Well, that’s that then. It definitely could’ve been better, but I was expecting much worse; I was expecting slam poetry about the Windrush Scandal from an NHS nurse, followed by a breakdance exhibition from Diversity, a ‘witty’ monologue about gay sex from Stephen Fry, topped off with a ‘modernised’ version of God Save the King.
The concert was thoroughly mediocre though – I’d be surprised if anyone under the age of 25 could name more than half of the line-up. When will the palace learn that glitzy American pop stars are not fit for royal celebrations?
In retrospect, it’s clear that the worst aspect of the coronation wasn’t the subversion of pomp and circumstance, but the commentary which overlaid it.
Once the more lavish aspects of the procession had subsided, along with the smattered allusions to Modern Britain, and the royals assembled on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, Bridgerton actress Adjoa Andoh, who had been graciously invited to commentate on the King’s coronation, said:
“We’ve gone from the rich diversity of the Abbey to a terribly white balcony. I was very struck by that.”
Anyone brushing this off as a stray comment from the WOKE (!!!) Liberal Metropolitan Elite clearly hasn’t been paying attention. As we saw with the death of Elizabeth, a vast chunk of the ‘criticism’ directed at the British monarchy is pure racial resentment. Don’t pretend you don’t remember.
The anti-white rhetoric of the monarchy’s critics isn’t some exceptional tendency or blip, it’s the logical conclusion of an inherently republican understandings of representation and legitimacy.
As Britain undergoes historic demographic change, primarily due to mass immigration (in other words, the result of government policy) an increasingly large subsection of the population, conscious of their distinctness to the heads of state, will likely pursue the dismantlement of what they perceive to be an arbitrarily (that is, oppressively) white Christian political structure, in order to better reflect (at the very least, better accommodate) Britain’s newly ‘diverse’ population.
If you’re scratching your head as to why the monarchy is unpopular with younger voters, I suggest you take a gander at the demographic composition of younger voters – and younger people generally.
Of course, institutions by their very nature cannot be diverse; people identify with them because they reflect a fundamental homogeneity which underpins the group from which they emerge, and by extension, seek to sustain.
Differences may very will exist within them, but none of these differences will constitute diversity in the contemporary sense, as they don’t aim to breach the underlying unity required to make them recognisable.
This is definitively true of monarchy – a role defined by a sole person, restricting any metric of difference from being, nevermind represented.
In any case, it would be simply unjustifiable, within the parameters of republicanism, for a state to have an unelected white Christian as its head, especially when the citizenry is both minority-white and minority-Christian.
Given this, the monarchy risks following the course of Parliament; a battle ground for fragmented groups with increasingly little sense of essential or collective being – antithetical to the monarchy’s imagined role as a constitutional lynchpin to counter-balance the enmity of domestic politics.
Even if the institution is defanged to the point of mere ceremonialism, as has been the case over recent decades, much to the delight of so-called “progressive patriots”, it has been maintained that even if Britain’s monarchy ceases to be politically problematic in a functional sense, it remains politically problematic in a representational sense.
The overarching point is that, as Britain’s monarch, it doesn’t matter if you permit politically motivated investigations into obvious questions or if you commit to protecting all faiths as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. It doesn’t matter if you declare your support for Our NHS or opt to include Black Gospel in your coronation ceremony.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion matter for zilch: your enemies will hate you regardless.
Just as Scottish and Welsh separatists are prepared to devolve the union out of existence, modernisers and republicans are prepared to reform the monarchy out of existence. No amount of capital-C Compromise is going to fundamentally change their defining position.
Moreover, just as Scottish and Welsh separatists evoke a sense of ethnocultural distinctness whilst pursuing policies to undermine Celtic culture, modernisers and republicans evoke Cromwell, Roundheads, and the English Civil War, even though Cromwell would’ve absolutely despised them, they possess the prudence and restraint of Cavaliers, and have nothing but contempt for Englishness – often proudly declaring they’re not English whatsoever.
“You will never be a real Roundhead. You have no God, you have no purity, you have no zeal. You are a narcissistic degenerate twisted by leftism and secularism into a crude mockery of English revolution.”
When the British republic comes, assuming it does, I doubt we’re going to get Cromwell 2 or Lord Protector Nigel. Indeed, Farage himself has suggested we’ll end up with some moth-bitten mandarin: “some duffer… Neil Kinnock, or somebody.” – a failed politician with the shameless desire to be remembered as a Bismarck-esque elder statesman.
Although, as circumstances present themselves, it’s completely plausible that we get a ‘respectable’ long-standing representative of the so-called anti-racist coalition… His Excellency, President David Lammy.
As far as we know, British republicanism is a team effort; a team disproportionally comprised of (exceptions accounted for) post-colonial grifters from BAME and non-Christian backgrounds, White leftists and liberals, many of whom lay claim to permanent victim credentials, with others are eager to affirm their ‘Otherness’, whether to worm their way out of discussions about colonialism or revitalise some feud the Anglo has long forgotten.
In which case, who supports the monarchy? Exactly who you’d expect. Again, accounting for notable exceptions, it’s White English conservatives, especially those living in rural areas and with Anglican heritage. In simpler terms: the sort of people that gave us Brexit, but I digress – the pivot away from memes about royal ethnic make-up to an unabashed proxy war for ethnic grievance won’t end well.
Given this, if Charles knows what’s good for him, he’ll reject any and all further attempts at ‘modernising’ the monarchy and reverse any that have been undertaken since the end of WW2, rather than counter-signalling policy that slightly, if barely, edges towards defending the interests of his realm, his post, and especially of his dwindling (in part, rather old) number of core supporters.
After all, given the transcendental nature of kingship, should a monarch violate the spirit of their post, no monarchist would feel conflicted about withdrawing their support, if not for the benefit of a hypothetical republic, but for the benefit of the institution itself.
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The Original Right-Wing GramsciansBy Jake Scott — 5 months ago
There are many conversations being had on the Right in recent years, usually divided in two: what do we want to conserve, or build; and how do we do so? The former, I am glad to say, is no longer stuck in the stasis of Blairism, that tinkering with the edges of a hostile establishment is an hegemonic approach, and with Rishi Sunak’s call to revisit the Equality Act (2010) is an extremely welcome development; but the latter is still under-developed. Fundamentally, the concern here, of how we achieve what we want to achieve, is a question of strategy.
The question of strategy is one that the Right almost fears addressing. There are many reasons as to why, and I am pretty sure that a cowardly inability to accept the fundamentally conflictual nature of politics is one of them, instead retaining a small-l liberal belief in the neutrality of institutions. But this belief holds us back, because it prevents us from seeing these institutions as battle-grounds themselves, where the culture war takes its most concrete form; and it holds us back because the Left has committed itself to a conflictual vision of politics.
It is for this reason that the Right needs to adopt a Gramscian approach to retaking control of the institutions that have long been captured by the Left, an approach of ‘marching through the institutions’. The fundamentals of Gramsci’s theory are not our concern here, but what matters is that his theory of politics as a war of position has informed Leftist political strategy for a long time, nearly a century at this point, with Gramsci writing in the late 1920s and early 1930s about the need for the Left to inculcate a revolutionary attitude amongst the ‘subalterns’ via ‘organic intellectuals’. In other words, Gramsci advocated that the Left should not try to ‘lead’ the working class and try to capture institutions of power first, as the Leninists did in Russia, but instead should change our culture first, and capture institutions of power last.
Many on the Right dismiss this strategy, taking it to be Marxist all the way down, and that the Right should seek to create its own strategies. Perhaps; this argument certainly has its merits. But the weaker argument comes from a belief that this strategy could never work. This argument is weak because, importantly, it has already worked, and I don’t just mean for the Left. In the second half of the previous century, there was a major, successful and, some might say, permanent Gramscian revolution from the right. This came from the think tank world, begun in what might otherwise seem to be an incredibly unlikely place.
History in the Long View
In 1947, a group of predominantly European intellectuals met at a Swiss lakeside conference centre at the base of Mont Pélèrin, whilst the International Trade Organisation met at the opposite end of the lake. Organised by Friedrich Hayek, the group that met at the base of Mont Pélèrin took it as their namesake and formed the Mont Pélèrin Society. In many ways, Mont Pélèrin is ‘ground zero’ of the great Neoliberal Revolution of the second half of the twentieth century; and yet, almost nobody knows about it.
Two years prior to the meeting, at the close of the Second World War, came a reckoning for intellectuals. For many people, political philosophy, political theory, grand narratives of history and abstract theorising had not only had their day but were increasingly thought of as dangerous; they had led Italy into fascism, Germany into National Socialism, Russia into Communism, and China into civil war, as well as pushing colonies into open revolt, and causing the proliferation of dangerous beliefs in what were thought to be safe, secure Western democracies.
Not only that, but despite the defeat of Nazism, it seemed as though those Western democracies had adopted an uncritical collectivism, whilst the shadow of Bolshevism spread malevolently across Eastern Europe. In 1947, it would be some time before the Warsaw Pact or the Eastern Bloc became geopolitical realities, but nonetheless it felt that the fires of individual liberty were well and truly extinguished in the cradle of Western civilisation.
But the Mont Pélèrin Society was not the birthplace of what came to be called neoliberalism. In fact, in many ways, the diagnosis of the problems across the world in 1947 was the long-view of history, begun in the 1920s in response to the Great Depression, at a time when global markets seemingly froze, collapsed, and could not be revived from within. Adherents to the nineteenth-century brand of liberalism that had seen a great liberalisation of markets across the world argued that, to revive the global market and ensure its survival, there was a place for State intervention to maintain its role as the defender of the market order and the provider of prosperity and stability. In this regard, those who consciously called themselves neo-liberals of the 1920s saw themselves as committed to individual liberty supported by statehood.
This ‘neoliberalism’ emerged as a response to both the First World War and the Great Depression and was emboldened (largely out of panic) by the emergence of the totalitarian governments of the late-1920s and 1930s. The political climate at the time, however, was not in their favour; obviously the totalitarian states of Europe would not be receptive to messages of individualism and liberty, but neither were the British or French imperialists of the time, who pursued preferential, imperial economic systems. Moreover, in the 1930s, the British economy was put into a state of paralysis that was later referred to as the Hungry Thirties, as this very imperial preference system saw increasing outsourcing of the textile industry to India and Africa, increasing union militancy, and a National Government riven with disagreement. So, the warning of the neo-liberals – that dynamic statehood was a necessary precondition of individual liberty – was ignored.
It is important to recognise that the goals and aims of the Mont Pélèrin Society were achieved, but by no means overnight. It took over thirty years before a receptive government in Western Europe was prepared to pay attention to the ideas of the Society, during which time Britain experienced an enormous economic boom, then followed by decades of economic deflation that resulted in the dreaded stagflation of rising inflation and rising unemployment. But Britain was, of course, not alone in the 1970s – the Vietnam War, the Oil Shock of 1973, the near-collapse of industrial relations, and the complete exhaustion of the Keynesian model, which came to a head in the collapse of the Bretton-Woods monetary system in 1971.
All of this led to a sense that the current paradigm had failed. And whilst this was terrible for economists and politicians, for intellectuals their time had come.
The Meeting at Mont Pélèrin
In many ways, we can see why intellectuals met at Mont Pélèrin in 1947; or at least, we have half-answered it. The problem of history is it is never neat, and we cannot know exactly the reasons that something happened, but we can establish two broad forms of cause. The first is the ‘push’ or the ‘negative’ factors: what had to go wrong for the event in question to take place? And, relatedly, we can establish the second, the ‘pull’ or ‘positive’ factors: what needs to change for the negative factors to be avoided or changed? We know the negative factors – a fear of collectivism, and its consequences – but what did the Mont Pélèrin Society want to achieve?
This question can be understood best by considering another question first, specifically ‘who was there’? As mentioned, the principal figure was Friedrich Hayek, who rose to prominence in the 1940s for his work, The Road to Serfdom. Serfdom was known for its systematic analysis of how the forms of economic collectivism pursued in the West under the totalitarian government had lead to the death of liberty and, importantly, so too would other economically collectivisms. We can understand this by considering what Hayek considered the key features of the welfare state:
a. ‘Central planning’ – Hayek’s opposition to this approach to economic organisation was essentially an epistemological one, which is that the knowledge necessary for an economy to function is so diffuse, and so minute, it is impossible to aggregate it into a single formula or under a single agency.
b. ‘The redistributive state’ – Hayek believed that economic centralisation cannot be separated from the other areas of life. To quote Serfdom, economics is not ‘a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is control of the means for all our ends. And whoever has sole control of the means must also determine which ends are to be served’.
This systematisation of the welfare state, of ‘welfarism’, is so much more extensive than merely the provision of services; indeed, as Hayek says, ‘the conception of the welfare state has no precise meaning… the phrase is sometimes used to describe any state that “concerns” itself in any manner with problems other than those of the maintenance of law and order’.
Why is Hayek so concerned with welfarism? It is because, to him, neoliberalism in its pre-war form is what its name ought to mean quite literally: a liberalism that is modern. In this, Hayek proposes a return to classical liberalism via neoliberalism: as I describe above, liberal did and do not advocate for ‘individualist minimal government’, because the state is necessary for the protection of the conditions for individualism. He says, in a very Aristotelian fashion, ‘…there are common needs that can be satisfied only by collective action… as we grow richer, that minimum of sustenance […] which can be provided outside the market, will gradually rise… and government may […] assist or even lead such endeavours’.
What matters is that we must be vigilant towards the methods of provision, especially where welfarism is concerned, as it is the mindset that only the state can provide minimal services, as ‘…though effective for particular purposes, they would in their aggregate effect destroy a free society’. The coercion involved is concealed by their presentation in terms of public service. The illusion is public service; the reality is state coercion: ‘though they are presented as mere service activities, they really constitute an exercise of the coercive powers of government’.
This is why Hayek’s presence at the Mont Pélèrin Society matters: even more so as the instigator of this group, as his desire was to bring together intellectuals – and specifically intellectuals – to address the challenges of collectivism, amongst which was counted National-Socialist as well as Soviet totalitarianism, but also American New Deal liberalism, British social democracy, and continental Christian democracy.
Those intellectuals that Hayek gathered were, predominantly, economists, but importantly a lot of them were people who lived under National-Socialist collectivism. As a result, they witnessed the terrible power of totalitarianism, but also adopted what we might consider a semi-irrational suspicion of the state as a mechanism by which totalitarianism became possible – but significantly, this created the grounds for a specifically transnational form of free market activism that both recognised mechanistic statism but also refused to be subordinate to it.
What is most interesting, looking at the speech delivered by Hayek at this first meeting, is that he consciously notes the predominance of economists, and the lack of sociologists and philosophers. What Hayek desired, in terms of those in attendance, is clearly more diverse and, in our post-modern language, ‘intersectional’. He also notes, importantly, the lack of lawyers. We can discuss the potential consequences of this composition, but I think the likely reason for the predominance of economists is that those economists in attendance were anti-statist, and most governments were not receptive to their messages, as I say.
What needs to be drawn attention to, is the presence of businessmen and journalists from the start – which Hayek intended; and the reasons why Hayek intended this, helps us to explain what the Mont Pélèrin Society wanted to do.
A Meeting of Minds
A close reading of the speech given by Hayek shows his intended and preferred strategy. Hayek lays clear that he rejects mass movements – probably due to his rejection of collectivism – but prefers instead the power of both ideas and individuals. In this regard, he suggests an extremely closed shop: he says ‘the immediate purpose of this conference is… to provide an opportunity for a comparatively small group of those who in different parts of the world are striving for the same ideals’ but, ‘we should probably not include any name unless it receives the support of two or three members of our present group… it must remain a closed society, not open to all and sundry, but only to people who share with us certain common convictions’. But, for those in attendance and whose specialism he values, he remarks that ‘we have among us a fair number of regular writers for the periodical press, not in order that the meeting should be reported, but because they have the best opportunity to spread the ideas to which we are devoted’.
It is in regards to this that we can understand what the Mont Pélèrin Society was truly intended to be: it was not a ‘think tank’, though Hayek hinted at a journal or similar publication, but was what one writer has called a ‘thought collective’, a space for ideas to be generated, shared, refined and disseminated. But it was that final point that is most important; disseminated. The Mont Pélèrin Society was not just a talking shop. It fully intended for the ideas it generated to be shared, and widely. An important development is the recognition of what we call ‘opinion formers’, of people who are not necessarily at the wheels of power but have the ear of those who are, in an attempt to create a web of institutions that would make neoliberalism a ‘natural’ alternative to social democracy.
To this end, the Mont Pélèrin Society aimed to do something quite radical in the history of political activism: transcend national borders in an intellectual manner. Whilst we can reasonably assert that the communist movements of the mid-nineteenth century aimed at the international proliferation of their ideas, the Mont Pélèrin Society was the first to actually achieve this. Amongst their numbers, they counted British MPs such as John Enoch Powell and Sir Geoffrey Howe – Howe of course becoming Margaret Thatcher’s chancellor – German Kanzler Ludwig Erhard, Italian Presidente Luigi Einaudi, and 22 of Reagan’s 76 economic advisers in his 1980 presidential campaign team – a quite impressive stat in itself.
But it is the founding members themselves that probably brings home just how influential this group became. Alongside Hayek, was Karl Popper, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman, three of the most important social, political and economic theorists of the twentieth century.
The Think Tank Archipelago
Whilst the Mont Pélèrin Society was obscure, it was also highly influential. In many ways, the Mont Pélèrin Society was the ‘proto-think tank’, in that it was dedicated to the production, refinement and dissemination of ideas, but certain features of what came to be ‘think tanks’ were never achieved. For one, it did not produce a publication, and it consistently failed to raise the money it wanted. Moreover, a fracture between Hayek and Friedman led to the Mont Pélèrin Society declining in unity and effectiveness.
That being said, the Mont Pélèrin Society’s greatest legacy is not what it achieved directly, but what it spawned: the think-tank archipelago. Whilst the Mont Pélèrin Society may have a limited legacy in itself, there is no doubt that it became the prototype of a new kind of right-wing activism that sought to influence government policy by developing ideas and policy proposals, researching those ideas and their potential impact, before taking them to governments and political actors as a ready-made policy package that those actors could then use for their own governance.
In recent history, much of the intellectual heft of the British political scene came from inside the party system, not outside: Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill were Members of Parliament, as were, of course, Gladstone and Disraeli. Likewise, Harold Macmillan and Enoch Powell both wrote leaflets, pamphlets and books as backbenchers, with Macmillan’s The Middle Way book of the 1930s acting as an explicit repudiation of the extremism of the continent. It is often forgotten as well that Powell wrote extensively on the need to reimagine the market as a better form of goods provision in the 1950s. Likewise, on the Left, the British Labour Party had the Fabian Society, and these loose groupings of intellectuals were intended to produce specifically party-sympathetic literature.
But those who, like the Mont Pélèrin Society, wanted to change the way politics worked in Britain, refused to associate with any specific party at the outset. Indeed, they believed that the parties were part of the problem and instead sought to influence receptive individuals who may or may not be in parties.
What Does a Think Tank Look Like?
This is only a footnote in a sense, but an important one. Think-tanks were highly professional bodies: their appearance mattered, as they needed to be respectable and gain the sympathetic ear of the political elite. Do not forget that 1970s Britain was very different to today; people typically wore suits, bowler hats, and so on, and whilst activists today can get away with jeans, to attempt to do so as a professional in the 1970s would have been ridiculous.
But aesthetic appearance aside, location mattered. Many people will have heard of Tufton Street in London, which is only a stone’s throw from Westminster; in many ways, Tufton St. is a product of the think tank revolution. Think tanks intentionally positioned themselves closely to the centre of gravity they were seeking to influence, again due to the constraints of the age, specifically technological, and the need to hand-deliver many policy proposals, but also the ability to network, have ‘chance’ encounters, and appear omnipresent.
There is another important thing to note with regards to the appearance and style of think tanks. Given that they operated in the political world, one would be forgiven for thinking they operated according to political principles, such as accountability and so forth; indeed, many other activist organisations had internal elections, membership fora, and so forth. Not so with think tanks. Instead, they had (and still have) highly corporate structures, with a ‘Director’ and managerial staff, and – this is quite notable – a very high turnover of staff, mostly interns (that don’t need to be paid). This is because there was a specific, new goal that the think tanks took upon themselves: as Benjamin Jackson writes, ‘Harris and Seldon stressed in 1959’ that ‘neo-liberal activists like themselves worked as brokers who mobilised and connected four important elite groups: business, sympathetic intellectuals, journalists, and politicians’.
As I say, the think tank world was spawned in many ways by the Mont Pélèrin Society, a fact we can understand by looking at the first ever Mont Pélèrin Society meeting to take place in Oxford – in 1959. The fact that it took the Mont Pélèrin Society twelve years to organise a conference in Britain speaks to three main facts: first, Britain as a political culture was deeply unreceptive to the Mont Pélèrin Society’s goals. The post-war Consensus meant that the party system was not looking for pro-market ideas, and though the party system was not the Mont Pélèrin Society’s target audience, as I mentioned, it shows how much the political culture was against them. Second, the Mont Pélèrin Society was right to recognise that this was going to be a long process; they knew the political climate was against them, but they also knew they had to be patient and chip away at things. But third, and encouragingly for the Mont Pélèrin Society, it meant their movement really was as transnational as intended. Of course, we might make a joke about how long it took – but they certainly achieved it in the end.
Again, it is worth considering attended the 1959 Mont Pélèrin Society Oxford conference. The two most notable individuals in attendance were Arthur Seldon and Ralph Harris, the two young men entrusted to run the new British free-market think tank, the ‘Institute of Economic Affairs’ (IEA). Amongst the initial roster was also Arthur Shenfield, who knew Hayek personally and had helped to set up the IEA. The IEA itself was founded by Antony Fisher, the businessman who made his fortunes by introducing battery farming hens to Britain; Fisher, inspired by Hayek, established the IEA and employed Harris and Seldon to run it, as a ‘scholarly research organisation’. As one businessman commented to Harris, in the 1960s and 1970s the perception was that universities were producing resources for unions, so there needed to be something that produced ‘bullets for business’.
Alongside the IEA, there were several think tanks set up in the 1970s, foremost amongst them the Adam Smith Institute (ASI). Founded by Madsen Pririe and the two brothers Eamonn and Stuart Butler at the University of St. Andrews, the ASI took its name from the moral and political economist Adam Smith, whose work The Wealth of Nations is seen as the great liberal economics manifesto (perhaps erroneously). The ASI was markedly different from the IEA; whilst the latter aimed at more ‘intellectual’ pursuits, the ASI aimed at producing direct and ‘bold’ policies, and is widely regarded as one of the foundational think tanks of Margaret Thatcher’s economic programme. Still operating today, the ASI is increasingly libertarian, nicknamed the Adam Spliff Institute by anti-cannabis legalisation activists. It is telling, however, that Pririe was referred to as ‘a sort of right-wing Trotsky’ – he had energy, vigour, and a real desire to see the system overturned in favour of what he wanted (and in many ways, he is the most successful political activist of Britain’s recent past).
But a particular development of the 1970s was the establishment of the first ever Conservative Party think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies. Founded in 1974 by Kieth Joseph, and supporting Thatcher’s bid for leadership, the CPS was explicitly pro-market, but aimed to codify and bring together many of the pro-market publications and writers in the Conservative Party to develop an actual policy programme.
As a footnote, whilst these were the major groups, there were many (at the time) smaller ones: the Taxpayers Alliance; the Aims of Industry; my personal favourite, FOREST (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco); and the wonderfully-named NAFF (National Association for Freedom).
Thinking the Unthinkable
The aims of the think tank archipelago must never be mistaken for coherent. Part of the philosophy that inspired almost all of these think tanks was a decentred approach to intellectual production, and so there was almost never a collaboration of aims, which makes the general consensus between these think tanks all the more remarkable. That being said, there was still a broad development of the aims pursued between 1950s and 1980s: originally, the think tanks sought to oppose anti-competitive business practices, encouraging businesses to be more competitive and see each other as rivals in the marketplace; yet later, there was an increasing emphasis on the ‘problems of government’, in which the think tanks sought no longer to criticise businesses, but instead saw their role as defending them from the State, as the source of anti-competitive practices.
There are two key reasons for this change, that we can see: first, the erosion of liberty; and second, the self-interested nature of government institutions. On this first point, the continual expansion of social democratic institutions was seen to be eroding individual liberty and economic efficiency in favour of that which Hayek defined as welfarism, as the belief in the State as the only source of minimal economic provision. In Jackson’s words, the think tanks ‘diagnosed the fundamental problem as an excess of politics over economics’. They wanted a return to non-coercive economic practices, spontaneous market mechanisms, and individual liberty and responsibility.
Entwined with this, moreover, was the second important critique of Statism: the think tanks portrayed democratic collective agencies (such as parties, the State itself, civil service, etc.) as primarily self-interested, given that they ‘sought to expand their own power rather than serving the public’. A really interesting question to ask here is, why? Was it because they hated this, and thought it was corrupting of the British pluralist state? Or was it because they actually liked this, and considered it a useful mechanism for advancing things, as a lesson taken from self-interested market mechanisms?
I think it is a combination of the two. I think, it begins with the first, and translates into the second: bearing in mind that the original neo-liberals did not reject State action, but saw it as a fundamental support to the functioning of a free market. In this regard, perhaps the neoliberals of the 1950s to 1980s believed that the neutral state was really a myth and, if state power was going to be used, better it be used by them. But, if so, then what they decided to do to remedy this was to take market economics and inject them into the functioning of State bodies, in order to make them more efficient and dynamic.
Marching to the Institutions
The strategies open to the neoliberals were quite varied, but the specific one that they chose was very much informed by the Mont Pélèrin Society’s stated goal of addressing ‘opinion formers’: for instance, the IEA wanted to ‘bombard university students, school teachers and university lecturers’ in order to shape how politics and economics was taught, especially the relationship between them. But a more successful strategy was to influence the views of the ‘small metropolitan media and political elite that shaped policy debate in Britain’.
Whilst judging ‘success’ is difficult, when it comes to think tanks, we can do so in two regards: did they influence policy? And did they succeed in attracting donors?
As I said above, these think-tanks did not align themselves with any particular party, but the most receptive to their message in Britain was the Conservative Party. This being said, they did attract some specific apolitical allies: the Duke of Edinburgh was a fan of the IEA, for instance. But where they definitely made their success was in informing the political economic programme of Margaret Thatcher, mostly through her chancellors and advisors. Sir Geoffrey Howe, for one, was a long-time member of the IEA, as well as the Mont Pélèrin Society, and communicated with the ASI throughout the decades. Another tangible success for the IEA was that they advised Keith Joseph on how to set up the Centre for Policy Studies, which became the unofficial pro-market think tank of the Conservative Party, and is still active today (more prominently known through its publication, CapX).
As for donors, we know for a fact that the IEA was extremely successful. In 1968, it had £47,264 in donations; in 1981, that figure was £267,040. Likewise, in the same period, the income from sale of publications rose from £13,926 to £38,320. But the biggest rise come from corporate sponsors:
o 1974 – £76,574
o 1975 – £161,979
o 1979 – £210,343
Donations came from extremely important titans of industry, such as BP, IBM, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Procter & Gamble, Shell, Tate and Lyle, and Unilever, as well as many major newspapers and high-street banks.
But these figures hide a more important story. As Jackson details, these think tanks could only exist thanks to donations: they never sold enough of their own works or publications to even cover their running costs. This matters because it is not simply a case of the donors paying and the think tanks doing as they asked: in reality, whilst the donors, corporations and businesses that funded them wanted a pro-market intellectual presence, Philip Mirowski makes it clear that many of these donors did not know exactly what kind of economy and society was in their best interest. As Harris and Seldon put it at the Oxford conference: sometimes the worst enemies of the free market are businessmen.
In many ways, lobbying is the think tank weapon par excellence; a lot of wining and dining, but with the intention of convincing potentially receptive political actors of their policy and political programmes; and, of course, throwing a lot of money around. Yet ultimately, the best expression of this think tank revolution’s success comes from the fact that so many think tanks still exist. They have become an institutional feature of government, and are still a go-to choice for new attempts to influence policy.
The Drowning of the Think Tank Archipelago
I do not want this article to be mistaken: I do not consider think tanks to be an effective method of altering the way in which British politics works anymore. For one thing, they have become highly institutionalised, and instead of challenging the establishment’s method of thinking, they do the thinking for them, and as it was once said that ‘whoever is in government, it is the treasury that’s in charge’, I think it is more accurate to say that whoever occupies 10 Downing Street, the thinking is done on Tufton Street.
But the problem goes further. The excellent Herbalis substack explains that the formation of what we call ‘the Blob’ emerges from think tanks recommending the existence of a funding body, from which those think tanks then receive funding; meanwhile the substack SW1 Forum takes the theory put forward by Herbalis and finds its clearest expressions. And very often, these think tanks, by virtue of being unmoored from a political party or philosophy, can so easily endear themselves to whoever is in power that it truly does not matter who they are trying to influence, only that there is someone to influence at all; consider the fact that the ASI, thought of as Thatcher’s greatest think tank allies, became so wedded to the Blaire governments.
What I aim to have shown in this article is that right wing Gramscianism is a viable option. I am not trying to urge the creation of another think tank archipelago; that particular form of Gramscianism is exhausted, and probably for the better. But the form should not be mistaken for the strategy, and the exhaustion of one tactic should not be mistaken for the exhaustion of the army. As Napoleon said, ‘you must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war’.
Post Views: 207
An Interview with the JFvDBy The Mallard — 5 months ago
In late September, a few members of the Mallard team were fortunate to get the opportunity to sit down with representatives of the JFvD, the youth wing of the Dutch ‘Forum for Democracy’ (FvD) party. We discussed the incredible success of their political and cultural youth movement; the founding and future of their party; and their views on what the future of the Netherlands and Europe should be.
The Mallard (TM): We want to get a sense of what the FvD is; what it stands for; and what the JFvD does within that.
Massimo Etalle (ME): So the FvD was founded in 2015 as a think tank. Our party leader (Thierry Baudet) was a journalist, and he had a critique on the world around him but did not believe that these problems could be solved through politics. So, he founded this think tank to influence the ideas in our society. Politics is downstream from culture, so to influence politics you have to influence culture. We had a unique opportunity at the time due to the referendum with Ukraine [the 2016 Dutch advisory referendum on the proposed Ukraine – European Union Association Agreement]. The FvD has always been a very Eurosceptic organisation, so when the association agreement was proposed in a referendum, we campaigned against it. When the referendum was held, it was overwhelmingly opposed by 62% of the Dutch people. In response, the government ignored it and signed the agreement anyway. At this moment we realised we needed to do more than just influence ideas. You have to get closer to power to influence society. So we started a political party and we won 2 seats out of 150 in parliament. The energy was unmatched and, as soon as we started, we flew through the polls. The youth movement (JFvD) was founded in March 2017. Due to the lateness of its founding, we had to have 100 members before midnight to secure subsidies and funding. Before midnight we had over 1000 members and by the next day we had 2000 members. We were the fastest growing youth movement ever in the history of the Netherlands.
Iem Al Biyati (IAB): So we (The JFvD) know we are a youth political movement but we don’t see politics as the number one way to change stuff. It’s a part of it but not the most important thing. We believe in transforming peoples mentality and influencing culture from bottom-to-top instead of top-to-bottom. We want to bind them to history and culture; identity and family instead of the modern view of the Dutch people which is to hate themselves and their culture – we want to oppose that. We think a lot of young people are aimless with no sense of identity anymore, and we are trying to make them see this and give them an opportunity to evolve this feeling and better themselves. We have a culture of losers who are afraid of risks and not being part of ‘the group’. We embrace these things, and we are proud of it. We stand totally against the modern degenerate culture.
ME: Exactly. I wouldn’t describe us as a counter-movement. The modern world is the counter-movement. Ugly buildings are the counter-movement. They are anti-European. We embrace who we are, and all we see around us is opposition to who we are. This starts at the first day of school when we are taught things like participation being more important than winning. This is a total inversion of truth. There is no point in human history when this was true. It breeds a country of losers who don’t want to excel, instead they want to be equal. We want to return to this truth and to who we are. We want to go back to what we have always been and to what is our ‘eternal fate’. That is what we do. We want to mentally and physically challenge our members to become who they truly are.
TM: Do you think that young people in the Netherlands are becoming more radical?
IAB: I think that the youth are becoming more radical, but it goes two ways. I see that there are less centrist people and they go towards the ends. We have more communists and left-wingers and more radical right-wingers. Maybe this is a good thing or not, I’m not sure. But it’s because everyone feels that there is something not right. We no longer live in harmony, and I feel that that is the similarity between the radical left and radical right. We both feel something is off but the left have a different solution and cause. They think that lack of equality is a problem and want to form the world to eliminate stress and struggle. We believe in embracing struggle and accepting that life is this way instead of complaining and whining.
TM: Would you say that you prioritise changing the way people think over advocating for certain political policies?
IAB: Yeah. Policy changes aren’t even possible in our party’s current position. Maybe we never will be. We see it more as a metaphysical and philosophical struggle.
ME: Whilst you cannot change a policy, you can change your resilience to a bad policy. You can become more immune to things that the government does to hurt you.
TM: It’s interesting you say that because, in the UK, a lot of right-wing movements focus entirely on policy. Maybe it’s due to the homogenous nature of our politics. We don’t really have a movement that tries to affect culture instead of specific policies.
ME: The failure of Brexit proved the irrelevance of policy. Whilst you left the European Union, your politicians are now proud to say that your immigrants don’t come from Poland any more, instead they come from Pakistan. The problem you had wasn’t just the European Union, it was that your mentality was wrong. If you could change that mentality even a slight amount, the influence would be bigger in every new policy. Whilst if you change one policy, everything that will be built around it will still be rooted in perverse thought.
IAB: The most important thing to do is to implant those ideas in people to make them feel as though they are good and true because they are. That is what the JFvD and FvD is trying to do. We still participate in politics of course and try our best but the ideas are what is important. We had the state opening of parliament a few days ago when all the politicians came and met up. This is quite rare in the Netherlands. Two days of debate and all they talk about are the same boring stories: rising energy prices and cost of living. They are too afraid to tell a different story. We got our opportunity to speak for about 15 minutes, but after about 10 minutes our party leader made a criticism of one of the other members of parliament, and our speaker of the house turned his microphone off after members of the government signalled her to do so. The entire government stood up and walked out to avoid listening to him. After this stunt the Prime Minister came back to act upset about it and, when Thierry came back to speak he was only allowed to do so if he apologised. He refused to apologise and his right to speak was taken away. He had to leave.
TM: Yes that happens in this country as well. A lot of politicians have cottoned on to the fact that, if you get kicked out, it makes headlines. So, people will say things that they want in the newspapers and then they will accuse someone of lying which will result in them being kicked out. This gets them in the papers and videos of it go online.
IAB: That’s actually pretty funny but of course it goes to show that it’s a theatre. It’s all a show.
ME: Just to be clear, our youth movement doesn’t focus on policy, but the main party does. We have ideas on how to solve the energy crisis, for example. We have the largest gas reserve in Europe and we give it away to the Belgians. We do propose and fight for policies but, especially as a youth movement, we have a very cultural and ideological task. Everyone is in the process of becoming an adult.
TM: So what do you do to promote cultural things?
ME: So we have a few things that we do. We have a summer camp and some other events which Iem will talk about and then we also have a magazine ‘The Dissident’ which I will talk about.
IAB: So we have so many young members, and it’s very uncommon to be a member of a political party as a young person in the Netherlands. So, the first step was to attract the members and then we had to do something with them. We can’t just take 5 Euros from them a year and then not do anything with them. We want to select and train people how to be potential members of the future party as a nurturing role. We have a summer camp which takes about 80 people. It’s a shame because hundreds apply but we don’t have the space to take any more than 80. But we also want to connect with people on an individual level which is hard to do as a massive group. We engage in sport and physical activity and also lectures. We try to attract a different range of people.
ME: We don’t want to do just lectures. We believe in the unity of mind and body. It’s not just who is the smartest or the strongest. It’s the person who is expressing his desire to fight on all fronts.
IAB: Someone who can write stuff should also be able to express things physically in their lifestyle and not just academically. We look for these people and try to give them ideas in the lectures about politics, philosophy, health etc. We even do singing lessons and things. We try to challenge individuals and the group to create the ‘aristocrat’. We scout talents and we invite them to more exclusive academic training weekends. We obviously have other events but those are smaller and more specific. That’s how we try to make our ideas true.
TM: And the magazine?
ME: So, people can have a certain feeling about ideas but struggle to express them. They know the FvD is what they want, but the ideas are a struggle. Everything is so fast and changes all the time and your brain can get completely overloaded with information. To do something about that we started our magazine. It talks about all aspects of who we are. Our ideals, our actions, our history. You name it, we do it. It’s a very open platform which we allow people to pitch to. It’s our testament of who we are as a permanent record. Hopefully it will inspire people for a long time. It declines the chaos of every moment; we have no articles about quick news. Everything we talk about is timeless and we strive to keep it eternal.
IAB: We didn’t have this before and we don’t want to lose the ideas that we have. We believe in action. We should try to make these ideas physical and then do things about these ideas. Putting the ideas into a physical record helps this. What I see a lot on the internet are people who have ideas that are similar to ours. They really believe in the traditional idea but they are a bit stuffy and get upset about more modern things. They make things like magazines, but their covers are old school. They are trying to hold on to ash.
TM: Like LARPing?
IAB: Yeah, just like LARPing. It’s not real. It needs to be more real. They like to pretend it’s the 1950’s.
ME: We went to Trafalgar square earlier and it felt a lot like being in a very very big museum. We were surrounded by all this beautiful art, but it felt like being in-between a museum and Pompeii. The volcano is erupting but the guard is still standing on duty. The monuments in Trafalgar square are still being cleaned but they are monuments to an idea, a people, and an empire that aren’t there anymore. That feels a lot like a museum. It was the main impression we got from Trafalgar Square.
TM: To focus more on the Netherlands in particular. How do you feel about the farmers’ strikes? What do you think is going to happen with that?
IAB: They have obviously been angry for a long time now and with the visits to ministers houses it’s getting more radical. I’m not really sure what will come out of it.
ME: I think the government has a trick up its sleeve, honestly. Obviously, I fully understand and support the farmers. The big problem that caused this is the nitrogen storage and emissions laws. It’s a rule that they only apply when they want to hurt someone. The land the farmers have is valuable and it’s worth only a tenth as much as a farm when compared to housing. There is a very strong economic impulse to build on it and move the farmers elsewhere. Our land is too valuable. The farmers obviously don’t want to leave but the government is trying to use these economic sanctions to get them to leave. I don’t know what tricks they have up their sleeves. This will escalate and the rules will become more stringent. So, they have our full support and I hope they manage to resist this.
TM: I’ve been reading the FvD’s views on the Netherlands’ future in Europe. What do you think the future will be like for Dutch people and the Dutch nation in Europe at the moment if nothing changes, and what would you like the future to be?
ME: I think at the moment we are on the way to becoming a big metropole. There is a plan called the ‘Three State City’ which seeks to unite most of the big cities in the Netherlands with some cities in the Ruhr in Germany and the port of Antwerp in north Belgium. It would be a massive 50 million population city. That’s why they want to hurt the farmers to take their land.
IAB: I hope that our party will have a leading role in Europe to try and stop this. We have seen what has happened in Sweden and the trends in Italy and France. Maybe soon there will be a topple. Hopefully this will happen in the Netherlands, but our government has always been the leader of liberalism. I think this is the opposite of the Dutch soul. I hope that we can change this and become a leader in Europe in a more traditionalist way.
TM: So earlier you said that you think Brexit has been a failure. Does that imply that you want the Netherlands to stay in the European Union?
ME: I totally oppose the so-called ‘European Union’. It is very anti-European. It is built to castrate Europe and to keep it small and weak. It blocks everything Europe is good at. They promote the idea that participation is worth more than winning. This keeps everyone down and from excelling. Our ideal is a country where the people on every scale from individual to collective can express their fate and the European Union crushed it.
TM: It feels as though your opinion is that the wrong people carried out Brexit. Would you agree with that?
ME: Yes, definitely. After Brexit they built a structure around it that was done by the wrong people.
IAB: This is why changing policy doesn’t change anything. Our countries are run by managers, they are not leaders. They are people who were bullied at school and now that they have the taste of power, they use it to bully successful people. They have no idea how to run a country and should be managing a Tesco instead.
ME: The civil servants are the ones who actually tell politicians what to do. The politicians come up with general policy ideas and then the civil servants are the ones who tell them what to do.
TM: There are generally two different schools of thought in the UK about influencing power. Either you infiltrate existing structures, or you set up parallel structures. Obviously, your party isn’t in power but you do sit parallel to it. Do you think there is any use in infiltration into institutions?
IAB: If there is a war, you don’t just use one tactic. You use land, air, and sea. You also use spies and infiltration. It’s a combined offensive. That is how I view politics. This is a sort of war and you have to fight it on all fronts. You have to infiltrate and also set up parallel societies and organisations. We are in the process of setting up schools and apps and other things. Our planned app for example allows people to do commerce and provides alternatives for maps and things. You can also use it to see what businesses are run by FvD supporters. They get discounts at these shops and things. You don’t have to go to a leftist’s or a communist’s pub or shop by accident anymore. You can support people who agree with you and who are like you and stop helping people who hate you.
TM: Yeah, that would probably be illegal in the UK. We have a few acts of parliament that would make that not even an option.
ME: Wouldn’t you say that that actually makes you sort of stateless? I mean, you can say you are fighting for a state which defends your ideals and who you are. Your current state doesn’t just not have a place for you, it actively opposes who you are. It stops you from expressing yourself. I would think that you are stateless and that you should orient your actions as a stateless person.
TM: In the UK we talk a lot about how a fair amount of our problems are caused by older people. They were the recipients of low house prices and a well-funded welfare state. Now that they are in a position of money and power, they have pulled the ladder up and made it harder for young people. We call it the ‘gerontocracy’. Do you agree with that? Do you have something similar?
IAB: That group was very mediocre throughout their lives too.
ME: Are they really that united against you though? It feels sort of like a false dichotomy. Think of a company like Blackrock which buys up huge amounts of land and property to turn it into rental property in Amsterdam and here too. The influence of one such company is vastly superior to one group of Baby Boomers who, to some extent, have taken actions to hold on to their wealth. I don’t think it’s necessarily the Boomers fault, they are a product of the world around them. They were posed different challenges than us. That’s life, I think.
IAB: Being a Boomer is of course an age thing but I think it can be a part of someone’s soul. People can have a Boomer mentality even if they are young. They believed that we are able to become anything we want. My parents said to me that I can just go to school and get a diploma and just do whatever I wanted. They gave us this box with all these things we could achieve and when we opened it, it was actually full of nothing. We had to work with that. Old people will complain about young people but that’s because they just don’t know what the reality is. I agree with Massimo though that a lot of these problems are actually caused by big companies like Blackrock.
ME: The greatest crime of the Boomer is raising a generation of spoiled kids. It’s the reason why people don’t understand that things are hard and that you have to struggle to get things. They didn’t have to fight in wars or do anything. Our greatest challenge is undoing this mindset and bringing struggle back to people’s lives.
TM: Yeah I think a lot of these older people, the Boomers, were raised in a more harsh or ‘Victorian’ way. They reacted to that by raising their children in a very hands-off and spoiled kind of way.
ME: They get their kids spoiled and then they scream when they grow up and find out that life is not as easy as they thought.
IAB: The weakest people are praised for it all the time. They are drained in the face, and they are rewarded for it. The few people who are actually struggling to carry everything and fight for things are seen as dangerous.
ME: Life in the end turns out to be hard and it implodes a lot of people. This is a renunciation of real life and it never had to be like this.
TM: Especially in the short-term things are seemingly getting worse with the war and the strikes and the prices of things rocketing. As things get harder, do you think maybe people will embrace struggle?
ME: It can go one of two ways. People are either going to rely much more on the state for handouts and welfare to make their lives easier. If there is no support offered and people start having to struggle, that may awaken something in people that shifts them.IAB: The whole ‘Build Back Better’ thing implies that something has to be destroyed. Things like social credit may be actually destroyed by this. We may end up going down the communist path of trying to make the world malleable and changeable. Or you can accept life as it is and build back something that’s true. You can’t avoid struggle and I don’t think our current artificial way of life is sustainable. There will be a time maybe in 10, 100, or 200 years where it does collapse and we might not even realise until after it’s happened. We think we probably aren’t going to be the generation that goes through that and turns it all around, but we will be the first people to lay foundations and make way for it so that future generations can continue this project and we can return to who we are.
Post Views: 199
What the reaction to the Ukraine conflict reveals about national identityBy Lee Marshall — 5 months ago
A country is first and foremost its people.
Despite my best efforts I cannot remember where I came across that phrase, nor will I be so brazen to claim it as my own. Nonetheless, it has always struck me as being axiomatic, and current events in Eastern Europe have given me reason to reflect on it further.
The West, including our own country, has since the end of World War II (and in some circles even before then) eschewed notions of national identity and even the concept of the nation itself. Borders are seen by many as a physical expression of violent exclusion and “othering” of fellow human beings, who should be given immediate and untrammelled access to any society they wish; free at any point to up and leave for another.
Politicians, organisations and members of the public alike, particularly those on the Left, are quick to espouse the idea that migration and asylum are human rights, which sit above the rights and privileges that attach to existing citizens.
A cursory glance through the Guardian’s migration articles tells you everything you need to know about how the Left views borders and the right to self-determination in 99% of cases involving the West. They unceasingly extol the supposed virtues of multiculturalism and appear to truly believe in the idea of open borders, with scant regard to the existing people of a nation.
Yet on one matter, the notions of inviolable borders, the nation, its people and the right to self-determination have come flooding back into consciousness and are being defended vociferously by those who otherwise have spent the last 80 years denigrating them and holding in contempt those who seek to re-establish them as common sense norms.
What is it about the ensuing conflict between Russia and Ukraine that has stoked the fires of righteous indignation in defence of a nation presently undergoing a hostile invasion by another?
Surely the mounting death toll plays its part in this reaction. But I am not convinced that is all.
What we are witnessing, it seems to me, is on some level a tacit realisation and acknowledgement that there is after all such a thing as a nation state, a specified people attached to and belonging in that nation state, and the right of that people to remain distinct, separate, independent and free to maintain their own homeland. It is tacit, not because those who express dismay at the current situation do so silently, but because they do not openly admit the source of their opposition to Putin’s aggression.
Back in July 2021, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin wrote an article, published on the Kremlin’s official website – On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians – in which he outlines the common bonds that ultimately make Russians, Ukrainians and indeed Belarusians one and the same people.
“Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus” he writes, “bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith…[which] still largely determines our affinity today.”
Of the constituent republics of the now defunct USSR, he says “Of course, inside the USSR, borders between republics were never seen as state borders; they were nominal within a single country.”
Mr Putin argues that “some part of a people in the process of its development…can become aware of itself as a separate nation” who should be treated “with respect.” He even goes as far as to suggest that those people should be welcome to establish a state of their own, but only after a satisfactory answer has been proffered to the question “But on what terms?”
It is clear that he does not truly believe the Ukrainians (or Belarusians for that matter) are as distinct from Russians as they like to believe. This he confirms later, essentially repealing his earlier platitudes, when he writes “But the fact is that the situation in Ukraine today is completely different because it involves a forced change of identity.” In other words, whilst some people undergo a change in identity and should be allowed to go their own way, this is not the case in Ukraine who have had such a change imposed upon them; a change it appears Mr Putin feels is incumbent upon him to help them resist.
Leaving aside the moral questions surrounding Mr Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and whether he is justified in his view of the Ukrainians being fundamentally Russian, let us explore the principles he is applying.
What Putin is suggesting here is that the Russians and Ukrainians, though occupying separate, autonomous territories, comprise the same people, united by a common ancestry, language and heritage. In other words, the lineage of Ancient Rus endures, despite some fragmentation here and there along with the establishment of states independent from one another.
Such a set-up has historical precedent. The Ancient Greek City States were seen as being inhabited by fundamentally the same people – Greeks – yet each with their own independent territories, the citizens of which took on an identity derived therefrom whilst simultaneously maintaining their overarching Greek identity. One could be a Spartan and a Greek, or an Athenian and a Greek. Either way, one was still a Greek.
This shines light on something quite interesting in terms of the conception of a people. For, and I have long been aware of this, one’s citizenship merely denotes one’s rights and status within a state, not one’s membership of a people.
In other words, membership of a people, whilst it could be enshrined in law (and I think there are good arguments it should be – this appears to have been the impetus behind the idea of the nation state to being with, now weakened by lax immigration policy and the doctrine of multiculturalism), ultimately pre-exists that law and the citizenship that might formalise it. As Sir Roger Scruton wrote: “Nations emerged as forms of pre-political order that contain within themselves the principles that would legitimise sovereign government.”
This idea of pre-existence is quite clear in Putin’s understanding of the underlying indivisibility of Russians and Ukrainians. Yes, they occupy different states and maintain distinct citizenship. But, crucially, just like the Greeks, they share an overarching identity and membership otherwise not indicated by co-habitation of the same land.
No doubt millions of Ukrainians would reject this view point. Yet, in doing so, they too would be applying the same principle – namely that their being Ukrainian pre-exists the Ukrainian state. In fact they could reasonably argue, in contradistinction to Putin’s claims, that it is this very pre-existence which endows the Ukrainian state with its right to exist separately from Russia. Their very sense of themselves as a nation acts as the motivation behind their dogged defence of their national territory.
When it is said that a people have the right to self-determination, as many are now saying of the Ukrainians, which “people” do they mean? I think they can only reasonably point to a people who would in the absence of a state to call their own continue to be extant and identifiable.
If, for example, the state of Ukraine underwent a sea-change in its population such that the members of Ukrainian society, Ukrainian citizens, were largely Germans or Somalis or indeed a farrago of peoples of widely varying languages, cultures, customs, religions and historical descent/heritage, they would be Ukrainian in name only, solely by virtue of their citizenship. Assuming those who we presently know and recognise to be Ukrainian people occupy another region of the world, would they not continue to be Ukrainian notwithstanding that the territory of Ukraine would have been abandoned?
In fact it is quite obvious that Ukrainians are considered a people in their own right by the intention of the International Court of Justice to investigate claims of genocide as a result of the conflict.
According to Article II of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide is defined as specified acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.”
I would submit that an awareness of a pre-existing membership of a particular and identifiable people has long been found in those of us who believe in nation states and borders. But I would also argue that that same awareness can be found in those on the Left who are denouncing the Russian invasion. For if Ukrainians are not a people in their own right, why should they have self-determination? If, as Putin holds, they are Russians, does it make sense to say that they are entitled to that determination? It would be tantamount to asserting that Russians are entitled to self-determination from Russians. Applying that logic, there should be no opposition to Surrey declaring a bona fide independence from the rest of England.
If those crying out in defence of Ukraine do not see a people that pre-exists its nation state, but rather a people identified only by the continued existence of that state, they nonetheless do acknowledge that Ukrainians are a distinct and separate people albeit merely by virtue of citizenship, irrespective of background.
Let us assume for a moment that is the correct view. This does not change the fact that Ukrainians, even by admission of the Left, have the right to decide for themselves their own future. Such a freedom must surely be unfettered, meaning that any and all decisions that could affect them within their borders should be within their exercise of control.
I think the notion of a people based on pre-existence to a state, though manifested and formalised by the creation of a state – a homeland – is the better one, without which the nation state is less well-grounded and defensible. Another reason is that if a people are identified by the existence of the state they occupy, what happens if that state ceases to exist?
None of this is to diminish the role that territory plays in the identity of a people. On the contrary, and as alluded to above, that role is of paramount importance.
The occupation of territory, together with the establishment of institutions endowed with a sense of identity and which reflect the culture of its people, is a direct manifestation of that pre-existing status that subsists in the absence of a law that enshrines and protects it.
Scruton put it thus: “National loyalty marginalises loyalties of family, tribe and faith… [placing] before the citizen’s eyes…a country…defined by a territory, and by the history, culture and law that have made that territory ours.” He goes on to say that “Nationality is composed of land, together with the narrative of its possession.”
As such, the nation state of a people – their homeland – becomes as much a part of their identity as their cultural practices. The loss of that homeland does not to my mind destroy them as a people but it is certainly a gross offence against their identity which serves to alienate them from themselves, even if not completely.
In this way, and as now brought to our attention in the most alarming of ways, borders matter. But more than that: the reaction to the invasion of Ukraine proves to us we already knew that, including those who ceaselessly advocate for the right of all and sundry to enter a Western country as if it were more their right to do so than our right to preserve our sense of who we are by exercising full control over our borders.
Russia might be invading Ukraine with tanks; the United Kingdom has been invaded by other means – unwanted mass immigration which has encouraged millions to arrive with their own cultures and sense of who they are in distinction to us who were already here and whose sense of ourselves is intimately bound up in our own homeland, its institutions and its history – now all under assault for being less than perfect and not reflective (rightly so) of peoples whose cultures and identities evolved thousands of miles from our shores.
It is time we recognised that if, as I would agree, Ukraine has a right to exist for the benefit of Ukrainians, detached from Russia and free to determine its own future, we in the West and in particular Great Britain, have that right also. We, too, are a people. Our state, our kingdom, might be the result of a unification of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish peoples, but each of us retains our own unique character and, importantly, homeland. Although there is some agitation to dissolve the union in Scotland (and in some parts of England), the preservation thereof derives from continuing mutual agreement without impinging on that uniqueness.
The same cannot be said for the results of mass immigration and multiculturalism which, whilst allowing newcomers to preserve their identities, serves to undermine ours whose is expressed in the country we have for a thousand years called home, but is now threatened with having to accommodate increasingly vast differences while losing the benefit of a retreat to somewhere recognisably ours such as was available to Englishmen and Scotsmen alike prior to 1945.
Any student of history can point to numerous examples of the inherent difficulties in establishing territorial dominion over multitudinous peoples who differ so widely in matters of culture and identity that open conflict eventually bursts out and engulfs the region. The situation as we face it in Great Britain, brought about by absurd notions of cultural relativity, is unsustainable.
The circumstances in which Ukraine now finds itself are objectively much more urgent and dire and, admittedly, have come about in a different manner: but the intended outcome is the same. Putin is, after all, making an attempt to reabsorb the Ukrainian people into a Greater Russian family, thereby extinguishing their identity. He will fail to do this absolutely, but if he succeeds in establishing dominion over the territory that otherwise acts as a significant expression of who they are, their identity will be materially reduced.
Such a loss would not necessarily mean a displacement of the Ukrainians to other lands, but the incursion of other peoples’ customs and laws, however similar Putin might hold Ukrainians and Russians to be. In this way, the expression of the Ukrainian people via a country and institutions that becomes less recognisable to them will serve to alienate them and prevent them from self-realisation and determination.
The Left knows this. They know that borders provide a delineation between “us” and “them” – this is of course why they hate borders. Yet in the case of Ukraine that same knowledge prompts them to defend, at least in word if not deed, the rights of the Ukrainian people to maintain a homeland for themselves.
If Putin does manage to subdue Ukraine in the immediate term, the longer term will be much more difficult. The Ukrainian people’s conception of themselves – a conception that pre-exists their own nation state – will likely prompt them to persevere in re-establishing it.
A country is first and foremost its people. But we in the West would do well to remember that if a people lose entitlement and independent jurisdiction over their homeland, whilst they might continue to endure in some form or other, their destiny will no longer be in their hands.
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