Saturday, 12 May 2012

One Long Trip (In a Space Shuttle)

I can’t stop thinking about the red deans! There is a curious symmetry to their lives.  To the lives of Hewlett Johnson and Tony Blair, I mean – not all of you will have read that last post.  There is the preacher who dived into politics.  And the politician who drowned himself in religion… who knows how long Blair could have survived without Iraq, though I think we can speculate on his future reputation had he not.  Similar to that of a distant relative who, if he’d never started a major war, may have been eulogised as the greatest of chancellors - for a long boom throughout the course of his reign; and a history of successful interventions that enhanced the power of the state; and which had the support of most of the political class; though they were uneasy about his thuggish cohorts and his anti-Semitism.[i]  Who knows, history could have made him Number One; although he would have struggled with Churchill (Pitt the Elder, it seems, is on the way down).[ii]   Of course he'd have to have left office by 2007, but I guess his talent smelling something in the air would have warned him in time.

For Johnson God was not big enough.  In a secular age, and what was more secular than the communists with their promise of  salvation through dialectical materialism, the biggest players were human ones; and Stalin the biggest of all – he created a new country in the 1930s.  Living in rising times and safe inside his own illusions, Hewlett’s world could not collapse – he was dean for life –, and so he could preach on until the very end.  No conquering army was going to obliterate the metropolises of his ideology.

In a post-modern age, an age of illusion and faith, and where careers can be built on media spin and fantasy, it is no surprise to find a politician wanting to expand beyond his material base, to reach higher things…  Everything is possible, especially when you leave it to market forces; for as the power of politicians reduces so their rhetoric expands, until their become salesmen for the new millennium, built on debt and run by showbiz.  And this may suggest the appeal of neo-liberalism.  By giving up responsibility for the economy, and outsourcing public utilities and services to private companies, there is not much the politicians control.  And so they turn on the taps of their rhetoric; and initiate their foreign adventures (one area where the British state remains powerful), creating fantasies on an enormous scale.  With such endless possibility Blair’s imagination took off; almost from a standing start – he was like a Harrier Jump Jet in his ability to rise from almost total ignorance of a country to a belief in saving it.[iii] 

He fell like Icarus. 

Unlike the dean Blair could not live long on his beliefs alone, weak as they were, and based mostly on himself.  The hard facts of political life quickly smashed through the flimsy doors of his self-built church.  Although like Hewlett he is a born preacher, and cannot give up delivering his evangelical message: to the power hungry and the power mad, to the converted and the hopelessly innocent.  It pays well too…  Something else he shares with Johnson, although the dean inherited his wealth.  Money, it seems, the best way to reach heaven – by leaving the earth, and its mundane concerns, its actual causes and its real people, behind.  All aboard to Hayek and Mill!  Two new planets our PR agents have created.  Places where all our dreams will come true….

[i] “Six hundred members [of the Nazi party] voluntarily sent in their autobiographies.  The astonishing fact is that sixty per cent of these Nazis never mentioned antisemitism at all.  Some even expressly dissociated themselves from this aspect of party policy: ‘It quickened my pulse to hear about the Fatherland, unity and the need for a supreme leader.  I felt that I belonged to these people.  Only their statements about the Jews I could not swallow.  They gave me a headache even after I had joined the party.’”  (Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide)
            It should hardly need saying that in most respects there is no comparison at all between them.  Blair himself does not appear to be racist, although his social authoritarianism and his support for the War on Terror has indirectly encouraged anti-Arab racism, a contemporary form of anti-Semitism.  See my Tantrum for an example from the most impeccable of liberal sources.
[iii] John Kampfner makes this point in his book: before he became Prime Minister he had no interest in foreign policy (Blair’s Wars).

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