Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Politics

I read John Harris pining for the spirit of 1968 just as Tariq Ali was on Desert Island Discs pining, in his grandiloquent, toff tones, for much the same thing.  Meanwhile, here's Polly trying once again to get Gordon back on track by embracing, if not quite the spirit of '68, at least some distant approximation. Without actually agreeing with them, one can see their point. The right, from the later eighties onwards, abandoned conservatism in favour of, first, neoliberalism and then neoconservatism. Thanks to the abject failure of their Iraq strategy, which has weakened appallingly America's position in the world, the neocons are now dead, but, like Mick Jagger in the Randy Newman song, they don't know it. (I regard the current Iraq strategy - military realism - as the polar opposite of the neocons' war-lite, knock 'em down and they'll be fine strategy.) Neocons like William Kristol are still convincing themselves they are among the living by trying to swift-boat Barack Obama. The neocons being what they are - cliquish, gangsterish - they'll probably succeed. But they're still dead. Meanwhile, under the shadow of the credit crunch, the neolibs once again find their vision of  markets free of all state encumbrances looking a touch implausible. Paul Krugman - with whom I often disagree - gets it about right. In this context, once can see why the left should feel it's time has come again. But the '68ers, the neocons and the neolibs have one big thing in common, they are all fantasists. Nobody with any insight into history and human nature could possibly believe such nonsensical programmes. I've dabbled in them all at one time or another, so, with some small authority, I can tell you they're all the bleeding same - self-aggrandising, cruel simplifications that satisfy the need of the faithless to believe. I don't know what remains. Sane pragmatists with a solid tragic sense are hard to find these days.  But, trust me, one day they'll be back - wry, sceptical, occasionally drunk, and never so dumb as to dazzled by the spectre of a perfect future.


  1. Yes as usual, quite right Bryan. Rem acu tetigisti - thou hast touched the sharp thing, you've hit the nail on the head!
    I heard the last bit of Desert Island Discs and would like to know why Tariq Ali is so bloody annoying? His vanity? His
    On the one hand he says he's not part of any 'establishment' while on the other he affects a de haut en bas accent that doesn't quite come off.
    He's not part of anything because he thinks he transcends it all? And if he can't run it his way he won't have anything to do with it at all.
    And he's the only one who pointedly refused to take the Bible 'I won't take the Bible' he said grandly.

  2. Ahh, Bryan the nonpareil, afflicted with an inner restlessness he learned to get by with very little sleep, and developed the superiority of those who boast of how much they can accomplish while lesser mortals take their rest.

    And what I'm driving at is that the man is perfectly right:

    Of all the celebrated, acclaimed and self-aggrandising images of his compilation, these seeds of the West’s decline are truly the most pathetic...


  3. Like you I have been seduced by the dangerous extremism and thoughtlessness of both libertarianism and liberal imperialism in the past - to little avail thankfully!

  4. How about a better future, rather than a perfect future? Are the wry, and occasionally drunk, paleo-conservatives sceptical of this as well?

  5. It's at that point, then, that my sympathy with paleo-conservatism dwindles, and I suspect the paleo-conservatives of attempting to preserve the status quo, thereby serving the interests of those who possess wealth, power or status at a particular moment in time. Realism and pragmatism are consistent with progress, and do not need to be conflated with such conservatism.

  6. Gordon, progress in science and technology is indisputable. But there is no progress in ethics, politics or art. It is, therefore, certain that sci-tech progress will be used for evil ends. Torture, I would point out, is now acceptable to western governments. There are, however, local improvements that, we can be sure, are temporary. These are worthy of sustenance - they protect cherished ways of life. It is the idea of absolute progress which I find repellent.

  7. Lots of blah-blah here in Paris about 1968 -- the barricades, the fight for freedom of expression. Yeah, right. Not if it interferes with a good dinner and a bottle of Pommard.

    One very good aspect of America's imprimatur upon world culture -- Phil, you will have to acknowledge this is a good thing -- it's no longer torture to the nose to be on the Metro at rush hour. People are clean and fresh-smelling! This must be killing the perfume industry.....

  8. Posh Paki.
    How a friend rounds up, amongst others, Hanif Kareshi, Anish Kapoor, Tariq Ali...
    Wicked - but tickles the instinctive, envious rascist in me.