Sunday, 25 July 2010

County Council, Symphony No. 2. Op. 35

Poor Edward! For some people the way they look replicates the way they think. The mind creates the face! All those thoughts at work fixing its final monument:

…once an idea was lodged in his head, he did nothing with it; he allowed it no interplay with other ideas or people…. Time and again, he tried to mould all-or-nothing answers which came to pieces in his hands before the clay was dry…. He simply lacked the agility of mind and the openness of imagination to play through the ramifications of a theme. He knew what he wanted to happen and he thought that this was enough to make it happen. (Ferdinand Mount)

And he lacked the power – Hitler and Stalin showed us what can be done when fixed ideas are matched with artillery.

Did Heath see ideas as musical notes, fixed and discrete entities which could be arranged at will; that he could play the country as he played the piano? The beauty of machines! But people are far more intractable.

All ideas have a degree of solidity, of fixedness: they are abstractions from the perceptual world. In the realm of philosophy or art there is a certain usefulness, and power, to these abstractions; but once outside these disciplines, amongst our more mundane concerns, these ideas need to interact much more closely to our lived reality; they must be constantly replenished with new experiences, that in turn shape and refine them.

And underneath always there are a person’s values; these are what count, and what determines our actions. For us, but especially for a politician, the question is how can these values be enacted; what ideas will suffice, and how much will they need to adapt and to change to meet our moral concerns. Heath, it seems, worked from the other way round – you create the world from out of your ideas. Here’s Mount:

…he espoused ideas with a passion he scarcely ever showed in human relations.

Ideas first. Life second. How often did we see that in the 20th century? There was something in its very nature that encouraged this – the machine age, bureaucracy; the symbolic and abstracted world of business and the media; and the collapse of the old theologies… here’s a multi-volume intellectual history waiting to be written.

But if the ideas are wrong, or the power is lacking: your piano is carried out of the door. Mozart is verboten in The Oakdale Working Men’s Club.

That fixed, and somewhat bloated, quality (those big ideas – United Europe or the large counties that came out of local authority reform) is reflected in his features, somewhat immovable and stolid. And then we have the aloofness of the mandarin – Heath had the mindset and talent of a high bureaucrat. Those need little compartments, those ordered hierarchies… all too rational.

No comments:

Post a Comment