Henry Hopwood-Phillips 10.00am
“There will be, in the next generation or so, a …method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing… this seems to be the final revolution.”
Much energy has been spent by the Press in trying to diagnose our present economic malaise.
Not much time has been spent in diagnosing the long-term political, sociological and philosophical trends that are reforming and reshaping the spiritual and physical topography of twenty-first century Man.
Critiques have come and gone but none seem to have been heeded in earnest. Kafka and Orwell warned of the dire repercussions that a Rousseau-esque Enlightenment might bring. Spengler, Arnold, Renan and Evola alerted us to the paradoxical particularity of the universalist and bourgeois nature of the Enlightenment project. Strauss and Bloom argued against the post-modern mutation - its abandonment of the metaphysical project in favour of Nietzschean-inspired particularity. Eliot, Hayek and Scruton attacked the new Establishment from a more grounded Burkean perspective.
But few of their ideas have been properly articulated outside of cloistered seminars. So perhaps it is worth reiterating some of the themes that still seem strikingly relevant today.
We must become more aware of the over-weening power of bureaucracies that smother hapless citizens in the absurdities of over-centralisation. Bureaucracies that crush the human spirit until, as Kafka wrote, “we expect errors, not justice”. Bureaucracies that create a world in which the innocent are seen as collateral damage and liberty is stifled by what is “known” to be best by non-accountable experts, the bastard offspring of specialisation. Experts who, as Ghandi explained, “know more and more about less and less”. Television shows like Yes Minister and The Thick of It have strong comedic currency because they play on and make light of the darker side of bureaucracy and politicking.
We must become more conscious of the fact that political and financial elites may collude. Since Bretton Woods, a hybrid, crony, managerialist/cartel capitalism has emerged and become so entangled in political bureaucracies that their respective interests are now barely distinguishable.
We must become more mindful that political elites use taxpayers’ money - present and future - to prop up financial interests for short-term political ends because they lack the courage or the epistemological framework to build or participate in any grander scheme. Meanwhile, financial behemoths sit secure in the knowledge that the state increasing its mandate usually ensures smaller and smaller competitors drown in an ocean of tape and procrustean regulations.
Free market capitalism - as Adam Smith explained - is chewed up and spat out by vested interests. The financial system becomes cartelized when it needn’t fear too much about accountability for procedures that would be penalised by true capitalism, e.g. over-leveraging, embezzlement, misrepresentation of risk etc, because it is in cahoots with the government.
Voters are to be mollified, nullified, manipulated, patronised, agreed with, but never genuinely consulted. Political science’s wildest dreams are being fulfilled. PR has replaced democracy. We consume images rather than participate proactively. The quango has replaced the referendum.
Late Man has no need of Demos. This is the age of the expert. Late Man has no need of principle. This is the age of the pragmatist.
But without Peoples and Principles you have amorphous, indifferent masses, leveled before the throne of equality, forcibly ruled by nothing higher than the un-rooted interests of elites. This is not dystopian in the conventional sense of the world, in fact it sounds like a fairly pleasant farm. But if you believe Man has a higher end than that of a farm animal, and that we should not be, as Weber warned, trapped in “an iron cage of rationality”, then it is certainly not a satisfactory curtain call to the grand endeavour begun by men such as Abraham and Socrates.
This technocracy is something Orwell saw coming from a mile off. The joke doing the rounds on social media is that that Nineteen Eighty-Four was meant to be a warning not an instruction manual, but it is received with a bitter, hollow laughter because we understand that the obfuscation has begun. Language has become malleable and reality with it. What’s worse is that nobody is quite sure who or what the puppet-master is or whether the herds are simply lurching purposelessly. Trends are transparent enough though.
Once only the fringes of opinion were considered taboo and controversial. Now even critical demeanor, aside from a self-prescribed and typically narrow scientific priesthood, is almost imperceptibly coming under attack. The soft umbrella terms are consensus and unity, the underlying reality is conformity and insincerity. Genuine intentions are hidden behind walls of unfathomable birtspeak, platitudes and the sheer size and length of paperwork.
Those that do challenge the “consensus” suffer ad hominem attacks, which usually work because very few people possess a flawless past, or the political goalposts are simply moved so that historically positive terms such as “progressive” mean little more than “x supports your agenda” and negative terms such as “reactionary” means that “x does not”.
The elasticity is classic Foucault. The elites have learned to wield power so effectively that it produces a culture that can be manipulated by its producers. It is nothing less than epistemological bullying, but it is incredibly effective.
Some refuse to be hoodwinked. Ludwig von Mises famously asked, “Who is ‘reactionary’ and who is ‘progressive’? Reaction against an unwise policy is not to be condemned. And progress towards chaos is not to be commended.”
They are the ones who will not stumble blindly back into the chains that the Enlightenment offered to break.
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