Category Archives: revolutionaries

Victory to the kleptocrats!

In Angola, writes Dalrymple,

a revolutionary movement emerged triumphant, and

the post-revolutionary régime was of course

a pure kleptocracy under cover of Marxist rhetoric.

Radical idealism and its tragic consequences

Dalrymple summarises the four stages set out by Daniel Chirot in You Say You Want a Revolution?

  1. An outmoded governing power refuses to accept that change is necessary and consequently refuses to make the necessary concessions to save itself. This leads to overthrow by relatively moderate leaders who would once have accepted compromise but see that change can only come about by revolution.
  2. There is a counter-revolutionary reaction by those who do not accept their loss of power and who provoke a civil war or call for foreign intervention, or both. As a result, much more radical revolutionary leaders come to the fore and defend the revolution by increasing repression of enemies or supposed enemies.
  3. The radical leaders, because they hold extreme views and are imbued with unrealistic notions of the redemption of mankind from all its earthly ills, impose experimentation on the population which is economically and socially disastrous.
  4. In the case of its evident failure, the revolutionary régime loses its ideological ardour, and settles down to a kind of routine and less violent authoritarianism accompanied by large-scale corruption and cronyism.

Mission civilisatrice

Léopoldville, 1928

Léopoldville, 1928

It ends with heads impaled on poles

In Conrad, writes Dalrymple, there is not just linguistic mastery but

a cognitive and a moral quality.

Art, entertainment, and moral purpose are indivisible.

Probity was perhaps the highest good, the moral quality Conrad admired most; for him, very distant goals diluted probity and finally dissolved it. The good that resulted from doing something with all one’s might had to be tangible or immediate, and not so far removed that it entailed or permitted the doing of evil in the name of the eventual good that it would supposedly produce.

Forced labour, Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company, Belgian Congo 1907

Forced labour, Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company, Belgian Congo 1907

The risks of distance are shown by the colonialists in Heart of Darkness.

Kurtz has grand plans for a mission civilisatrice in the depths of the primeval forest that end with decapitated heads impaled on poles.

Conrad allowed no transcendent meaning, purpose, or design to the universe:

There were no ultimate consolations for our earthly travails, except such as we can find for ourselves, and that are inevitably modest. Attempts to transgress those dimensions are intellectually absurd and practically disastrous.

Marxist doctrine: a précis

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 00.38.34Dalrymple draws attention to a useful summary provided by the character Michaelis, ‘the ticket-of-leave apostle‘ (‘It was said that for three seasons running a very wealthy old lady had sent him for a cure to Marienbad‘), in Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent:

All idealisation makes life poorer. To beautify it is to take away its character of complexity — it is to destroy it. Leave that to the moralists, my boy. History is made by men, but they do not make it in their heads. The ideas that are born in their consciousness play an insignificant part in the march of events. History is dominated and determined by the tool and the production — by the force of economic conditions. Capitalism has made socialism, and the laws made by the capitalist for the protection of property are responsible for anarchism.

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 00.40.29As for the future, says Michaelis,

no one can tell what form the social organisation may take….Then why indulge in prophetic phantasies? At best they can only interpret the mind of the prophet, and can have no objective value. Leave that pastime to the moralists, my boy….The future is as certain as the past—slavery, feudalism, individualism, collectivism. This is the statement of a law, not an empty prophecy.

Pessimists, despair not!

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 13.26.38Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, AIDS and the Ebola virus have proved disappointing and dementia rates are falling but

there are grounds for thinking that improvement may not last. The increase in obesity and type II diabetes may reverse the trend. The fatties of today will be the dements of tomorrow. That is, of course, if no treatment is discovered in the meantime that cures type II diabetes or prevents its deleterious effects, so that people will be able to have their cake and not suffer the consequences.

Evil dwelling

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Dalrymple’s Spiegelgasse perambulation: ‘Here [“der Führer der russischen Revolution”] lodged in spartan conditions.’ The monster was ‘reluctant to spend any party funds on himself: a proof, if any were needed, that there are worse vices than simony, peculation, and defalcation of funds’.

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‘One of the students asked me what I was reading…’