Category Archives: egalitarianism (theoretical)

What lies behind Grant’s adoption of gutter language?

Dalrymple explains that Hugh Grant (left) was the star of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and once had some kind of trouble with the police

A tweet by the actor and thinker Hugh Grant, addressing the British prime minister, reads:

You will not fuck with my children’s future. You will not destroy the freedoms my grandfather fought two world wars to defend. Fuck off you over-promoted rubber bath toy. Britain is revolted by you and you [sic] little gang of masturbatory prefects.

Dalrymple comments:

No doubt the space allowed by Twitter does not encourage profound or logical reflection (though in the Analects, Confucius manages concision and compression somewhat better than Mr Grant). What is important in the above mental eructation is not its thought, or even feeling, but its mode of expression.

Grant’s dull and tedious adoption of the language of the gutter is

much more significant in the long term than Brexit or the actions of the prime minister. It points to the cultural degeneration of a nation that, insofar as it has an ideology at all, has made vulgarity posing as egalitarianism its ideology.

Grant’s greatest rôle: defender of freedom and democracy

Grant, says Dalrymple,

if I have understood correctly — though I am open to correction — has made something of his character as an upper-middle-class Englishman. But he is at one with the British cultural élite in vulgarity of expression.

We may be sure that,

irrespective of what the prime minister does, Mr Grant will be able to arrange for a bright future, at least in the material sense. We may be sure that, if any government were to threaten that assured material future by genuinely and inescapably egalitarian economic measures, his howls of indignation would be a good deal more sincere than in the tweet above.

Dalrymple notes that vulgarity as an ideology

is a substitute for economic egalitarianism, in which neither I nor the ideological vulgarians such as Mr Grant believe, and which both of us fear. Mr Grant, however, thinks that he can deflect some of the envy no doubt directed at him if he can show by his employment of vulgar language that he is really in the same boat as the most subterranean members of the underclass. He is asserting some kind of equality with them by his use of debased and inexpressive language.

The tendency to act down,

which occurs in spheres other than language, does not derive from any guilt about social or economic inequality, which, on the contrary, it is designed to preserve and maintain. It is rather a camouflage or smokescreen for privilege, whether that privilege be earned or not. But though it is playacting — indeed, defender of freedom and democracy may be Mr Grant’s greatest rôle — it is not without real cultural effect, an effect that is baleful if you do not approve of the coarsening that it brings with it.

Moreover,

lack of verbal restraint is not liberation, it is impoverishment of thought.

Dalrymple lands in England

Disembarking after the Channel crossing, Dalrymple notices that large numbers of young Englishwomen

have facial expressions simultaneously ovine and lupine, and bare their pudgy midriffs, with a tattooed lizard or butterfly for individuality.

They are, he says,

fried food and alcoholic Friday nights made flesh.

British vulgarity, he observes,

enters the fabric of life and seems to omit no detail.

Dalrymple walks into a small supermarket, where a spotty youth addresses him as ‘mate’. Dalrymple demands that the youth not address him thus. The cur returns

a look of sullen malevolence.

On the train, an 11-year-old girl, in tight pink leggings, keeps her feet and shoes securely on the seat next to her, under the gaze of her mother, who is tattooed, pierced in the nose and lower lip, and eating crisps. The girl’s six-year-old brother has already had his ear pierced, and wears a diamante stud in it. Dalrymple comments:

It is never too early for the English to teach their offspring vulgarity.

Vulgarity, says Dalrymple,

has its place as a counterweight to pretension, of course.

But

as a ruling national characteristic it is charmless, stupid and without virtue.

He suspects that it is connected with

the equality that we feel it necessary to pretend is our ruling political passion. Since economic equality is no longer deemed desirable, the only other equality possible is that of cultural mores; and since it is much easier to level down than up (which, after all, was once the Labour party’s aim), the middle classes can best express their political virtue by embracing and promoting the vulgarity that they assume — wrongly — was the only cultural characteristic of the proletariat.

The problem with adopting such a pose

is that if you keep it up long enough it ceases to be merely a pose. It is what you are: in the case of the English, vulgar.

How a certain celebrated journalist conducted himself

The acclaimed journalist — a theoretical egalitarian outraged (in print) by injustice — was dismissive of his social inferiors

Dalrymple hears a story from an eyewitness

about the behaviour of a late journalist, undoubtedly of very great talent, that lowered him in my estimate far more than any intellectual disagreements I might have had with him had ever done.

The renowned journalist

was, I learnt from this eyewitness, rude and condescending to, and dismissive of, his social inferiors, especially those who performed services for him.

Dalrymple comments:

Of all human qualities, this seems to me to be one of the most disagreeable, and to reflect worst on a person’s character. As the eyewitness to this behaviour had no axe to grind, and might rather have been expected to evince admiration for this journalist, I believed what she told me.

He asks:

What difference did this knowledge of his character make to my judgment of his work? His wit was just as witty, his facts as accurate or inaccurate, his deductions from them just as valid or invalid, as they had been before.

Yet

it coloured everything, for the man had been a theoretical egalitarian, outraged, in print, by the injustices, inequities and inequalities of the world.

If the lionised journalist’s disdain for subordinates were habitual rather than occasional (and Dalrymple’s eyewitness, who met him on several occasions, suggested that it was habitual), then

his professions of egalitarianism were insincere.

Fillon’s sin

It was, writes Dalrymple haltingly, perhaps

venial. They are all at it, I tell myself.

It is hypocritical, to be sure, for Fillon to attack the State whose finances he has exploited. But

is his hypocrisy any worse than that of the Leftists who argue for equality and live like élites, who are egalitarian in everything except their lives?

Comrade Madam’s commanding heights

Looking down upon the masses Looking down upon the masses from a plateau of literary, political and humanitarian achievement

Nadine Gordimer’s voice, writes Dalrymple, had a timbre that

would have penetrated the best artillery-proof armour plating.

On one occasion at a conference in Bamako that Dalrymple attended, he noticed that Gordimer

condescendingly addressed a Ghanaian lady as ‘my sister Susan’.

‘Actually, my name’s Gloria,’ said her sister Susan.

But the great writer ignored this manifestation of pedantry and continued with what she was saying.

Gordimer

exactly corresponded to the characterisation of her by the satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys as ‘Comrade Madam’: the lifetime habit of command combined with a theoretical and dogmatic egalitarianism.