Monday, July 16, 2018

television dystopias - The Guardians (1971)

The Guardians is a dystopian political thriller series made by London Weekend Television which went to air in Britain in 1971. It has never been screened since. It was also screened in Australia but as far as I know has never been seen in the U.S.

Back in the 60s neo-nazis and fascists were immensely popular as villains in both British and U.S. television - writers seemed to be convinced that there was a neo-nazi under every bed. They were usually presented as ridiculous cartoonish villains and the subject was mostly treated in a mocking way.

The Guardians was quite different. This series took itself very seriously indeed. It also refused to trivialise the subject by creating cartoonish villains. It dealt with the subject in a relatively subtle and even nuanced way. This is rather sophisticated political television.

The first episode raises more questions than it answers. That’s not a criticism. The intention (I assume) is to show us firstly the surface appearances of Britain as it is being transformed into a police state. We see the Guardians in action. They are obviously some kind of paramilitary political police, although whether they are actually under the effective control of the government remains doubtful. We are introduced to the Prime Minister Sir Timothy Hobson. He seems to be well-meaning but ineffectual. He’s the sort of man who likes to think he is willing to stand up for principles, as long as he doesn’t actually have to do so. We discover that real power is in the hands of a shadowy figure known as The General. We have no idea as to his identity or the means by which he has come to wield power over the government. Norman appears to be the man who transmits The General’s orders to the Cabinet. We see news broadcasts running in the background and it is obvious that there has been a lengthy period of strikes and civil unrest. We already have reason to be suspicious of this - is this genuine civil unrest or is it manufactured by the government or by The General?

We also meet a number of other characters. Tom Weston is a keen and ambitious member of the Guardians. While he’s happy to kick heads in the line of duty he’s actually a jovial sort of fellow and seems devoted to his wife Clare. Clare has been suffering from headaches and has been seeing a top government psychiatrist, Dr Benedict. There’s some interesting sparring between these two - Dr Benedict thinks Clare may be spying on him, Clare thinks Dr Benedict may be spying on her, Dr Benedict speculates that he has been called in because someone is taking an interest in Tom Weston.

Tom Weston is in charge of recruiting and training and he finds himself forced to accept a very upper-class recruit named Peter Lee. Tom Weston thinks that Peter Lee may not be at all what he seems to be and we’re inclined to agree with him. Is Lee a communist subversive? An agent of The General? An agent placed in the Guardians by some other group?

So all in all the opening episode establishes a definite mood of paranoia and conspiracy. It’s a promising opening.

As the series progresses some weaknesses do start to appear. The great danger facing a program dealing with politics is that it will succumb to the temptations of preachiness and speechifying. At times The Guardians succumbs to those temptations in a truly disastrous manner. The worst example is probably when the prime minister is dining with his old friend Sir Francis Wainwright who is now the head of the EBC (obviously a thinly disguised version of the BBC). The speeches start immediately and they go and on and on. The prime minister puts the case for the government’s increasingly authoritarian rule while the EBC chief puts forward the liberal argument for no censorship. It’s fairly obvious that we’re meant to accept Wainwright’s feelgood arguments but you have to give this program credit for at least putting forward the case for authoritarianism. And, surprisingly, the prime minister makes his case with passion and conviction. The problem is that it’s all done in such an unbelievably clumsy manner. It’s two characters sitting in a London club and talking and talking and talking.

Just as it seems that the series has self-destructed with excessive talkiness it suddenly comes to life again and becomes truly fascinating with some wonderfully devious power plays for the highest stakes of all.

One aspect of this series that does seem dated is that the imposition of a police state is seen as being a response to a crisis caused to a large extent by waves of strikes. Of course back in the early 70s strikes really were perceived as a major threat to the social order. It’s a fascinating look at the things the Left was paranoid about in 1971, and they were certainly terrified that strikes would be used as a justification for repression.

There is of course a resistance movement. Although they do not seem to be particularly efficient some interesting points are made about the right approach to take if you’re trying to overthrow the government, the key being to provoke the government into overreacting with excessively repressive measure which (in theory) will result in increasing opposition to the regime. This was in fact pretty much the theory behind the activities of urban terrorist groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang. In the series it is believed that such a strategy will work since Sir Timothy Hobson firmly believes that even an undemocratic government ultimately relies on the consent of the governed.

The series focuses partly on this resistance movement and partly on the power struggles within the government.

One problem this series faced was that in 1971 Dixon of Dock Green was still on television. The idea of British policemen behaving like uniformed thugs seemed too silly even to contemplate. The idea of a British government setting up a paramilitary political police force and suspending long-cherished legal rights seemed like a joke. Today of course it all sounds chillingly plausible. In 1971 it sounded a bit far-fetched.

There’s some stuff about brainwashing, this being another major obsession of that time period. And there’s a considerable emphasis on the problems of crime, both ordinary crime and political crimes, and on effective and ineffective methods of dealing with these problems. This of course was a major obsession at that time - 1971 was also the year in which Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange was released.

There is an assumption here that a fascist dictatorship is going to exploit nationalism in order to gain legitimacy. The government of Sir Timothy Hobson has adopted the slogan of Britain Great Again!

It’s also interesting that Hobson’s government is not portrayed as being all that totalitarian. In fact it’s rather less totalitarian than Theresa May’s government today. The series portrays an authoritarian rather than a totalitarian society. It appears to be a society in which, as long as you’re not openly a communist or openly opposing the government then the government pretty much leaves you alone. It appears to be a government than is not all that interested in controlling people’s thoughts and opinions on every conceivable subject.

As the series progresses we also see the resistance movement resorting to methods that are just as morally reprehensible as anything done by the government. As the series progresses we find that things get more complex. There is opposition to the government, not from ordinary people but from organised groups. These groups do not agree on tactics and they most certainly do not agree on ultimate objectives. In fact these opposition groups loathe each other more than they loathe the government.

Also interesting is the fact that Hobson’s government did not gain power as the result of a coup. They were democratically elected, by a landslide majority. It was more a case of an elected government carrying out a coup after being elected. It’s also worth noting that there isn’t a great deal (other than a certain hostility to unions) to indicate that this is a right-wing rather than a left-wing dictatorship. There’s very little mention of economic policy. And of course this was 1971, when political correctness as we know it was still virtually non-existent.

The Guardians has some very real strengths. It doesn’t rely on characters who are simplistic heroes or villains and while it’s very obvious that the series takes a firmly antagonistic view of Hobson’s fascist government it is prepared to accept that his government did come to power in response to a genuine crisis and it is prepared to grudgingly admit that a case can be made for a kind of benevolent authoritarianism (which is the kind of regime that Hobson believes he can bring about). Hobson is a man who sincerely believes he is doing the right thing. And while he might be deluding himself and he might in fact be doing the wrong thing the resistance movement is in many ways every bit as bad. This is a series that starts out giving the impression that it’s going to be propaganda but it ends up being surprisingly nuanced and intelligent.

The weaknesses are perhaps not entirely avoidable if you’re going to try to address serious political issues - there are a lot of speeches. This means that we do at least know exactly what the various characters stand for but it can make for some very stodgy television.

I have to admit that I ended up feeling more sympathy for the prime minister than for the resistance. Even the Guardians with their repressive measures seemed preferable to the chaotic violence of the resistance. The makers of this series really do seem to be cynical about both left-wing and right-wing extremists but what’s really intriguing is that they seem to be even more contemptuous of both left-wing and right-wing moderates.

The Guardians is one of the more fascinating attempts at making a dystopian political thriller. It has its flaws and it can get very talky but it’s intelligent and thought-provoking and  exceptionally complex. Although it was promoted as such it is most definitely not just an exercise in leftist anti-fascist paranoia. It’s an exploration of the conflicts between freedom and stability, authority and chaos, obedience and responsibility, duty and loyalty, liberty and order. It does not try to persuade us that there are easy answers. I suspect that's why it was never repeated - in the 70s, with the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a TV show dealing in a nuanced way with questions of terrorism and political repression was not going to be viewed sympathetically.

The Guardians has been released on DVD in the UK by Network. It is well worth a look.

Friday, July 13, 2018

France after the Liberation, an orgy of revenge?

Ron Unz has been posting some interesting articles on historical revisionism lately. Historical revisionism always gets my attention.

Of course revisionist historians have to be approached with caution since they usually have an axe to grind, but on the other hand the mainstream historians pushing the orthodox line usually have axes to grind as well. That’s the thing about history - everybody has an axe to grind. Everybody has an agenda. Not surprising, since as Orwell tells us, who controls the past controls the future. History is and always has been propaganda. As Napoleon put it, history is a set of lies agreed upon.

One of the most interesting of Ron Unz’s posts, Post-War France and Post-War Germany, deals with France under the Vichy regime and France after the Liberation. The idea that after the Liberation of France up to 80,000 people, or possibly even as many as 105,000, were summarily executed as collaborators is rather disturbing. It’s even more disturbing that a very large number may have been executed by the communists in the Resistance, for the crime of being anti-communist.

The whole subject of the Resistance is one that the defenders of the orthodox line would prefer to avoid. There is no doubt that most of those who claimed to have fought for the Resistance actually joined after the Liberation. By the late 40s it seemed that every single Frenchman claimed to have been a brave Resistance fighter.

In fact most of the these wartime resistance movements that were so enthusiastically supported by Churchill were dominated by communists who were more interested in strengthening their position in the post-war world than in actually doing anything useful to win the war. What they mostly achieved was to provoke retaliations that led to the deaths of countless innocent people, whilst contributing very little to winning the war. Churchill may in this case have been merely deluded in believing that these groups were more useful than they actually were but it’s also pretty clear that he wasn’t especially bothered by the deaths of so many innocent civilians in the resulting reprisals. Just as he was quite unconcerned by the deaths of civilians (including French civilians) in British bombing raids.

Of course these are still very emotional subjects that most people would prefer not to think about. The orthodox historical account, the accepted narrative, is very comforting and inspiring. And it has to be admitted that revisionist historians are sometimes wrong. They do sometimes attract people who are candidates for tinfoil hats. But the revisionists are not always wrong.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

religion and politics don’t need to make sense

In my previous post I made the point that conservatives see politics as something that is open to debate while liberals see their own political beliefs as religious dogma that is not subject to debate. This is of course hardly original or startling although there are still conservatives who have failed to notice such an obvious fact.

There is something much more interesting that follows from this. Religion does not need to make sense. It is a matter of faith. You do not enter into debate on the subject. Rational argument is irrelevant to religious belief. It naturally follows that the same rule applies to any political ideology that functions as a substitute religion. Debate cannot be permitted.

What must be understood is that it’s not that liberals are unwilling to enter into political debate. They cannot do so. To do so would be to admit that their faith is subject to doubt. It would mean admitting that heretics might be right and the orthodox might be wrong.

The history of the decline of Christianity in the West provides compelling evidence that liberals are, from their point of view, quite correct in rejecting the possibility of discussion. They have a faith and they are satisfied with it. It gives them a reason to live, it gives them a feeling of moral superiority and it gives them a warm fuzzy emotional buzz. From their point of view their political religion works perfectly. The fact that it might make no sense at all and that it might all collapse like a house of cards if subjected to rational argument does not matter because they have no intention of allowing that to happen.

Conservatives just don’t get this. They still insist on assuming that politics is something that can be discussed and debated rationally. They still insist on thinking that political ideologies have to be logical and have to make sense.

This is why conservatism has failed. They can come up with impressive rational arguments in favour of their own economic and social policies but people don’t respond to rational arguments. People don’t decide how to vote based on rational arguments. They make such decisions based on emotions. If voting for a particular party makes them feel morally superior they will do so. If voting for a particular party gives them an emotional rush they will do so.

People do not vote based on a rational assessment of their own interests. There is nothing remotely rational about voting behaviour.

People do not choose their political beliefs by weighing up evidence. They choose the political beliefs that will make them feel good.

People need to feel that their lives have meaning. Choosing a political belief that is emotionally satisfying and that feels morally right helps to give a person the feeling that their life does have meaning and purpose.

Liberalism can only de fought and defeated by an opposing ideology that works the same way - an ideology that appeals to the emotions, that makes a person feel that they are fighting for something good and worthwhile, that feels morally right and that gives meaning to the life of those who believe in it.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

conservative delusions: politics as a subject for debate

To say that liberals treat liberalism as a religion rather than a political ideology is to state the obvious. What is perhaps less obvious is that this is not a recent development. And what it is important to emphasise is that many conservatives still do not comprehend this. Conservatives have the quaint idea that liberals see politics as something that can be debated. Liberals do not see it this way. Disagreement is not disagreement, it is heresy and it is a sign of moral wickedness. Politics is not something that is open to discussion.

The particular flavour of the Social Justice cult is also the result of a mixture of religious enthusiasm and feminisation.

If you go back to the 1960s when the Old Left started to decay and the New Left took its place the religious fervour was already there. The New Left had no interest in economics. They had sold out to capitalism. They were not interested in changing or reforming or destroying the capitalist economic system. The New Left was all about morality and emotion and power. They were on the side of moral probity. Anybody who opposed them was therefore, by definition, morally wrong.

The New Left was feminised. It attracted women, it attracted homosexual men, it attracted weak girly-men. It adopted a peculiarly feminised attitude towards dissent. If you were a dissenter you weren’t someone who disagreed with them. You were a bad person. You made them feel bad. You were immoral.

The New Left made a lot of noises about freedom and especially freedom of speech. Conservatives tended to accept these protestations at face value. Big mistake. The New Left never saw freedom of speech as anything but a weapon with which to attack their enemies. They never had the slightest intention of granting freedom of speech to their opponents. Older Australians may remember the way Australian university students shut down lectures by distinguished visiting psychologist Hans Eysenck in 1977. Eysenck was suspected of thought crime. Forty years ago the social justice warriors were already using violence and intimidation to silence anyone guilty of heresy.

The New Left saw all freedoms in this way - as potential weapons. Sexual freedom was a weapon with which to destroy the family. Feminism was promoted as an ideology that offered freedom to women. In fact of course feminists never intended that women should have actual freedom. Women were to be free to do what the feminists told them to do.

Conservatives at the time understood that the New Left agenda was dangerous but they made the mistake of seriously underestimating the extent of the danger. Or rather they wildly over-estimated society’s ability to survive the New Left’s social experiments. And they made the huge mistake of thinking that the New Left really did believe in freedom of speech.

So where do the neocons figure in all this? The New Left is right-wing on economic issues mostly because economic issues don’t affect them in a religious or emotional way so they take the line of least resistance, and as a result they get generously funded by rich capitalists. The neocons are much more excited by economic issues but what really marks them out is that they approach foreign policy as a religious issue. Anyone who opposes their foreign policy is not just mistaken, but morally wrong and a bad person.

Friday, July 6, 2018

the problem of Britain, the problem of nationalism

The western world as a whole is in a state of crisis but while things are bad everywhere they seem to be particularly bad in Britain.

All western countries today have problems with their elites but Britain is unique in having elites that are not merely treacherous and corrupt but motivated by seething hatred of their own society, their own culture, their own heritage. Britain’s rulers, its political establishment, its elites, are united in one thing - they all believe that they have a duty to hate Britain.

This hatred seems to have permeated the whole nation. Quaint old-fashioned beliefs, like believing in a duty to love your own country, are virtually unknown.

Even Britain’s "far right" "nationalists" don't seem to love Britain. Their loyalties seem dubious at best. They might hate immigrants, and some immigrant groups in particular, but that’s not really enough of a basis on which to build actual nationalism. To build a genuine powerful populist nationalist movement you have to have something a lot more positive to offer. Opposing immigration and multiculturalism certainly can be, indeed must be, vital parts of such a nationalist movement but they are not enough. You need to capture people’s imaginations. You need to give people something worth sacrificing for, because people want something that is worth sacrificing for.

There is no sign of this kind of positive nationalism in Britain. Even Brexit was essentially a negative thing. Brexit was important and worthwhile but it wasn’t accompanied by any real enthusiasm for a new positive direction.

Why don’t Britons love Britain?

I’m inclined to think that at least part of it was the shock of losing the Empire and being reduced to the status of an American vassal. The whole idea of British-ness suddenly became pathetic. Britannia no longer ruled the waves. The sun had well and truly set on the British Empire. Britain’s last attempt at an independent foreign policy in the Suez affair ended in humiliation at the hands of the U.S. and Britain thereafter accepted its rôle as Washington’s lapdog. If you were a member of the British ruling class it must have seemed that there was simply nothing left worth ruling over.

There’s an interesting awareness of this in one of John le Carré’s best-known spy thrillers. The British spy who has sold out to the Soviets is not motivated by personal greed and he’s certainly not motivated by any belief in communism. During World War 2 he realised that Britain was becoming an American puppet state and he decided that by serving Britain he was really serving the United States, and he decided that he’d rather serve the Soviets than the Americans. I found that motivation to be oddly plausible.

The British ruling class may have developed an ambivalent attitude towards their new American masters, a mixture of fawning admiration and bitter resentment. And therefore an ambivalent attitude themselves, despising themselves for their servile obedience to Washington and perhaps dealing with this by despising their own country for being so weak. British nationalism seemed to be a futile waste of time.

It may also have affected the ruling class’s attitude towards the working class. The British ruling class always hated and feared the working class but at least in the days of Empire they felt that the poor served a purpose. The Empire always needed cannon fodder. Without the Empire the working class seemed to be a useless menace.

I don’t claim to have definitive answers but I do think we need to ask ourselves why our elites became so hostile, and why the British elites took that hostility to their own nation to such extremes.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

the burqa ban - a victory or a defeat?

The Netherlands has banned the wearing of the burqa in some public spaces and many on the right are applauding this as a great victory. But is it really?

Think about it. Is it really a terrific idea to give the government the power to arrest people for expressing their religious faith publicly? Do we really believe that such a power will never be turned against other religions? Such as, for example, Christianity. Because let’s be quite clear - if it’s OK for the government to arrest a woman for wearing a burqa then it must also be OK for the government to arrest someone for wearing a crucifix. And if you don’t think this power will ever be used against Christians then you must have been asleep for the last fifty years.

The burqa ban is in fact a great victory for the forces of secularism. The aim of the secularists has been to marginalise religion, to make religion something that can only be practised furtively and in private. They have been waging war on religion and the burqa ban is a significant win for them. They have established that nobody has the right to profess their religious faith in public. They have established that religion is something that should be subject to government control and regulation.

My feeling is that many on the right are so blinded by their hatred of Islam that they are not seeing the real picture. Religion is under attack by the forces of secular liberalism. All religions are under attack. This is a war to the death. The secular liberals intend to create a world in which religion will be banned.

The Dutch Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren claims that the ban does not violate fundamental rights, because it will enable Muslim women "to have access to a wider social life" because if they do not cover the face "they will have more possibilities for contact, communication and opportunities to enter the job market.”

This is quite sinister if you think about it. In fact it’s extremely sinister. What she’s saying in effect is that Muslim women should not be allowed to live their lives according to their religion. Instead they are to be pushed into adopting secular western lifestyles. Because naturally the government has the right to tell people how to live their lives, even to the extent of telling us that religion will no longer be a permitted part of our lives. Some of these Muslim women are evidently putting their families first instead of concentrating on their careers. But don’t worry, the government will not allow that to continue.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with immigration. You can be vehemently and passionately anti-immigration (as I am) and still think that the burqa ban is a very very bad idea. It’s another step on the road to feminist totalitarianism.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

looking to the past, but which past?

Traditionalists and social conservatives have a very natural tendency to look to the past. Gaining inspiration from the past is quite healthy.

The problem, when you’re faced with a civilisation like ours that is bent on self-destruction, is deciding exactly which past we should be looking to. Some pasts may be useful to us in trying to rebuild civilisation whilst other pasts are not so useful. We need to regard the past with a critical eye.

Take nationalism for example. Since the great evil of our age is globalism it’s tempting to think that the antidote must be nationalism. Nationalism in fact is not all that traditionalist. It’s a fairly modern concept. It did not exist before the early modern period. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 was an important step in the recognition of the modern nation state as the basis for European civilisation.

If you’re a traditionalist it is worth noting that the modern nation state is entirely secular and can only be secular and is fundamentally hostile to Christianity, and to religion in general. The nation becomes a replacement for God.

The modern nation state is not particularly favourable for any traditional institutions. It tends to be hostile towards regional identities and it’s not exactly wildly pro-family.

Perhaps we need to look back, not to the great age of nation states, but to the great age of other political structures. For example, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Or even the Ottoman Empire.

These were in fact remarkably successful entities. The empire of the Habsburgs lasted for for four hundred years. The Ottoman Empire lasted for about six centuries. They were reasonably stable. They did not fail. They were deliberately destroyed in 1918. In both cases the destruction of the empire led to chaos and a hundred years later we are still dealing with much of this chaos.

As a recent post at A Political Refugee From the Global Village points out, the fall of the Ottoman Empire explains most of our current ills.