Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Collapse of British Power: the failure of an education system

I’m reading Correlli Barnett’s The Collapse of British Power. Barnett, born in 1927, was one of the more provocative English historians to emerge in the post-war years. He was a military historian but his most interesting work combines economic, social, political and military history.

The Collapse of British Power, published in 1972, was the beginning of his four-book sequence The Pride and the Fall. There is so much of interest in this book that it’s probably best to deal with just one element at a time and to leave the other elements to later posts.

The Collapse of British Power deals with the decline of British power and influence during the years between the two world wars, and with the utter failure of successive British governments to halt this decline or to avoid the coming catastrophe of the Second World War.

One of the more controversial claims he makes concerns the British education system in late Victorian and Edwardian times. The inadequacy of education for the working classes deprived Britain of the skilled workers she needed in order to modernise her increasingly antiquated and uncompetitive industrial base. The situation for the upper classes was equally disastrous. The public schools and the universities focused almost entirely on the classics. They produced generations of young men who could quote Virgil but whose knowledge of science, modern history and even geography was virtually non-existent.

Even worse, the public schools were not rally interested in imparting knowledge at all. They saw their function as being to provide a religious and moral education. Learning to do the right thing was what mattered. 

Barnett makes the point that all this was essentially a Victorian phenomenon. Prior to this life at an English public school was a rather rough-and-tumble affair. The rise of Evangelical Christianity changed all that. Reforming headmasters like Dr Thomas Arnold at Rugby sought to make school life a much more structured, much more moral and much more religious affair. The emphasis was on games, on learning sportsmanship, and on absorbing concepts like honour and duty. These are certainly not bad things but the trouble is the pupils learnt little else. They knew Latin and Greek and they knew how to behave like a Christian gentleman. They knew that winning was not important - playing the game in the right spirit was what mattered. Barnett claims that never before in human history had entire generations of the ruling class been so thoroughly indoctrinated with a particular world-view.

The boys educated at these public schools would become the men who led Britain during the 1920s and 1930s. They were hopelessly unfitted to lead a modern industrial nation, and they were ludicrously ill-equipped for the worlds of politics and diplomacy. British industry continued to decline and British politics was dominated by men who were quite unable to deal with the real world. Most fatally, they were unable to deal with the leaders of other countries who considered national self-interest to be more important than playing the game. The men who led Britain in the interwar years considered treaties to be solemn pledges. They believed that having  joined the League of Nations Britain was morally obliged to honour its commitments to the League. The idea that the leaders of other countries might not display the same sporting spirit did not occur to them. As a result Britain found itself hopeless outmanoeuvred by the cynical hardheaded leaders of countries such as Germany, Italy, France and the United States.

This of course has considerable relevance to our own times, when children are indoctrinated in philosophies and world-views that have no connection whatsoever with the real world. They will be entirely unable to face the challenge of reality, just as the British leaders of the 20s and 30s failed to face that challenge,

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

did the baby boomers wreck western civilisation?

Many people on the sees the 1960s and 1970s as being the time when western civilisation started to fall apart. It is therefore often assumed that the baby boomers, a spoilt pampered generation, were the ones responsible for all the subsequent disasters. 

But is this really true?

There’s no question that the 60s and 70s were catastrophic. And the masses of dirty stinking hippies were certainly no friends to civilisation. It could however be argued that the student radicals of the late 60s were simply a symptom of a disease that was already far advanced, rather than the cause.

It’s worth pointing out that the governments that did so much to wreck western civilisation, the Labor government of Harold Wilson in the UK and the Administration of Lyndon Johnson in the US, were not elected by baby boomers. They were elected by the previous generation, the so-called Greatest Generation. 

And much of the damage had been done long before the 60s. The transformation of European societies into bloated socialist welfare states was well underway by the 50s. implemented by governments (like the Attlee Labor Government in Britain) that had been elected before the baby boomers were even born. The rot had started even earlier in the US with the election of the socialist Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. In fact you could plausibly date the beginnings of the rot in the US to the rise of Progressivism decades earlier.

Whatever madness afflicted the western world it clearly was well and truly established long before the baby boomers were out of the nursery.

Where did the madness first start?

I’ve always been inclined to think that democracy played a key role. Choosing governments on the basis of a popularity contest among the mob seems a very dubious idea indeed. Democracy however does not provide the complete explanation. However much damage the mob has done it’s clear that the ruling classes played a major role in undermining our civilisation.

The Romantic Movement seems like a good candidate as the beginning of the process of disintegration. The essence of Romanticism was the privileging of feelings over reason and common sense. You have only to read the poetry of Keats, Shelley and Byron to be disturbingly aware that you are dealing with the products of very unhealthy minds. There’s the same wallowing in emotionalism that has become such a feature of what passes for civilisation today. The ideas of the Romantic Movement infected the minds of the ruling classes, turning their brains into soggy mush.

The Romantic Movement produced some great poetry and some great painting but it cannot be denied that it represents a fundamentally warped and diseased view of the world. It represents the first step in the establishment of the cult of feelings. Through its offshoots, such as the Aesthetic Movement, it would poison the minds of successive generations of the ruling class. It would also, ironically, prepare the ground for the rise of the avowedly anti-rational cult of Modernism.

The baby boomers certainly contributed their share to the destruction of our civilisation but their forefathers had already undermined the foundations. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

political correctness is communist propaganda writ small

"Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to."

—Theodore Dalrymple, “Our Culture, What’s Left Of It”

Monday, March 16, 2015

why I stand with Jeremy Clarkson

It seems that the BBC is likely to achieve one of its most cherished aims, the silencing of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson. The fact that Clarkson is the wildly popular host of the BBC’s most popular program means nothing to the humourless Stalinists who run the BBC. Clarkson does not toe the politically correct line so he must be eliminated.

Why should this matter to conservatives? For the very simple reason that Clarkson is virtually the only dissenting voice left on the BBC. He is just about the only person you’re going to see on BBC television not pushing the monolithic PC line. 

I was rather surprised by the hostility towards Clarkson displayed by Peter Hitchens (a man for whom I have enormous respect). Hitchens’ argument appears to come down to this - Clarkson is not a real conservative, or even if he is a conservative he’s not the right sort of conservative, therefore he doesn’t matter. It seems to me that Hitchens is missing the point. It doesn’t matter what Clarkson’s actual political views are. Any dissenting voice is valuable. And the stilling of any dissenting voice matters. It matters a great deal. If we cherish freedom of speech we must cherish the freedom of speech of others, even if their opinions do not coincide precisely with our own.

I hope the day does not come when conservatives have to say, “First they came for Jeremy Clarkson and I did not speak because he was the wrong sort of conservative.”

Monday, March 9, 2015

Patrick J. Buchanan’s Churchill, Hitler and “The Unnecessary War”

The scope of Patrick J. Buchanan’s 2008 book Churchill, Hitler and “The Unnecessary War” is rather wider than its title would suggest. Buchanan (quite rightly) sees the First and Second World Wars as being inextricably linked and he devotes considerable attention to the first of these disasters as well as the sorry history of the interwar years.

The monstrous injustice of the Treaty of Versailles made a future European war much more likely. Although Germany was the least anxious of all the great powers to go to war in 1914 and tried harder than any of them to prevent a minor Balkan squabble from engulfing the continent it was Germany that was saddled with the blame. Germany was humiliated, starved and bled dry financially and millions of Germans found themselves living as second-class citizens in the nonsensical artificial nations that deluded statesmen created out of the wreckage of the once great civilisations of central Europe. But while Germany was mutilated and humiliated she was not destroyed. Had Germany been destroyed utterly by being broken up into smaller states it would have been an even greater injustice but there might at least have been a chance of peace. Instead Germany was left powerful enough to rebuild, with a host of perfectly legitimate grievances that would ensure much future trouble.

One of the men most responsible for the First World War was the brilliant but unbalanced and amoral British First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. Whenever storm clouds threatened at any time over the next three decades Churchill would be in the thick of things, doing his best to drive the ship of state onto the rocks. As Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1920s Churchill would play a key role in the destruction of the world’s mightiest navy thus ensuring that Britain would be hopelessly unprepared for any future war.

The Treaty of Versailles made the failure of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler a certainty. This need not have been a complete catastrophe for western civilisation. Hitler was remarkably successful in achieving redress for many of Germany’s grievances by peaceful means. Hitler was a tyrant but he was a tyrant who was desperately anxious to avoid another war with Britain and France. Hitler’s ambitions lay entirely in the East. This was always going to bring him into eventual collision with Soviet Russia. Given that the Soviet Union was a far greater menace to world peace than Germany that should not have been a concern to anyone in France or Britain. Tragically, as in 1914, the blind and deluded “statesmen” of France and Britain would manage to get themselves embroiled in affairs to which they should have gave given a very wide berth.

Fortunately Churchill was not Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain was. And Neville Chamberlain had no wish to plunge the continent into another catastrophic war. The policy of appeasement has been much misunderstood. The essence of this policy was to find peaceful means of redressing legitimate international grievances. Chamberlain, quite correctly, believed it would be insanity to start a war in order to save the Sudetenland, given that the inhabitants of the Sudetenland were Germans who wished to be part of Germany, rather than part of Czechoslovakia where they were treated as second-class citizens. 

Unfortunately, having successfully avoided disaster over that issue Chamberlain would go on to commit the greatest act of folly in British history by offering the fascist dictatorship of Poland an absurd guarantee. If Poland felt itself threatened it could drag France and Britain into the very war Chamberlain had struggled so mightily to avoid. And armed with a blank cheque from Britain and France Poland could refuse to negotiate with Germany over Germany’s very real grievances in regard to Danzig and the Polish Corridor. Chamberlain’s moment of insanity would lead to a war that would leave tens of millions dead and leave Britain a bankrupt third-rate power.

Even then all was not lost. Hitler would repeatedly offer Britain remarkably generous peace terms but by 1940 Churchill was Prime Minister and that ended any hope of peace.

As Buchanan makes clear, this was only the beginnings of Churchill’s career of infamy. He would go on to introduce the enlightened policy of making war on civilians by terror bombing of cities. He would sell out the people of eastern Europe, including the very people on whose behalf Britain had gone to war in the first place, to the monstrous Stalin. He would be complicit in a horrific campaign of ethnic cleansing that would claim millions of lives. What had begun, supposedly, as a high-minded moral war would deal western civilisation a blow from which it has never recovered.

Buchanan does not let the United States off the hook either. The cynicism and duplicity of Roosevelt would play a major role in the rape of Europe.

Buchanan draws heavily on the work of earlier historians. There is nothing new or startling in this book but it does provide an excellent synthesis and a convenient summary of the arguments against the Second World War as either a just or a necessary war, and of the case for regarding Churchill as one of the major war criminals of modern history. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914

There have been literally thousands of books on the origins of the First World War. Christopher Clark’s 2012 offering The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 is one of the more interesting and even-handed examples of the genre.

One fascinating point that Clark makes is that the great powers in 1914 did not really have coherent foreign policies. Foreign policy was made by shifting factional groupings of politicians and bureaucrats and even ambassadors often made their own foreign policy. What is usually thought of as the division of Europe into two hostile armed camps, the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) and the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia), was merely a temporary arrangement in an ever-shifting kaleidoscope. Italy had already all but abandoned the Triple Alliance while Britain was gradually moving back towards a pre-German position. Had peace endured for another year or two the system of alliances might have been quite different.

While there were certain factors that made war a distinct possibility it was far from being a certainty. Europe was not quite a powder-keg just waiting for a spark to set it off. There were constant sparks caused by constant crises (Fashoda, disputes over Morocco, the Agadir Incident, the Austrian Annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Italo-Turkish War and the First and Second Balkan Wars). None of these sparks was sufficient to trigger war. There was no reason to think that yet another Balkan crisis would lead to a general European war. War came about because the latest spark was of a peculiar type and it was struck at a moment when war parties happened to be in the ascendant in France and Russia.

The assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne by Serbian terrorists was the kind of incident that Austria could not possibly ignore, but it should not have led to war. In fact, had Austria reacted immediately war would most likely not have followed. An immediate Austrian response would have been considered to be a perfectly understandable reaction to extreme provocation. Unfortunately Vienna chose to wait until the evidence of Serbian government complicity had been established beyond doubt, by which time the initial sympathy for Austria-Hungary had evaporated and attitudes in Russia and France had hardened. Vienna’s eventual response, in the form of the famous ultimatum to Serbia, was actually remarkably mild (much milder than for example the US reaction to terrorist attack in 2001). The result should have been at most some sabre-rattling by Russia. Serbia had already decide to accept the ultimatum. The tragedy is that the hawks were at that time temporarily in the driver’s seat in Russia and Russia persuaded Serbia to reject the ultimatum. Russia’s hard line only came about because at that moment the foreign policy hawks were also in the ascendant in France and France chose to push Russia towards war. And France’s insanely reckless actions were only made possible by their conviction that Britain would back them up.

Ironically the British government was absolutely opposed to war, and British public opinion was equally strong against war. It was a small clique within the governing Liberal Party, a clique that included Churchill and Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, that pushed Britain reluctantly towards war.

Germany was even less interested in war. They had no intention of being drawn into a war on behalf of Serbia. 

The fatal problem was the fear factor. Germany did not want war but the Germans were afraid that if war came a few years later Russia would be too strong. So a war now would be less bad than a war later. The French were afraid that within a few years Russia would be so strong she would no longer need the alliance with France. Both the French and the Germans were therefore willing to risk war even though they had zero interest in the fate of Serbia. Both Germany and France made their calculations on the basis of ludicrous over-estimations of Russia’s military capability. The Russo-Japanese War in 1904 had demonstrated Russia’s total inability to fight a modern war but somehow that was overlooked. Russophobia had been of the great constants in European foreign policy for the previous century (and of course it remains as potent and as deluded as ever today). 

Nobody really wanted war, apart from the Serbs. War came about when fatalism took over. Once statesmen convinced themselves that war was bound to come sooner or later they were prepared to listen to the urgings of the generals that now was the most favourable moment for such a war. So Europe drifted into a war that nobody wanted and that benefited nobody, apart from Serbia.

There are obvious lessons here - the folly of getting mixed up in eastern European squabbles, the folly of nations fighting wars in which they had no vital interests at stake. And of course the folly of listening to self-proclaimed military experts. 

Clark’s conclusions are that any attempts to assign guilt to any one nation are futile. The French and the Russians were certainly guilty of extreme recklessness, and the cabal that pushed Britain into war can certainly be accused of both criminal stupidity and recklessness. There were however no real good guys and no real bad guys, just short-sighted fearful people blundering towards disaster. Pretty much the way the west is blundering towards disaster again in eastern Europe. 

A stimulating and thought-provoking study. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hungary's prime minister blasts multi-culturalism and liberalism

Sometimes it seems that all the news is bad news, but occasionally there is a glimmer of hope. Hungary's prime minister has come out strongly against not just multi-culturalism but against liberalism in general. And in favour of Christianity and Christian values. It seems more and more likely that if western civilisation  is going to survive anywhere it's going to survive in eastern Europe. Russia and Hungary both provide beacons of hope.

Here's the link to more on Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban's statement.