Category Archives: adolescent illusions

How socialism works

The Left, writes Dalrymple,

is forward-looking and judges the present not by what has existed in an imperfect past, or by what is possible for human beings given their essential and abiding nature, let alone by any deontological precepts, but by a future state of perfection that will allegedly be called into existence.

Communism was supposed to

usher in an era of such material plenty, spread not equally but according to what each man needed (as judged by himself), that Man would be all but freed from labour, and the full beauty and potential of his personality would thereafter blossom. Government would wither away; and when it did, let a thousand Mozarts bloom!

What actually happened

was so preposterously different from this adolescent Marxian nonsense that the ideology could not long survive in the hearts and minds of millions its encounter with reality.

As time went on, with no utopia (or even adequate levels of material prosperity) in the offing, propaganda

was no longer an attempt to persuade the population, but became an attempt to humiliate and thus render it docile. Perpetual shortage was represented as unprecedented abundance, either present or to come. Constant intrusion and surveillance was represented as the highest form of freedom.

The error

was to be relatively specific about what utopia would look like. Whatever material abundance meant, it could not possibly mean queueing for five hours for a few measly potatoes.

Infantile political mania

To give way to political mania is, writes Dalrymple,

to ascribe to politicians more directive power over society than they possess, except under circumstances that, thankfully, are unusual in the West.

It is

to regress to childhood, a time when one believes in the omnipotence of one’s parents who, as adults, seem as if they can do whatever they like—a power to which the child believes he will accede merely by adding years to his age.

Dalrymple doubts, for instance, whether anyone other than an intellectual or, say, the London newspaper the Guardian

ever thought that America had changed utterly and unrecognisably overnight with the election of Mr Trump.

With regard to political apathy, Dalrymple says that it can

give rise to gusts of irrational hope, particularly among the young, who then invest their favored political figure with the power, or the aura of having the power, to remove the source of all their frustrations (real as these might be).

The rise of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn,

who thrill the young with their preposterous and dangerous notions, is proof of this.

Hitch’s hormone-disturbed historiography

Christopher Hitchens: lifelong adolescence

Christopher Hitchens: lifelong adolescence

Lying not far beneath the surface of neo-atheist books, writes Dalrymple,

is the kind of historiography that many of us adopted in our hormone-disturbed adolescence, furious at the discovery that our parents sometimes told lies and violated their own precepts and rules. It can be summed up in Christopher Hitchens’s drumbeat in God Is Not Great: ‘Religion spoils everything.’ What? The St Matthew Passion? The cathedral of Chartres?

The emblematic religious person in the neo-atheist books

seems to be a Glasgow Airport bomber—a type unrepresentative of Muslims, let alone communicants of the poor old Church of England.

It is

Amply proved his mettle

Amply proved his mettle

surely not news, except to someone so ignorant that he probably wouldn’t be interested in these books in the first place, that religious conflict has often been murderous and that religious people have committed hideous atrocities.

So have secularists and atheists, and

though they have had less time to prove their mettle in this area, they have proved it amply. If religious belief is not synonymous with good behaviour, neither is absence of belief, to put it mildly.

In fact, says Dalrymple,

one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and I.G. Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide.

Hitch’s smug, adolescent exhibitionism

A spotty record, to put it most kindly

Self-satisfaction seeping from every pore: the slightly sickening forms of cheap dissent exhibited by Hitchens went down well with certain sections of the US public. Rather than following Brecht and making one of the people’s paradises, such as the GDR, his home, he preferred the capitalist hell that is America, where as it happens he lived very comfortably indeed

Christopher Hitchens, writes Dalrymple, fell prey to the illusion that the striking of trivial attitudes was generosity enough for a lifetime. He

commodified his dissent, albeit in a niche market (though niches in America are larger than entire markets elsewhere).

While his brother Peter has thoroughly repented, Christopher retained

an emotional sympathy for his former views. In others, he would no doubt espy in this intellectual dishonesty and historical distortion; in himself, he sees truth to his own generous principles.

His review of a reissue of Isaac Deutscher’s three-volume biography of Trotsky, for example,

presents Trotsky principally as a gifted journalist and sage — a little like Hitchens himself, in fact — the force of whose ideas, or phrases, made the unjustly powerful tremble everywhere.

Why Hitchens’s unusual delicacy over this moral monster? Because, says Dalrymple, he

Guaranteed gentle handling: Hitchens knew the pleasures and glories of ultra-low-risk Western protest

Guaranteed gentle handling: Hitchens knew the pleasures and glories of ultra-low-risk Western protest

was himself once a follower of Trotsky and does not want to admit that he was, by implication, a supporter of mass murder, the ruthless suppression of opponents and the kind of tyranny that made all previous tyrannies appear bumbling and amateurish.

It was not that Hitchens wanted

to bring about such a tyranny, let alone live under one (anyone who did would hardly decamp to the US). Rather, he fell prey to the adolescent illusion that the striking of attitudes is generosity enough.

Other people had only

Self-regarding to the end

Self-regarding to the end

walk-on parts

when Hitchens was striking attitudes, which was most of the time, and his hatred of religion

strikes me as adolescent. We most of us know by now that religious bigotry is a bad thing — though the record of hardline secularists in the 20th century is not exactly spotless — but only an adolescent sees in the religious history of mankind nothing but intolerance. Compulsory attendance at school chapel must have been a traumatic experience for Hitchens.

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