americans wouldn’t do,” and just needed a bit of acculturation and “assimilation” in order to turn them into steadfast blue-eyed, apple-cheeked yeomen. Or something like that. And besides, weren’t we all immigrants, after a fashion?

Pushing the argument just a little further, they’d tell us that we should accept the inevitable, and even welcome the multiracial hell that awaits us. Auster has many examples of this, but my favorite is the mealy-mouthed misrepresentation of American history given by art critic Robert Hughes.

Here’s Auster putting it in context:

Having declared the “inevitability” of a white minority future, the multiculturalists also appropriate the past by informing us that America has always been multicultural. So there’s nothing to discuss. The issue has already been settled. Robert Hughes of Time, himself an immigrant from Australia, wrote that the United States

has always been a heterogeneous country, and its cohesion, whatever cohesion it has, can only be based on mutual respect. There never was a core America in which everyone looked the same, spoke the same language, worshipped the same gods and believed the same things. America is a construction of mind.

A mental construct! There was never a core America! Here we have not only the fallacy that lies behind the “civic nationalism” beloved of National Review conservatives (anyone can be an American, because, you see, it’s really all about shared values), but a hairball of out-and-out fibs. Or, as Auster dissects them:

Every single one of Hughes’s sweeping statements—that there was never a core culture that spoke the same language, that Americans didn’t share the same basic moral beliefs, that Americans didn’t worship the same God; that they didn’t share a common national loyalty and identity—is a breathtaking lie, a slap in the face against our entire history. But Hughes’s slick phrases come so thick and fast that they create a plausible reality in the reader’s mind, a reality in which America, as a historically existing nation, has been made to disappear. If America is nothing, period, but “an agreement to respect people,” then America is nothing, period.

Auster repeatedly juxtaposes these two poles of thought—”civic nationalism” vs. “white nationalism.” He doesn’t use those terms; I don’t think they were around in the 1990s. Auster explored the strange lands, and left it to us to name them. But it’s clear what side of the divide he stood on. He was a White Nationalist avant la lettre, if a unique and exceptional one.

Stages of Surrender

Another glittering insight he pulls out of the rhetorical mare’s nest is how and why the immigration debate was subverted and lost. There were two highly effective arguments against immigration control. “The Two Stages of Surrender,” he calls them:

In the first stage, there is a refusal to face the fact that immigration poses a danger because immigration is a “blessing,” and it’s “xenophobic” to oppose immigration. Whatever the slogan it always precludes critical examination of the issue.

In the second stage, the disaster created by immigration has become undeniable. But people do not then repent of their pro-immigration stand. They just say that it’s “too late” to do anything about it.

We’ve all seen this in action, with friends and family, and in the news media. Up until a few years ago this scenario held pretty true. In some cases the mental shift of gears, from disregard to despair, took only a few months or years. It’s not that big a shift, really—we’re just going from from Stage I Apathy to Stage II Apathy.

However . . . I submit there might also be a third gear, one of awareness and alarm; such as occurred in 2015 with the two mass-killings in Paris (at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Bataclan Theatre). Back in the 1990s, Auster could not have foreseen those, or imagined their knock-on effect in international politics, particularly in Britain and America. We don’t know whether the politics of Brexit or the Trump Presidency will bring effective remedies to the nonwhite-alien problems in those countries; but what’s undeniable is that those issues have been at the center of national political debates for four or five years now, and they aren’t going away. Real remedies—not just curtailment but reversal of the last few decades’ alien invasion—are still lightyears away, but we’re not at the Slough of Despond, not just yet.

Auster was writing from a 1990s vantage, and didn’t have a crystal ball. He saw apathy and nihilism around him, and figured that path would continue, in straight-line depreciation.

Time-Machine

Eloi girl Yvette Mimieux and time-traveler Rod Taylor.

He has a most apt metaphor for the apathy and passivity that characterizes so many white Americans (or at least characterized them twenty years ago). We are “America’s White Middle-Class Eloi.” You remember the Eloi, the beautiful, lotus-eating layabouts in H. G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine. (Wonderfully adapted for the screen by George Pal in 1960; one of the few good film adaptations of this or any other Wells book.)

The Eloi are lovely to look at, but so dim and degenerated they don’t realize they’re being bred for food by the monstrous and industrious Morlocks, who live underground and build steam turbines. And so it is with our white middle-class, increasingly subject to the whim of our (not-so-industrious) Morlocks.

Whites seem to have lost the energy, confidence and leadership qualities that once created a civilization. Absent is any sense of the long views and great plans, the intensity and faith that once bestrode a continent. There is no look of destiny, or even of character, in the people I see. Even the Waspy upper-class types on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, for all their supposed elitism, do not have the aspect of leaders of society but of an enervated clique maintaining a residue. It might be said that they have declined into a mere ethnic group—but even that would be an overstatement.

And in this peaceful, orderly and insipid aspect of today’s middle-class white people, they bear an eerie resemblance to that race of drones called the Eloi…

I love the comparison, but I wonder why he’s singling out Upper East Siders. Was Auster making a study of these people? Is he just making throwaway snark—a suggestion of what these people might be like, as imagined by a first-generation American, moreover an ethnic Jew who converted to Christianity (first to the Episcopal Church, finally to Catholicism)? And what does it really mean to be called an Eloi, anyway? Pretty but emptyheaded? Passive, insipid? And is there supposed to be a significant difference between the folks on East 88th Street and the country-club set of Evansville, Indiana? I’m just mystified here.

He has a serious point to make, I’m sure, but following through with descriptive particulars just isn’t in the Auster wheelhouse. He’s good on philosophical concepts and polemical forensics, but poor on anything observational. He’s like Ignatius J. Reilly, preferring vague generalizations and dismissals to nuanced descriptions. (“Needs more geometry and theology.”) Auster doesn’t tell you what people look like, or what their taste in clothes and dining might be. If he wrote a James Bond thriller, he’d have 007 wearing some kind of a suit, driving some kind of a car, and telling the barkeep to mix up something with, you know, alcohol in it.

Ethnic Animus and Cultural Subversion

This lack of follow-through mars some of Auster’s best passages. For example, when he talks about Columbo, the 1970s detective drama with Peter Falk, he tells us there are class and ethnic subtexts, but offers no physical description at all of the title character, or the dialogue tics and script gimmicks that made the show so watchable. (“Uh, just one more thing, sir…”)

This is in a section called “[Jewish] Subversion Through Popular Culture,” a subject that puts Auster into a state of high dudgeon. He has a dog in the fight, and he’s in a fury to get something off his chest:

What John Murray Cuddihy called the “ethnic-specific animus of Freud and Eastern European Jewry generally against Gentile civility” had moved from the esoteric world of the academic literary culture into the world of mass entertainment.

The anti-WASP campaign has been even more pronounced in drama and suspense genres, where it has also intensified over the decades. In every episode of the 1970s detective series Columbo (written by Steven Bochco, later the producer of such flamboyantly decadent programs as L.A. Law and N.Y.P.D. Blue), the slovenly ethnic hero exposed a cool WASP patrician as a murderer. The ethnic-specific animus, partly concealed as a class animus, remained relatively low key, even humorous; the murder was never performed on camera; and Columbo’s prey remained polite if increasingly irritable, even as Columbo zeroed in on him.

If you get Auster’s references, this is great pop-culture and social criticism, apart from some minor quibbles I have. Auster tosses the “WASP” thing around in a way that suggests he doesn’t know what it means. As I recall (with slight exaggeration) the high-class villain in Columbo was usually played by Patrick McGoohan or Jack Cassidy. But the observation that ethnic animus was concealed as class animus—ahh, that’s pure gold! In fact, the ethnic animus was doubly concealed, because Jewish actor Falk is unaccountably wearing an Italian name. Why couldn’t the character be Steinberg? Bad optics? They didn’t want a wiseguy Jew trying to get a jump on his betters? Larry Auster could really have gone to town with that.

But if you’re coming to this cold, and you don’t know the Columbo series because you were in boarding school then, or because you grew up in Ulan Bator, you might be completely lost here. Auster assumes that everybody knows what Columbo looks like, hence he doesn’t describe him or tell you that he’s played by Jewish actor Peter Falk. You’re supposed to know that. Lieutenant Detective Columbo is an unkempt, shifty-acting guy with a glass eye, a wrinkled old trenchcoat, and in-laws in Fresno. He’s also a crashing bore. Typically the first three-quarters of each hour-long episode has the upper-class suspect condescending to the detective with ill-concealed disdain, but then—bingo!—the snooty guy drops a revealing bit of information, and Columbo suddenly has him dead to rights.

It’s all as predictable as a child’s fairy tale or a Roadrunner cartoon. You always know how it’s going to turn out. It’s this cartoony, formulaic aspect that requires a high-caste tycoon or professor to face off, each episode, against scuzzy little Detective Columbo. It’s simple, shallow entertainment; we can’t read deep motives into the casting. I don’t think Auster was honestly bothered that Columbo was formulaic, with the villains as elegant high-caste types. What bothered him was that the script writers and producers didn’t see their ethnic-animus subtext. Or worse, they did; they deliberately put it in there; and thought they were getting away with it because they were disguising the title character as an Italian rather than a Jew.

But enough of Columbo. Warming to the theme, Auster tells us that the “WASP” type soon became the stock villain for television and film writers of the Bochco persuasion:

Just twenty years later (i.e., 1970s-1990s), the anti-WASP animus in film and TV had evolved into a formalized demonology. The cold-hearted, inhuman WASP—the WASP as super-Nazi—has been a regular fixture in one suspense/action movie after another, providing second careers for such middle-aged actors as Donald Sutherland and John [sic] Voight. In the 1994 movie Outbreak, Sutherland plays a top US Army general with an inhumanly cold voice and sinister features, who turns out to be the leader of a monstrous conspiracy to kill thousands of American civilians with biological weapons. But never fear, Dustin Hoffman—the Jew now cast as action hero—and his brilliant black sidekick heroically foil the plot.

I said Auster had a dog in the fight; actually he had two dogs. He’s defensive on behalf of real-life (not movie) WASP types, whom he considers honorable role models who should not be defamed as a class. But he’s also enraged, as someone of Jewish background, to find that there are so many Jews involved in this defamatory enterprise. He tells us about his father:

My Jewish father, who immigrated to America in 1923, always talked about how he came here to be an American. It wasn’t what we immigrants have done for America, but how great America was for taking us in. That was the ethos then.

Was it now? A seasoned observer will read this and dismiss it as just so much glib pleading. But Auster honestly does seem to be baffled by the Jewish penchant for destructive, anti-American signaling. Don’t Jews realize—Auster wondersthat by tearing down American traditions and promoting “multiculturalism” they’re acting against their own best interests?

In the lawless Third World America of the coming century, do Jews think they will be able to count on Dominicans and Chinese and Arabs and Mexicans to protect them from black anti-Semites? . . . Having acted all along on the ludicrous and hostile assumption that the white American majority is a potential neo-Nazi force that must be dispossessed, Jews will hardly be in a position to complain about real anti-Semitism when it appears among whites who have actually been dispossessed.

 

Dispossession and Moral Rot

Mention of “dispossession” puts me in mind of the late Wilmot Robertson, of The Dispossessed Majority and Instauration magazine. I sense that Larry Auster was heavily influenced by Robertson. There is the stalwart defense of the “white American majority” that built the country and holds it together—or at least did; there’s the close attention paid to the gradual demonization of Majority types in film and TV; and there’s that penchant for tossing off easy, breezy generalizations about social groups (Upper East Siders = Eloi) with little or no detail given.

There is also, I am sorry to say, something of a defeatist tendency in Auster. See how quick he was in describing the “Two Stages of Surrender” on the immigration debate. He assumed people would give up, despair, never fight back. Abandon All Hope—It’s the Death of America! This was also the attitude of Wilmot Robertson, and some other ancients I knew, e.g., William Gayley Simpson. And yet: it was always reasonable to expect  there would be many tipping points along the way, as the illegal-alien problem intensified. Something Auster just couldn’t envision, back in the Reagan-Bush-Clinton era.

Where Robertson and Auster differ is in the latter’s religious dimension. Auster doesn’t see race dynamics as being primarily a problem of animal husbandry. (Just have more white babies and we’ll be fine!)  Auster sees the issue holistically. He understands that race-replacement and cultural dissolution are just different aspects of the same thing, an all-consuming moral rot that has gradually come to permeate all our institutions; but which began with an abandonment of the Christian core of our culture.

So when he sums up his credo toward the end of the book, we get a jeremiad that is more radical and unexpected than anything that went before. Auster is talking to America in the 1990s, but he could just as well be denouncing the Jacobins in France two centuries earlier:

What must be understood and resisted is the secular-democratic consciousness in all its forms, whether they be called leftist, liberal, conservative, or even Christian…The core of the secular-democratic consciousness in all its forms is the deformation of the Christian religion into the Religion of Man. But that is only the beginning of the disaster. With the advent of multiculturalism and anti-racism, the Religion of Man has been further perverted into the Religion of OtherMen and hatred of ourselves. The secularization of the Christian West has thus ultimately led to radical alienation and race suicide.

Therefore, while there may be other, non-Christian ways of re-building a normal sense of peoplehood and racial identity among whites, I believe that the only way it can happen in the context of Western civilization is through the rediscovery of the classical and Christian understanding that we Westerners have lost.

In other words, citoyens, multiculturalism is au fond immoral and anti-Christian. That’s your problem right there, and that’s why it’s the path to national and racial suicide.

But is such a classical-and-Christian moral rearmament realistic? Possible? Who knows, it hasn’t been tried yet. But it’s bound to be more efficacious than the vapid, secularist anti-ethos of multiculturalism and civic nationalism. We already know about that. And that way madness lies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I Please, 23 June 1944

Here we have ol’ Orwell filling out a column while thinking at cross-purposes. He begins by mentioning an English Catholic poet you all recognize, then free-associates to a digression about a forgotten-but-once-fashionable French writer who just happened to be anti-Catholic. Then he finishes with a head-banging, run-on attack on newspaper columnists whom he perceives as Catholic. One is D.B. Wyndham Lewis (I remind myself this is a different person from Percy Wyndham Lewis), and the other is J.B. Morton (“Beachcomber”).

Some of his fulminations are eye-goggling: “Anatole France had championed Dreyfus, which needed considerable courage…” To which the only coherent reply is, Oh give me a fucking break. (The journos were queued up around the Bourse with their hands out. Pay ’em enough and one might even write J’accuse.)

And Anatole France debunked Joan of Arc? Exactly how? She wasn’t burned at the stake? She wasn’t rehabilitated? The Dauphin was never crowned? Joan lost the battle of Orleans? This we have to see!

All of which should be tiresome, we’ve heard it all before…except he is our Orwell, our genius, our bottle imp. And like the cranky old git in the prole beer-pub in Nineteen Eighty-Four who insists on ordering pints (the post-1820 20-oz. variety), many decades after the slave-state he lives in has switched to liters and half-liters, he must be indulged.

He’ll do the same thing again tomorrow, you just watch.

THE WEEK before last Tribune printed a centenary article on Gerard Manley Hopkins, and it was only after this that the chance of running across an April number of the American Nation reminded me that 1944 is also the centenary of a much better-known writer—Anatole France. When Anatole France died, twenty years ago, his reputation suffered one of those sudden slumps to which highbrow writers who have lived long enough to become popular are especially liable. In France, according to the charming French custom, vicious personal attacks were made upon him while he lay dying and when he was freshly dead. A particularly venomous one was written by Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, afterwards to become a collaborator of the Nazis. In England, also, it was discovered that Anatole France was no good. A few years later than this a young man attached to a weekly paper (I met him afterwards in Paris and found that he could not buy a tram ticket without assistance) solemnly assured me that Anatole France ‘wrote very bad French’. France was, it seemed, a vulgar, spurious and derivative writer whom everyone could now ‘see through’. Round about the same time, similar discoveries were being made about Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey: but curiously enough all three writers have remained very readable, while most of their detractors are forgotten.

How far the revulsion against Anatole France was genuinely literary I do not know. Certainly he had been overpraised, and one must at times get tired of a writer so mannered and so indefatigably pornographic. But it is unquestionable that he was attacked partly from political motives. He may or may not have been a great writer, but he was one of the symbolic figures in the politico-literary dogfight which has been raging for a hundred years or more. The clericals and reactionaries hated him in just the same way as they hated Zola. Anatole France had championed Dreyfus, which needed considerable courage, he had debunked Joan of Arc, he had written a comic history of France; above all, he had lost no opportunity of poking fun at the Church. He was everything that the clericals and revanchistes, the people who first preached that the Boche must never be allowed to recover and afterwards sucked the blacking off Hitler’s boots, most detested.

I do not know whether Anatole France’s most characteristic books, for instance, La Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque, are worth rereading at this date. Whatever is in them is really in Voltaire. But it is a different story with the four novels dealing with Monsieur Bergeret. Besides being extremely amusing these give a most valuable picture of French society in the nineties and the background of the Dreyfus case. There is also ‘Crainquebille’, one of the best short stories I have ever read, and incidentally a devastating attack on ‘law and order’.

But though Anatole France could speak up for the working class in a story like ‘Crainquebille’, and though cheap editions of his works were advertised in Communist papers, one ought not really to class him as a Socialist. He was willing to work for Socialism, even to deliver lectures on it in draughty halls, and he knew that it was both necessary and inevitable, but it is doubtful whether he subjectively wanted it. The world, he once said, would get about as much relief from the coming of Socialism as a sick man gets from turning over in bed. In a crisis he was ready to identify himself with the working class, but the thought of a Utopian future depressed him, as can be seen from his book, La Pierre Blanche. There is an even deeper pessimism on Les Dieux Ont Soif, his novel about the French Revolution. Temperamentally he was not a Socialist but a Radical. At this date that is probably the rarer animal of the two, and it is his Radicalism, his passion for liberty and intellectual honesty, that give their special colour to the four novels about Monsieur Bergeret.

.     .     .     .     .

I HAVE never understood why the News Chronicle, whose politics are certainly a very pale pink—about the colour of shrimp paste, I should say, but still pink—allows the professional Roman Catholic ‘Timothy Shy’ (D. B. Wyndham Lewis) to do daily sabotage in his comic column. In Lord Beaverbrook’s Express his fellow-Catholic ‘Beachcomber’ (J. B. Morton) is, of course, more at home. Looking back over the twenty years or so that these two have been on the job, it would be difficult to find a reactionary cause that they have not championed—Pilsudski, Mussolini, appeasement, flogging, Franco, literary censorship; between them they have found good words for everything that any decent person instinctively objects to. They have conducted endless propaganda against Socialism, the League of Nations and scientific research. They have kept up a campaign of abuse against every writer worth reading, from Joyce onwards. They were viciously anti-German until Hitler appeared, when their anti-Germanism cooled off in a remarkable manner. At this moment, needless to say, the especial target of their hatred is Beveridge.

It is a mistake to regard these two as comics pure and simple. Every word they write is intended as Catholic propaganda, and some at least of their co-religionists think very highly of their work in this direction. Their general ‘line’ will be familiar to anyone who has read Chesterton and kindred writers. Its essential note is denigration of England and of the Protestant countries generally. From the Catholic point of view this is necessary. A Catholic, at least an apologist, feels that he must claim superiority for the Catholic countries, and for the Middle Ages as against the present, just as a Communist feels that he must in all circumstances support the U.S.S.R. Hence the endless jibing of ‘Beachcomber’ and ‘Timothy Shy’ at every English institution—tea, cricket, Wordsworth, Charlie Chaplin, kindness to animals, Nelson, Cromwell and what-not. Hence also Timothy Shy’s attempts to rewrite English history and the snarls of hatred that escape him when he thinks of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. (How it sticks in his gizzard, that Spanish Armada! As though anyone cared, at this date!) Hence, even, the endless jeering at novelists, the novel being essentially a post-Reformation form of literature at which on the whole Catholics have not excelled.

From either a literary or a political point of view these two are simply the leavings on Chesterton’s plate. Chesterton’s vision of life was false in some ways, and he was hampered by enormous ignorance, but at least he had courage. He was ready to attack the rich and powerful, and he damaged his career by doing so. But it is the peculiarity of both ‘Beachcomber’ and ‘Timothy Shy’ that they take no risks with their own popularity. Their strategy is always indirect. Thus, if you want to attack the principle of freedom of speech, do it by sneering at the Brains Trust, as if it were a typical example. Dr Joad won’t retaliate! Even their deepest convictions go into cold storage when they become dangerous. Earlier in the war, when it was safe to do so, ‘Beachcomber’ wrote viciously anti-Russian pamphlets, but no anti-Russian remarks appear in his column these days. They will again, however, if popular pro-Russian feeling dies down. I shall be interested to see whether either ‘Beachcomber’ or ‘Timothy Shy’ reacts to these remarks of mine. If so, it will be the first recorded instance of either of them attacking anyone likely to hit back.

Conquest on Orwell

Most literary and scholarly considerations of George Orwell’s work are jejune and derivative. One great exception is Robert Conquest’s Orwell, Socialism and the Cold War” which I found online here.

If you can’t access that link, I’ll see what I can do. Meanwhile, here is a picture of Robert Conquest:

 

 

 

 

Orwell, Socialism and the Cold War

Conquest, Robert

The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell: 
Rodden, John (Ed.)[ New York:  ] 2007 pgs 126-132

ISBN: 0521675073

I

As an observer (and satirist) of realities, Orwell was – reliable. Yet that is too weak a word (though he changed his views on some points, and in any case never posed as an ex cathedra pundit). A man of the Left, our champion in the Cold War, he, better than most of his contemporaries, could take in the phenomena, the actualities.

But theory, or abstraction, was – as Clive James has pointed out – not his forte. What he saw of the injustices of colonial rule was, at a more secondhand level, attributed to imperialist exploitation and the source of comparative Western prosperity – refuted as James points out, by the existence of Sweden, but anyhow untenable on various grounds.

More central to Orwell’s work was his view that the poverty and distress he saw in England was attributable to capitalism, and would be cured by the socialist state. So he was indeed a keen advocate of Socialism – though definable (as he put it) as justice and liberty.

But at the same time he had little use for some socialists. His reason was that the idea of justice and liberty had been ‘buried beneath layer after layer of doctrinaire priggishness, party squabbles and half-baked “progressivism” until it is like a diamond hidden under a mountain of dung’.(9)

Even worse, ‘The underlying motive of many Socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied sense of order. The present state of affairs offends them not because it causes misery, still less because it makes freedom impossible, but because it is untidy . . .’(4)

Again, Orwell comments that this sort of socialist sought a set of reforms which ‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose upon ‘them’, the Lower Orders. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to regard the book-trained Socialist as a bloodless creature entirely incapable of emotion. Though seldom giving much evidence of affection for the exploited, he is perfectly capable of displaying hatred – a sort of queer, theoretical, in vacuo hatred – against the exploiters. Hence the grand old Socialist sport of denouncing the bourgeoisie. It is strange how easily almost any Socialist writer can lash himself into frenzies of rage against the class to which, by birth or by adoption, he himself invariably belongs’. (12)

He added that,

‘And this type is drawn, to begin with, entirely from the middle class, and from a rootless town-bred section of the middle class at that’. (13)

And again that

‘there is the horrible jargon that nearly all Socialists think it necessary to employ. . . . When an ordinary person hears phrases like ‘bourgeois ideology’ and ‘proletarian solidarity’ and ‘expropriators’ he is not inspired by them, he is merely disgusted. Even the single word ‘Comrade’ has done its dirty little bit towards discrediting the Socialist movement. How many a waverer has halted on the brink, gone perhaps to some public meeting and watched self-conscious Socialists dutifully addressing one another as ‘Comrade,’ and then slid away, disillusioned, into the nearest four-ale bar!’ (3)

Orwell in fact seems to have wanted socialism on condition that it would not be run by socialists. (We might suggest, if it comes to that, that many citizens, after Enron, would favour capitalism so long as not run by capitalists. Or bureaucracy not run by bureaucrats).

Now, of course, it must be said that no one was as unlike the socialists Orwell had run into than Atlee, Bevin and Morrison. Indeed he – if not uncritically – supported the Labour governments. And the quasi-intelligentsia which he so reviled had fairly little input into their regime.

II

It will be clear, again, that – like Engels! – Orwell was strongly against what he called cranks, though not so much cranks as activist militant cranks.

I will quote briefly from his dramatic description of what he took to be two typical elderly specimens seen on a bus in Letchworth:

‘They were dressed in pistachio-coloured shirts and khaki shorts into which their huge bottoms were crammed so tightly that you could study every dimple. Their appearance created a mild-stir of horror on top of the bus. The man next to me, a commercial traveler I should say, glanced at me, at them, and back again at me, and murmured, ‘Socialists. . . .’ He was probably right – the I.L.P. were holding their summer school at Letchworth. But the point is that to him, as an ordinary man, a crank meant as Socialist and a Socialist meant a crank’. (15)

But to confine ourselves to the generalities of socialism, or of one variety of socialist, would be a simplification. When Orwell saw immediate realities, he had no blockage against them – as with his description of pre-Second World War Liverpool, with the Conservative city council ‘ruthless’ towards private home ownership and in effect putting through the ‘socialist legislation’ of ‘rehousing from public funds’. Thus, he says ‘Beyond a certain point therefore Socialism and capitalism are not easy to distinguish’, and in support he notes a fine quarter the other side of the river, built by the Leverhulme soap works.(11)

He thus saw, empirically, (and – as so often with Orwell – against his preconceived generalisations), a tendency: and one whose positive side conflicted with what he came to see (partly under James Burnham’s influence) as the possible future development of an anti-popular merger into corporatism, to which it may be said, we are notably vulnerable today.(14)

And if he sometimes saw the emerging, or impending, post-capitalist society as at least probably and potentially benign and socialist in the best sense, he retained his commonsense attitude even to fine-sounding and well-meaning projected Utopias.

Here he is (in his essay on Swift):

In a Society in which there is no law, and in theory no compulsion, the only arbiter of behaviour is public opinion. But public opinion, because of the tremendous urge to conformity in gregarious animals, is less tolerant than any system of law. When human beings are governed by ‘thou shalt not’, the individual can ‘practise a certain amount of eccentricity: when they are supposedly governed by ‘love’ or ‘reason’, he is under continuous pressure to make him behave and think in exactly the same way as everyone else’. (1)

III

Apart from their implicit appeal to reality and commonsense we find Orwell, in his essays on literature, and other themes, seeking humanity and clarity. His output in those fields is hard to categorise. The word ‘critic’ doesn’t seem quite right. ‘Humaniser’ or ‘clarificator’ perhaps. And if he has a non-literary point, he does not disguise it. Kipling, for example, is understandably rebuked for his imperialism – but more for the odd outbursts of gutter chauvinism than for the imperialism as such, which, indeed, Orwell notes to be concerned, unlike his critics, with real problems. Anthony Powell wrote that what was often missing in writing on Kipling was his extraordinary ‘originality’, a claim traditionally confined to a different category of writers, but one which Orwell could see. And in a more political context Orwell’s open-mindedness can be seen in his remarks about Churchill, a political enemy – that though the British people rejected his policies, they ‘liked’ him, and one had to admire in him ‘a certain largeness and geniality’.(6)

IV

On Stalinism, though, the really extraordinary thing was not that Orwell was essentially right but that so many Westerners were so spectacularly wrong. Of course there were other voices of sanity – Koestler (though not exactly a Western intellectual), Humphrey Slater, the senior British officer in Republican Spain and editor of Polemic. (The British CP had a special meeting devoted to how to handle the problem of Orwell, Koestler and Polemic.)

Orwell’s main concern was the gullibility of the intelligentsia. How could so many educated minds believe all that fantasy and falsification? The head of the Austrian CP, Ernst Fischer, tells of his later wife asking him how he could have believed that all the leading Old Bolsheviks were Nazi agents. Wasn’t it more likely that the lone survivor had faked all that? Fischer found that he couldn’t answer.

Orwell’s worldwide fame rests of course mainly in this context on his two works of what I suppose should be called political science fiction, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

We are often told that Russians and East Europeans could not believe that Orwell had not lived in the Soviet Union. I read Animal Farm soon after its publication, and I made a minor contribution to its effect. In Sofia in 1946 or 1947, when I was Press Attaché at the British Legation, I got to know Georgi Andreichin. He had been imprisoned in the USA soon after the First World War, had gone to Moscow a Communist devotee – his name is mentioned in the Kaganovich correspondence recently published by Yale. He was attached to Averell Harriman in the late 1920s when the latter was in Moscow on some commercial project. When Harriman was back in 1941 for the US government he asked after Andreichin. He was by now in a labour camp and it took some time to find him. But he was released, and later joined his friend, the Comintern veteran Vasil Kolarov who, returning to become President of Bulgaria, took Andreichin with him as a chief aide, with the rank of cabinet minister.

He had heard of, and I lent him, Animal Farm – which enthralled him. He told me that in his long revolutionary career, all he had been able to accomplish was to nominate his native village as the rural-show place for foreigners – thus giving them a prosperity denied to the rest of the peasantry. An Orwellian perspective, I agreed. After I left Bulgaria he seems to have disappeared in the Stalinist purge of the local Communist leaders and others – Orwell, alas, again.

It is occasionally denied that Nineteen Eighty-Four targeted the Soviet Union. Bernard Williams, editing Orwell, complained about the tendency. But others spoke, even speak, of it as a general satire on tyranny everywhere.

In fact the Stalin regime is identifiable in great specificity. The Unperson was a common Moscow unphenomenon. The ‘Spies’ are based on the heroic denouncers of parents in the USSR, where the ‘sacred and dear’ Pavlik Morozov museum rose in the site where this young Stalinist hero had ‘unmasked his father’ – a recalcitrant peasant who had been shot.

As to Facecrime, an authoritative instruction issued in Moscow runs:

One must not content oneself with merely paying attention to what is being said for that may well be in complete harmony with the Party programme. One must pay attention also to the manner – to the sincerity, for example, with which a school-mistress recites a poem the authorities regard as doubtful, or the pleasure revealed by a critic who goes into detail about a play he professes to condemn. (10)

The sudden switch of international alliances in the middle of a party orator’s speech is modeled on the circumstances of the Nazi-Soviet pact, when some editions of Communist newspapers on the same day accused the Germans of war-mongering in the afternoon, and celebrated them as friends in the evening.

Doublethink is virtually a translation of the Russian ‘dvoeverye’. Of dozens of examples which might be given, the most obvious is Soviet elections. Vybor (election) in Russian as in English means ‘choice’. The ballot forms contained elaborate instructions on crossing out all but one name. But there never was more than one name . . . or again, ‘concentration camp’ was changed in Stalin’s time, as the camps got more deadly, to ‘corrective labour camp’: ‘joycamp’ takes the process further still.

As to the origins of the party, Orwell tells us that lngsoc (like communism) ‘grew out of the earlier Socialist movement and inherited its phraseology’; and, while rejecting all that Orwell understands by socialism, ‘chooses to do it in the name of Socialism’.(2)

Walter Cronkite, in his preface to Nineteen Eighty-Four (1983), suggests (quite contrary to the novel’s economic lessons) that ‘greater efficiency, ease and security may come at a substantial price in freedom’, whereas, of course, Orwell saw that totalitarianism destroys efficiency, ease and security together with liberty, and because of the destruction of liberty.

When Orwell wrote, his main concern, as he makes clear time and again, was less to attack the Stalin regime as such than to combat a whole herd of intellectual quislings at home; to expose the delusions of intellectuals. He remarks, in his 1947 Introduction to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm, ‘I would not have condemned Stalin, and his associates merely for their barbaric and undemocratic methods . . . But on the other hand it was of the utmost importance that people in Western Europe should see the Soviet regime for what it really was’, his aim being ‘the destruction of the Soviet myth’ in Western minds.(7)

When it comes to the future, Orwell predicts the eventual collapse of the Soviet regime. He was strong not only on the lethal falsifications of Stalinism, but also on a phenomenon to be found, and partly out of Sovietophilia, in the British intelligentsia – anti-Americanism, seen not only as political foolishness, but as yet another example of a mulish conditioned reflex. ‘To be anti-American nowadays is to shout with the mob. Of course it is only a minor mob, but it is a vocal one . . . But politico-literary intellectuals are not usually frightened of mass opinion. What they are frightened of is the prevailing opinion within their own group. At any given moment there is always an orthodoxy, a parrot-cry which must be repeated, and in the more active section of the Left the orthodoxy of the moment is anti-Americanism’.(5)

Only the intelligentsia could be wrong in the ways Orwell indicts – and this was at a time when universities processed those who had already received a reasonable education. The present decline of the universities has exacerbated a problem that Orwell was also much concerned with – the projection of unreal verbalisations and complexities. Long since validated on communism, Orwell needs to be vigorously promoted in his capacity as a supreme critic, not only politically, of the misuse of language. Some of his targets – J. B. Bernal (the Communist physicist), for example, were consciously lying; they knew what they were doing. Orwell writes of the crypto-Communist M. P. Konni Zilliacus that he was not honest, but he was sincere (though later denounced as a British spy in a Stalinist show trial). Orwell’s emphasis was not against them so much as their actions against clarity and reality. He often complained not merely of conscious or unconscious obfuscation, but also of the mere abuse met with in those circles where, as he put it, words like ‘red baiter’ and ‘rabid’, were used instead of argument, so that ‘if from time to time you express a mild distaste for slave-labour camps or one-candidate elections, you are either insane or actuated by the worst motives’.(8)

Orwell would not have stooped to ‘yank-baiters’. Still, he rated 1776 et seq higher than 1917/1984.

NOTES

(1) Orwell, George, ‘Politics vs Literature – an Examination of Gulliver’s Travels’, Polemic, No. 5, September 1946, in Collected Essays, Vol. 4, pp. 215-16.

(2) Orwell, George, 1984, Chapter 1 of ‘The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism’, passim.

(3) Ibid, p. 255.

(4) Ibid, p. 211.

(5) Orwell, George, ‘In Defence of Comrade Zilliacus’, Collected Essays, Vol. 4, pp. 397-98.

(6) Orwell, George, ‘Review: Their Finest Hour, by Winston S. Churchill’, New Leader (New York), 14 May 1949, in Collected Essays, Vol. 4, p. 494.

(7) Orwell, George, Collected Essays, Vol. 3, pp. 404-405.

(8) Ibid, p. 399.

(9) Orwell, George. The Road to Wigan Pier. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd. 1974, p. 248.

(10) Oktyabr, No. 2, 1949.

(11) Ibid, p. 189.

(12) Ibid, p. 212.

(13) Ibid, p. 214.

(14) Orwell, George, ‘Burnham’s View of the Contemporary World Struggle’, New Leader (New York), 29 March 1947 (in Collected Essays, Vol. 4, pp. 313-26).

(15) Ibid, p. 206.

Robert Conquest is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the author of some thirty-one books of history, biography, poetry, fiction and criticism, including The Great Terror, which has appeared in more than twenty languages, The Harvest of Sorrow, Reflections on a Ravaged Century, and The Dragons of Expectation.

Seventy-five years ago today.

ARTHUR KOESTLER’S recent article in Tribune set me wondering whether the book racket will start up again in its old vigour after the war, when paper is plentiful and there are other things to spend your money on.Publishers have got to live, like anyone else, and you cannot blame them for advertising their wares, but the truly shameful feature of literary life before the war was the blurring of the distinction between advertisement and criticism. A number of the so-called reviewers, and especially the best-known ones, were simply blurb writers. The ‘screaming’ advertisement started some time in the nineteen-twenties, and as the competition to take up as much space and use as many superlatives as possible became fiercer, publishers’ advertisements grew to be an important source of revenue to a number of papers. The literary pages of several well-known papers were practically owned by a handful of publishers, who had their quislings planted in all the important jobs. These wretches churned forth their praise—‘masterpiece’, ‘brilliant’, ‘unforgettable’ and so forth—like so many mechanical pianos. A book coming from the right publishers could be absolutely certain not only of favourable reviews, but of being placed on the ‘recommended’ list which industrious book borrowers would cut out and take to the library the next day.

If you published books at several different houses you soon learned how strong the pressure of advertisement was. A book coming from a big publisher, who habitually spent large sums on advertisement, might get fifty or seventy-five reviews: a book from a small publisher might get only twenty. I knew of one case where a theological publisher, for some reason, took it into his head to publish a novel. He spent a great deal of money on advertising it. It got exactly four reviews in the whole of England, and the only full-length one was in a motoring paper, which seized the opportunity to point out that the part of the country described in the novel would be a good place for a motoring tour. This man was not in the racket, his advertisements were not likely to become a regular source of revenue to the literary papers, and so they just ignored him.

Even reputable literary papers could not afford to disregard their advertisers altogether. It was quite usual to send a book to a reviewer with some such formula as, ‘Review this book if it seems any good. If not, send it back. We don’t think it’s worthwhile to print simply damning reviews.’

Naturally, a person to whom the guinea or so that he gets for the review means next week’s rent is not going to send the book back. He can be counted on to find something to praise, whatever his private opinion of the book may be.

In America even the pretence that hack reviewers read the books they are paid to criticize has been partially abandoned. Publishers, or some publishers, send out with review copies a short synopsis telling the reviewer what to say. Once, in the case of a novel of my own, they mis-spelt the name of one of the characters. The same mis-spelling turned up in review after review. The so-called critics had not even glanced into the book—which, nevertheless, most of them were boosting to the skies.

.     .     .     .     .

PHRASE much used in political circles in this country is ‘playing into the hands of’. It is a sort of charm or incantation to silence uncomfortable truths. When you are told that by saying this, that or the other you are ‘playing into the hands of’ some sinister enemy, you know that it is your duty to shut up immediately.For example, if you say anything damaging about British imperialism, you are playing into the hands of Dr Goebbels. If you criticize Stalin you are playing into the hands of the Tablet and the Daily Telegraph. If you criticize Chiang Kai-Shek you are playing into the hands of Wang Ching-Wei—and so on, indefinitely.

Objectively this charge is often true. It is always difficult to attack one party to a dispute without temporarily helping the other. Some of Gandhi’s remarks have been very useful to the Japanese. The extreme Tories will seize on anything anti-Russian, and don’t necessarily mind if it comes from Trotskyist instead of right-wing sources. The American imperialists, advancing to the attack behind a smoke-screen of novelists, are always on the look-out for any disreputable detail about the British Empire. And if you write anything truthful about the London slums, you are liable to hear it repeated on the Nazi radio a week later. But what, then, are you expected to do? Pretend there are no slums?

Everyone who has ever had anything to do with publicity or propaganda can think of occasions when he was urged to tell lies about some vitally important matter, because to tell the truth would give ammunition to the enemy. During the Spanish Civil War, for instance, the dissensions on the Government side were never properly thrashed out in the left-wing press, although they involved fundamental points of principle. To discuss the struggle between the Communists and the Anarchists, you were told, would simply give the Daily Mail the chance to say that the Reds were all murdering one another. The only result was that the left-wing cause as a whole was weakened. The Daily Mail may have missed a few horror stories because people held their tongues, but some all-important lessons were not learned, and we are suffering from the fact to this day.

—George Orwell’s ‘As I Please’ column in Tribune, 9 June 1944.

“I haven’t lost any lions”

An Orwell “As I Please,” 2 February 1945. This is as typical as you can get. 

 

I HAVE just been rereading, with great interest, an old favourite of my boyhood, The Green Curve by ‘Ole Luk-Oie’. ‘Ole Luk-Oie’ was the pseudonym of Major Swinton (afterwards General Swinton), who was, I believe, one of the rather numerous people credited with the invention of the tank. The stories in this book, written about 1908, are the forecasts of an intelligent professional soldier who had learned the lessons of the Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War, and it is interesting to compare them with what actually happened a few years later.

One story, written as early as 1907 (at which date no aeroplane had actually risen off the ground for more than a few seconds), describes an air raid. The aeroplanes carry eight-pounder bombs! Another story, written in the same year, deals with a German invasion of England, and I was particularly interested to notice that in this story the Germans are already nicknamed ‘Huns’. I had been inclined to attribute the use of the word ‘Hun’, for Germans, to Kipling, who certainly used it in the poem that he published during the first week of the last war.

In spite of the efforts of several newspapers, ‘Hun’ has never caught on in this war, but we have plenty of other offensive nicknames. Someone could write a valuable monograph on the use of question-begging names and epithets, and their effect in obscuring political controversies. It would bring out the curious fact that if you simply accept and apply to yourself a name intended as an insult, it may end by losing its insulting character. This appears to be happening to ‘Trotskyist’, which is already dangerously close to being a compliment. So also with ‘Conchy’ during the last war. Another example is ‘Britisher’. This word was used for years as a term of opprobrium in the anglophobe American press. Later on, Northcliffe and others, looking round for some substitute for ‘Englishman’ which should have an imperialistic and jingoistic flavour, found ‘Britisher’ ready to hand, and took it over. Since then the word has had an aura of gutter patriotism, and the kind of person who tells you that ‘what these natives need is a firm hand’ also tells you that he is ‘proud to be a Britisher’—which is about equivalent to a Chinese Nationalist describing himself as a ‘Chink’.

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LEAFLET recently received from the Friends’ Peace Committee states that if the current scheme to remove all Poles from the areas to be taken over by the U.S.S.R., and, in compensation, all Germans from the portions of Germany to be taken over by Poland, is put into operation, ‘this will involve the transfer of not less than seven million people’.

Some estimates, I believe, put it higher than this, but let us assume it to be seven millions. This is equivalent to uprooting and transplanting the entire population of Australia, or the combined populations of Scotland and Ireland. I am no expert on transport or housing, and I would like to hear from somebody better qualified a rough estimate (a) of how many wagons and locomotives, running for how long, would be involved in transporting those seven million people, plus their livestock, farm machinery and household goods; or, alternatively, (b) of how many of them are going to die of starvation and exposure if they are simply shipped off without their livestock, etc.

I fancy the answer to (a) would show that this enormous crime cannot actually be carried through, though it might be started, with confusion, suffering and the sowing of irreconcilable hatreds as the result. Meanwhile, the British people should be made to understand, with as much concrete detail as possible, what kind of policies their statesmen are committing them to.

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NOT-TOO-DISTANT explosion shakes the house, the windows rattle in their sockets, and in the next room the 1964 class wakes up and lets out a yell or two. Each time this happens I find myself thinking, ‘Is it possible that human beings can continue with this lunacy very much longer?’ You know the answer, of course. Indeed, the difficulty nowadays is to find anyone who thinks that there will not be another war in the fairly near future.

Germany, I suppose, will be defeated this year, and when Germany is out of the way Japan will not be able to stand up to the combined power of Britain and the U.S.A. Then there will be a peace of exhaustion, with only minor and unofficial wars raging all over the place, and perhaps this so-called peace may last for decades. But after that, by the way the world is actually shaping, it may well be that war will become permanent. Already, quite visibly and more or less with the acquiescence of all of us, the world is splitting up into the two or three huge super-states forecast in James Burnham’s Managerial Revolution. One cannot draw their exact boundaries as yet, but one can see more or less what areas they will comprise. And if the world does settle down into this pattern, it is likely that these vast states will be permanently at war with one another, though it will not necessarily be a very intensive or bloody kind of war. Their problems, both economic and psychological, will be a lot simpler if the doodlebugs are more or less constantly whizzing to and fro.

If these two or three super-states do establish themselves, not only will each of them be too big to be conquered, but they will be under no necessity to trade with one another, and in a position to prevent all contact between their nationals. Already, for a dozen years or so, large areas of the earth have been cut off from one another, although technically at peace.

Some months ago, in this column, I pointed out that modern scientific inventions have tended to prevent rather than increase international communication. This brought me several angry letters from readers, but none of them were able to show that what I had said was false. They merely retorted that if we had Socialism, the aeroplane, the radio, etc. would not be perverted to wrong uses. Very true, but then we haven’t Socialism. As it is, the aeroplane is primarily a thing for dropping bombs and the radio primarily a thing for whipping up nationalism. Even before the war there was enormously less contact between the peoples of the earth than there had been thirty years earlier, and education was perverted, history rewritten and freedom of thought suppressed to an extent undreamed of in earlier ages. And there is no sign whatever of these tendencies being reversed.

Maybe I am pessimistic. But, at any rate, those are the thoughts that cross my mind (and a lot of other people’s too, I believe) every time the explosion of a V bomb booms through the mist.

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LITTLE story I came upon in a book.

Someone receives an invitation to go out lion-hunting. ‘But,’ he exclaims, ‘I haven’t lost any lions!’

 

More of the same here.