Solemn futility in the higher places

British-politicians-2011
Gordon Brown, Anthony Blair, John Major, Nicholas Clegg and David Cameron. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Executive Office of the President of the United States.

In the real dark night of the soul, it’s always election o’clock. Here come the endlessly repeated phrases, the lines to take today, the turgid interviews, the let me be absolutely clears and hard-working families, the swapping of business/celebrity/expert endorsements, the gaffes and the unread manifestos.

Before you despair, remember that ’twas ever thus… Continue reading

Brexit: the movie

Rashômon poster. Credit: Akira Kurosawa/Daiei (1950).
Rashômon poster. Credit: Akira Kurosawa/Daiei (1950).

The Spectator’s affably pro-Remain business correspondent, Martin Vander Weyer, invited readers to answer the party-game question ‘If Brexit was a film…?’ Naturally most replies have been satirically pro-Leave, readers being what they are, and Vander Weyer asked for more Remainers to have a go, but then I got to thinking… Continue reading

Ecstasy and efficiency

When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency. So it is that when a man’s body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health.  Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. There cannot be any better proof of the physical efficiency of a man than that he talks cheerfully of a journey to the end of the world. And there cannot be any better proof of the practical efficiency of a nation than that it talks constantly of a journey to the end of the world, a journey to the Judgment Day and the New Jerusalem.  There can be no stronger sign of a coarse material health than the tendency to run after high and wild ideals; it is in the first exuberance of infancy that we cry for the moon. None of the strong men in the strong ages would have understood what you meant by working for efficiency. Hildebrand would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for the Catholic Church.  Danton would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for liberty, equality, and fraternity.  Even if the ideal of such men were simply the ideal of kicking a man downstairs, they thought of the end like men, not of the process like paralytics. They did not say, “Efficiently elevating my right leg, using, you will notice, the muscles of the thigh and calf, which are in excellent order, I—” Their feeling was quite different. They were so filled with the beautiful vision of the man lying flat at the foot of the staircase that in that ecstasy the rest followed in a flash.

G K Chesterton 1905 Heretics

School, war, and disaffection

CSLewis
C S Lewis, scholar and author of the Narnian children’s stories, served in the Royal Artillery 1917–18, and was seriously wounded. He joined the Home Guard in 1940 as a middle-aged man.

It’s natural for us to assume that the Great War was not just a formative experience, but the formative experience for anyone who fought in it. We also tend to assume that the experience was disillusioning at best, and psychologically ruinous at worst. The truth is, unsurprisingly, more subtle and varied. Continue reading

The revolution will be serialised

Orwell Lion and UnicornRussell Brand doesn’t vote. Having been goaded about this by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight in 2013, Brand wrote a book, Revolution, to show that he’s both right and in earnest. Many people are angered by others not voting, it’s a shibboleth of sorts, but Brand’s position seems reasonable to me; there are many causes for indignant scepticism in public life and much of it is a sham. I don’t share his seeming surprise, though, that wealth buys influence and that rich and powerful people generally want to protect and expand their wealth and power. You’d think someone on the threshold of middle-age (he’s 39) would have noticed a little earlier. This is what George Orwell published in 1941, when he was 38. Continue reading