Filtering Tag: featured

Notes From the Bleak Midwinter (Magazine Excerpt)

The weather has been rather dreary in what little of this year has transpired, so it is almost logical that my first article of the year for this publication might be similarly pessimistic. I was invited specifically to write about my expectations for 2023, so I invite readers to prepare to be depressed over the next couple of pages.

In short, 2023 will probably be a continuation of 2022 in many ways. For example, the war between Ukraine and Russia will remain an orgy of bloodshed and hysterical moralising with no end in sight. Ergo, Western political actors will continue to exploit the war for global brownie points, weakening their militaries and frittering away their citizens’ taxes to keep the useful distraction to the burden of responsible governance the war has provided since last February. That said, the overwhelming worldwide focus on that war should stop some (but not all) flashpoints elsewhere from becoming all-out conflicts, notably in Taiwan, Kosovo and the Aegean Sea. Not all proxy sponsors are in the right places to give a space where armed conflict could occur, but it might end up a different story for the possibility of Turkish intervention into northern Syria and of Azerbaijan into Armenia.

Speaking of domestic politics, the picture is not much rosier. Yes, Rishi Sunak might fulfil his “promise” of falling inflation through simple laws of economics at the bottom of a cycle, but his inevitable attempt to take credit will undoubtedly ring hollow with the masses. One cannot read inflation like poll numbers, meaning the price rises are already embedded into economic reality alongside the below-inflation wage growth. Consequently, the strikes will rumble on for at least the first half of this year as the trade unions try to extract a victory from kicking a government when it is down. It has seemed to me that Mick Lynch and company want to re-enact the ‘Winter of Discontent’, but the reduced scale of unionised workers in proportion to the overall workforce will not make life as holistically dysfunctional from striking alone as it was during the mass strikes of the 1970s. I guess their ambitions, borne out by romanticised period role-playing, are at least typical of the present time. After all, similar fantasies which only the children of later Cold War politics are capable of conjuring drives the foreign policy situation I discussed earlier.

This is an excerpt from “Provenance”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.


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It’s Over/We’re Back or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Rollercoaster (Magazine Excerpt)

In short, the year started badly but was peppered with good moments. By mid-2022 it was going excellently, and I thought I was finally past the worst of what this year could throw at me. My hubris was rewarded with some of the worst few months of my life so far. I know that, in the grand scheme of things, I should be thankful for all that I have, and I certainly recognise that I have it much better than most people. It helps to remember that, but it doesn’t change how I felt and acted at the time.

I suppose that that is the nature of life and hindsight. At the time, these moments seemed to mean everything. They either crush your soul and spirit or bring you to the highest heights. I think that this sentiment is expressed quite well in the ‘it’s over/we’re back’ memes that have propagated themselves across my twitter timeline for the past few years. We outright refuse to recognise our own mundane victories and losses, and instead focus on the peaks and troughs – this is natural of course, we would go completely insane otherwise.

I don’t think it is bad to allow these experiences to hit you. Part of the human experience is to be hit by these ups and downs. It is the dwelling on these events that becomes a problem. Holding on to fading hurt and fleeting success instead of moving on in some sort of twisted nostalgia for our best and worst moments can lead us down a very dark and dangerous road. It makes us forget who we are and who we can be. Our lessons learnt, we should embrace the change and simply move on. It is in these moments that we grow and mature as people, and become a better version of ourselves.

For me personally, this year has been an absolute rollercoaster of highs and lows, and that has been very hard to deal with. Things seem to be better now, however, and I am filled with enthusiasm for what the new year can bring me. I think that 2023 will be an amazing time for personal growth and development. I still have a lot of weight to lose, but I am steadfast in my determination to see it through this year. Coming to terms with my situation and state of mind will not be easy, but life is not supposed to be easy. Nothing worth doing is easy.

This is an excerpt from “Provenance”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.


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Predictions for 2023 (Magazine Excerpt)

The 2022 midterms should have been a bloodbath. It should have been a huge sweep for the Republicans, relegating the Democrats to the depths of minority rule. Instead, the Republicans managed to win the House only respectably, whilst the Dems kept the house. It’s widely believed that better candidates could have kept the house.

Good candidates do exist. Ron DeSantis managed to make gains in Florida. Glenn Youngkin flipped Virginia. Brian Kemp safely won re-election in Georgia. Unfortunately, there were also many poor candidates. A competent Republican could have beaten John Fetterman in Pennsylvania. Somebody else could have beaten Katie Hobbs.

The same is true for Presidential elections. The Republicans have only won one election in the 21st century outright, with both the Electoral College and popular vote – George W. Bush in 2004. 2000 and 2016 both saw Electoral College wins but popular vote losses. Whilst external events came into play, it’s not a great look.

That being said, it almost seems that the Republicans like losing. They’re not making any real attempt at winning. Whilst they might choose decent candidates, there’s a high chance they won’t.

This is an excerpt from “Provenance”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.


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Avatar: The Way of Water Review (Magazine Excerpt)

It has been almost 12 years since the release of one of the highest grossing films of all time – that being 2009’s Avatar, James Cameron’s sci-fi epic.

There has been a running meme for the last couple years that despite the first Avatar film’s wild success in the box office, it isn’t a memorable film. The characters aren’t memorable, the storyline is a copy and paste of 1990’s Dances With Wolves, and that its success hinged on the technological breakthroughs in CGI and 3D film that were a staple feature of the film.

In retrospect, the running joke isn’t far from the truth. Avatar is a film that hasn’t held up for casual viewers on its own merits, but rather through nostalgia of a time that has long passed – a time before the insanity of the last 10 years in the social and political scene, where most people were more concerned about the film’s core messages; that being a deeply environmentalist film, a critique on colonialism, and the insatiable appetite of human discovery wreaking havoc on innocent and more noble creatures.

While there are aspects of the original film I enjoy, such as the detailed world-building that Cameron is known for, and the cutting edge visual effects, it still failed to resonate with me the way it has with many other viewers.

The preaching was exhausting when I watched it the first time in 2009, and it is still exhausting today. I get it. Humans are bad, save the trees, the military industrial complex is so evil, etc, etc.While the second installment Avatar: The Way of Water certainly delves a little deeper into the lore and ups the stakes for the protagonists, it still carries the same bare-bones environmentalist sermon that has become all too exhausting in this day and age, especially when we have Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil cronies ruining fine art and causing general inconvenience to all those around them in our current reality.

This is an excerpt from “Provenance”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.


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Politics is About Winning

In the aftermath of the 2020 Presidential Election, Joe Biden proclaimed victory with a vomit-inducing call for unity. “They are not our enemies. They’re Americans. This is the time to heal in America”. Such pleas are suspect when you’ve spent the last four years treating the other camp as enemies; deplorable Neo-Nazi maggots that need removing from society, etc. “Coming together as Americans” would be easier to do if a common American identity still existed; a concept that politicians like Biden have always felt uncomfortable talking about. Trump’s allegations of election fraud have caused outrage, but why should they? Given that his opponents have convinced themselves he’s a tyrant comparable to Hitler or Mussolini, why wouldn’t they do everything they could to remove him from office? Democracy cannot sustain itself if it allows forces perceived to be anti-democratic to gain power via the democratic process. This is when the most self-righteous defenders of democracy, discover they are not, and cannot be, as “democratic” as they first thought. If the election was rigged, Biden becomes President, and he is seen as legitimate, then I must give him props. A masterclass in the art of winning.

Nevertheless, anyone with even a slither of intelligence can see this farce; rhetoric espousing the need for unity is not only disingenuous, little more than an implicit demand that your opponents should start agreeing with you, but also contrary to the notion of democracy. Democratic politics is irremovably state of conflict. At first, this seems a rather peculiar claim to make. Democracy can be divisive perhaps, but not a state of conflict. Conflict is a word we associate with war and terrorism; it is what democracy theoretically seeks to avoid, making it hard to imagine how these words can be synonymous. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to conclude that, as Carl Schmitt said: “the specific political distinction which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy”. The formulation of political motives cannot be removed from the formulation of political friends and enemies. Politics is about power, and if power is the ability to actualize one’s desires, then politics is the ability to triumph over the enemy in the pursuit of an end; politics is about winning.

Democratic politics is not an alternative to conflict, rather it is an obfuscation of it. If “war is the continuation of politics by other means”, then surely politics is the continuation of war by other means, or as Mao Zedong put it: “politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics without bloodshed”. Nevertheless, whilst we may concede that democratic politics is innately adversarial, defining it as a “state of conflict” sounds hyperbolic. Democratic politics is closer to contest than conflict. Both are fundamentally adversarial, but the former is chaotic and brutish, whilst the latter implies a sense of fair play, established rules, and marks of mutual respect. So be it, politics is a contest, even if contests are about winning.

Political contestation appears in many forms. Voting, joining a party, leafleting, petitioning, protests, debate, discussion, rhetoric, making your opponent look cringe, careerism, parallel institutions, etc. are all methods of contestation. We would separate these from methods of conflict: terrorism, revolution, civil war, etc. Unsurprisingly, bribery, blackmail, and deception fall in the ambiguous twilight zone. Nevertheless, whilst methods of contestation and methods of conflict are different, they both imply adversity and the attainment of victory. If one’s goal is victory, it shouldn’t come as a shock to suggest that some methods of contestation are more effective than others. After all, victory is achieved through assertion that is skilful and effective, rather than reckless or impotent. The idea that we must choose between meaningless debate and senseless violence is a delusion.

Darren J. Beattie was correct in his analysis as to why conventional conservative rhetoric has been so weak. Mainstream conservatism (see classic liberalism injected with a bit of transmogrified Trotskyism) rhetoric falls flat is because it is inherently pacifistic; it immediately puts conservatives on the defensive. Ascendant left-wing slogans by contrast does not have this problem. Their ideas are not posed for your consideration, they are commands by which you must abide. They are not policies, they are instructions. They are not posed as potential solutions; they are prescribed as the solutions. Sir Scruton also identified this problem, whilst the Left tells us we must march forward into the future, conservatives can only advise us to hesitate. Conventional wisdom has been taking a battering in recent times, but it appears that attack is still the best defence. Power is a vacuum to occupied, not something to be left in awe at. Fill it or your enemies will.

The idea that politics being downstream from Parliament is a disease. In the context of politics, the words “winning”, and “power” will be connotated with becoming an MP and forming governments. As such, it makes this doctrine common-sense to the partisan shill and problematic to the enlightened moralist. This is one of the reasons debating has become so futile; nobody agrees on what anything means. You will find that everyone nods their head at the word “equality” but ask them to clarify what “equality” means and you will find their hands at each other’s throats. Herein lies the fundamental rule: the metapolitical defines the political. As omnipresent as they are, bickering politicians and the parties they comprise are little more than pawns in a game of cosmic chess. What shapes them? Hegemony. Our politicians are shaped by the forces, attitudes, and ideologies that are ascendant. Not popular, but ascendant. Ways of thinking that everyone is expected to subscribe to. The subjects of the Prince can argue amongst themselves as much as they please, so long as they do not anger the Prince. For the Prince is the being around which they orient themselves; the Prince is hegemonic. As Machiavelli notes, it is important that the Prince’s priority that he be feared, rather than loved.

The Centre-Ground is a concept often banded around in politics. In divided times it is portrayed as a place to which we ought to return, an alternative to clustering at the polarising extremes. What is the centre-ground specifically? We are told it is the realm of reason as opposed to the dunes of dogmatism which lie beyond its borders. Much like the holy land, it is something in need of conquering, something to be held on to, and immediately recaptured when lost. Of course, this is all rubbish. It’s the kind of fanciful rhetoric that centrists insist they don’t indulge in. Centrism is a dead meme at best and cringe LARP at worst. Nevertheless, the Centre-Ground is an important concept because dissecting it can help us understand hegemony. Look to any self-identifying centrist individual, and you will find a cosmopolitan corporate-friendly establishment wet-wipe who flaunts their “high-status” opinions like the latest expensive consumer item.

However, it must be noted that hegemony is not static. As Macron has shown in France, secular hegemony cannot sustain itself by being a vacancy of something (in this case: state religion). Rather, it must define itself as something, necessitating exclusion. A secular republic cannot tolerate pockets of Islamism if it wants to remain a secular republic. As such we now find Macron, the establishment liberal technocrat, espousing rhetoric expected of Marine Le Pen. The rules are clear: hegemony is not only necessary, it needs to be asserted or it will be lost. Hegemony, even if cannot become a totality, is obligated to move in the direction of becoming one. The irony of secularism is that, despite its portrayal as a liberating nothingness, it is no different than religions in a theocracy; it must do more than exist, it must reign like Jupiter.

Hegemony is an organic manifestation. It is subject to ascent, apotheosis, and decline. It is not immune to contest, corruption, and death. As with hegemony on the international stage, when it is decline it becomes assertive and militant to sustain itself when it is challenged by a potential alternative. This is perhaps why the rise of right-wing populism across the West has coincided with more combatant and coercive forms of egalitarianism. Politics is a contest for power, and like all contests requires a winner and a loser. Contests end in the following ways: victory, stalemate, or defeat. Defeat and stalemate, obvious differences aside, do not depose hegemony. Only by winning can the groundwork for a new order commence. The Thucydidean Trap is escaped only though victory.

Moldbug quipped: “if you can explain to me how democracy can be a good thing and politics a bad thing then… you must know something I don’t”. The effect of a politicised populous has on the social fabric is entropic. Given the array of frontiers that a liberal democracy opens for contestation, it eventually finds it necessary level of cohesion there are subjects and values which become incontestable. When everything is up for contestation, there is chaos. To avoid chaos, somethings must be made incontestable; the things to we can say we all agree upon, that which we have in common. The paradox being that what should be considered incontestable is a highly contested matter; that the apolitical is not immune to politicisation.

Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend and expand the serving of school meals is a good recent example of how the idea of humanity is made distinct from political matters. The government’s decision was not a political one, it was display of “a lack of humanity”. What is one man’s idea of humanity is another man’s political matter. Under such circumstances, how does one engage in rational discourse? Short answer is that they don’t. What appears in the place of rational discourse? Nothing pretty. Of course, the thought of people violently clashing on the streets of London like political street-gangs in Weimar Germany over whether to tweak a school-meal policy is absurd, although it does make for some bitter squabbles. Besides, such a concept may not be so absurd if the subject matter was substituted for something for fundamental. For instance, are we comfortable to put something as fundamental as the basic essence of our civilization to a vote? Is this really something we can afford to disagree about? Life is defined by degrees of difference; some differences are trivial whilst others more severe, some differences may not actually exist, whilst others are real and downright fundamental. It is when those trivial differences exhaust themselves, in the process of becoming fundamental, is an impasse reached and conflict burdens.

When hegemony is truly challenged, a political disagreement mutates into a Manichean struggle between lightness and darkness, between the “human” and the “inhumane”. This is perhaps why the term “Taking the Red Pill”, the breaking of an illusion as seen in The Matrix, has become so prominent in dissident right circles; it implies that the sanctity of the Cathedral has become contestable. The idea of neutrality is important as it implies a lack of contestation, and therefore it is fair to say neutrality is a product of hegemony. To “win” at politics is not to win an election or win a debate, it is to achieve hegemony; it is to turn something from contestable to something incontestable, it is making whatever opinion you may hold, benchmark of neutrality; neutrality defined in your own terms.

Is losing a contradiction of the idea politics is about winning? No, of course not. Losing implies the existence of winning, and to point out someone’s loss is to concede that it was their intent to win, because it was necessary. You may win the war, but if you aren’t flying your colours by the end of it then it has all been for nothing. Nobody goes into politics to lose; what matters is that people don’t want to. Politics is a realm of contestation. If you have political desires but do not actively contest on behalf of them, then you are destined for disappointment and failure. If you don’t have political desires to contest on behalf of, you shouldn’t be in politics. The former is unaware of the nature of politics, whilst the latter reduces it to a conduit from which to extract things that, albeit are useful for achieving political end goals, are themselves not political (e.g. money, wealth, prestige); politics turns from something to be a part of to something be in. It is better to lose fighting for your ideals, than winning on the behalf of someone else.

The contradictory nature of politics is that it is both viewed as a private matter, something personal, and yet it is something which inherently concerns matters beyond just the self. The word politics comes from politiká: “the affairs of the cities”. The foundation of the City of Rome is encapsulated in story Romulus’ murder of his brother Remus, a story that summarises the ruthless nature of politics. However, as Machiavelli wrote of Romulus’ actions in The Discourses: “the end is good, it will always excuse the means; since it is he who does violence with intent to injure, not he who does it with the design to secure tranquillity, who merits blame. Such a person ought however to be so prudent and moderate as to avoid transmitting the absolute authority he acquires, as an inheritance to another; for as men are, by nature, more prone to evil than to good, a successor may turn to ambitious ends the power which his predecessor has used to promote worthy ends”.


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Fukuyama, Huntington and The New World Order

In the aftermath of the Cold War, a 45-year ideological struggle between the two major superpowers, the USA and USSR, several political scholars have offered forecasts concerning the future of conflict and the geopolitical climate post-1991. Two men rose to dominate the debate, one encapsulating a liberal perspective and the other a realist one – and in the decades since, their ideas have come to form the foundations of modern international relations theory.

The first was the political scientist and economist Francis Fukuyama. A Cornell and Harvard alumnus, Fukuyama proposed his thesis in an essay titled ‘The End of History’ (1989), and later expanded on it in his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992). Essentially, he posits that with the collapse of the Soviet Union came the resolution of the battle of ideas, with liberal democracy and free trade having emerged as the unchallengeable winners.

Society, according to Fukuyama, had reached the end of its ideological evolution – global politics has, since the fall of the USSR, been witnessing ‘the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government’. Indeed, we’ve certainly seen a massive increase in liberal democracies over the past few decades, jumping from 35 in 1974, to 120 in 2013 (or 60% of states). Additionally, the broad adoption of free trade and capitalism can be seen as delivering benefits to the global economy, which had quadrupled since the late 1990s.

Even communist states, Fukuyama said, would adopt some elements of capitalism in order to be prosperous in a globalised world economy. For example, the late 1970s saw reformists (such as Chen Yun) dominating the Chinese Communist Party and, under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership, the socialist market economy was introduced in 1978. This opened up the country to foreign investment, allowed private individuals to establish their own businesses, and privatised agriculture – these monumental reforms have resulted in spectacular economic growth, with many forecasters predicting that China will overtake the US as the world’s largest economy by around 2028. We’ve seen further evidence of this turn away from communism in favour of capitalism and freedom: upon its founding, the Russian Federation explicitly rejected the ideology, and many former Eastern Bloc states have enthusiastically adopted liberal democracy, with many also having since joined the European Union.

Regarding the example of China, however, the suppression of freedoms and rights has also been a staple of the CCP’s rule, especially under the current leadership of Xi Jinping. This links to a broader and fairly major critique of Fukuyama’s thesis: the growth of authoritarianism across the globe. With Law and Justice in Poland, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines (not to mention various military coups, including Turkey in 2016), liberal democracy is undeniably under threat, and clearly not the globally agreed-upon best system of government (this is particularly concerning as it applies to two major powers, China and Russia). Furthermore, 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings serve as pretty hallowing examples of an ideological clash between Western liberalism and Islamic fundamentalism – more broadly radical Islamism has emerged as an ideological challenger to both the West and to secular governments in the Middle East and North Africa.

The second was the academic and former political adviser Samuel P. Huntington. A seasoned expert in foreign policy (having served as the White House Coordinator of Security Planning for the National Security Council under Jimmy Carter), Huntington laid out essentially a counter-thesis to Fukuyama’s, which first took the form of a 1993 Foreign Affairs article, and then a book in 1996, The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order. Conflicts in the past, Huntington argues, had been motivated by a desire primarily for territorial gain and geopolitical influence (e.g.  colonial wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were attempts to expand the economic spheres of influence of Western imperialist powers).

However, in the 21st Century, the primary source of global conflict will be cultural, not political or economic (and will be primarily between Western and non-Western civilisations). Thanks to globalisation and increasing interconnectedness, people will become more aware of their civilisational roots and of their differences with others – they will aim to entrench and protect these differences, rather than seek common ground with other civilisations.

The Clash of Civilisations identified 9 civilisations specifically: Western (USA, Western Europe, Australasia), Orthodox (Russia and the former USSR), Islamic (North Africa and the Middle East), African (Sub-Saharan Africa), Latin American (Central and South America), Sinic (most of China), Hindu (most of India), Japanese (Japan), and Buddhist (Tibert, Southeast Asia and Mongolia).

Huntington also highlighted the possible revival of religion, Islam in particular, as a major potential issue: it would come to represent a challenge to Western hegemony in terms of a rejection of Western values and institutions. His Foreign Affairs article featured the line ‘Islam has bloody borders’, suggesting that the Islamic civilisation tends to become violently embroiled in conflict with periphery civilisations – Huntington cites the conflicts in Sudan and Iraq as major examples.

It is clear, although still a touchy subject for politicians and policymakers, that Radical Islam poses a serious threat to the safety and stability of the Western world. Aside from aforementioned terror attacks, the rise of extremist fundamentalist groups such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Shabaab in Somalia represents a larger opposition to Western values. However, Huntington’s failure to consider the deep divisions within the Islamic world (especially between Sunnis and Shias) is a major criticism of his argument. Additionally, many of the civilisations he identified show little interest in a clash with the West, mainly as it wouldn’t be in their economic interest to do so (such as India, Japan and Latin America, who are all very interdependent on Western powers).

The Clash of Civilisations thesis does, however, offer a number of steps that the West could take to prevent a potential clash. It should pursue greater political, economic and military integration, so their differences will be more difficult to exploit. Just last year we saw a clear example of this, in the form of AUKUS, the security pact between Australia, the UK and the US.

NATO and European Union membership should be expanded, with the aim of including former Soviet satellite states, to ensure they stay out of the Orthodox sphere of influence. Fortunately for the West, 2004 alone saw NATO admit Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia and Slovenia, followed in 2009 by Albania and Croatia. The military advancement of Islamic nations should be restrained, to ensure they don’t pose a serious threat to the West’s safety – a clear example of this is the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, reducing the nation’s stockpile of uranium to ensure it couldn’t become an anti-Western nuclear power.

Finally, the West must come to recognise that intervention in the affairs of other civilisations is ‘the single most dangerous source of instability and conflict in a multi-civilisational world’. This is a message that Western politicians have certainly not heeded, especially in regards to the Islamic world – troops were sent into Darfur in 2003, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011.

In his 2014 book Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy, Fukuyama argues that his ‘End of History’ thesis remains ‘essentially correct’, despite himself recognising the current ‘decay’ of liberal democracy around the world. Both scholars’ predictions have, at periods of time in the post-Cold War era, looked very strong and, at other times, laughably incorrect and misguided. Both Fukuyama and Huntington still offer valuable insights into global dynamics between cultures, as well as the future of global tensions and conflict. However, both theses are undercut by the modern global landscape: democracy is currently on the decline, which undercuts Fukuyama, and civilisational identity remains limited, which undercuts Huntington. Regardless of who got it right, both men have undeniably pushed the debate surrounding the international order to new heights, and will no doubt be remembered as intellectual titans in decades to come.


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Slavophilism: The Russian Model for Anglo Conservatives

The idea is like a pair of glasses on our nose through which we see whatever we look at. It never  occurs to us to take them off’ – Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

We are all Blairites now. It is a horrible thought, especially to those of us who despise the Blairite constitutional project: from gutting the Lords to the creation of the devolved assemblies, and the paradoxical tension between the move towards localism and the edictal erasure of British ways of life. The sad reality is that we live in Blairite Britain, more than we live in Thatcherite Britain. 

Such a thought, as uncomfortable as it is, must be the starting point of all conservative discussions, whether they are concerned with strategy, identity, or even over what we aim to ‘conserve’, because we can only begin to know where to go by knowing where we are. David Foster Wallace once gave a talk to a graduating class in which he told the following story:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “morning boys, how’s the water?” and the two young fish swim on for a bit and eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “what the hell is water?” 

The story is intended to remind us of a simple truth: that the most obvious realities are the hardest to talk about, because they are so essential and taken for granted in our daily lives. Blairism is the cultural water we swim in, and the current that drives us inexorably towards the next crisis we cannot resolve, because Blairism holds the conflictual beliefs that government should be in every part of our lives, but that it should be so completely and utterly impotent. Think about how difficult it is to do anything in modern Britain, but that you absolutely must do it whilst holding the hand of the government. 

Regardless of Blairism’s inherent contradictions, we must not ignore the tide, even if only to swim against it. How do we do this? In Modern Culture, Sir Roger Scruton wrote that we cannot

 return to a pre-Enlightenment world because the Enlightenment is so inherent to how we think about society, Man, government, culture and so on. Even those of us who are believers in faith must accept that the draperies were torn down; but only by realising they were torn down can you put them back up. So, rather than deny the legacies of the Enlightenment, Sir Roger says, we must accept that they are with us, and instead ‘live as if it matters eternally what we do: to obey the rites, the ceremonies and the customs that lend dignity to our actions and which lift them above the natural sphere’. 

The philosophical movement that took this lesson to heart the most, in my opinion, was the Romantics. They did not pretend that the legacies of the Enlightenment were so easily eradicable nor so easily deniable; instead, they accepted that they lived in a changed world, but sought to use that change to re-suture man’s relationship with himself, to correct the deficiencies of the Enlightenment and the empty rationalism that it loved so irrationally. 

The Romantic movement, by virtue of its own logic, was not universalist. The Enlightenment sought to be universal, to find laws and rules that governed Man in every circumstance and every place; but Romanticism, in reaction, favoured particularism, rootedness, and the cultural significance of place and people. In fact, so many of the nationalist movements of the nineteenth century owed more to the Romantics than they did to the Enlightenment (but again, only in the sense that the Enlightenment showed us that all humans are deserving of dignity and respect, they just choose to express that dignity in varied ways). 

One such example of Romanticism that has always fascinated me emerged in Russia in the 1830s, more than anything because I believe that Russia then holds a multitude of lessons for Britain now. Early-nineteenth century Russia experienced what could only be described as an existential crisis: the Napoleonic Wars had damaged Russia’s understanding of herself as the great military power of Eastern Europe, and brought many ideas of universal brotherhood into contact with a society that did not even have the intellectual framework to accommodate such thoughts. But the crisis went deeper: as much as one hundred and fifty years before, Russian society was shaken by external ideas, more than any invasion could have hoped for, under the Reforms of Tsar Peter the Great. The Petrine Era of Russia saw cultural changes from the top – governmental reforms, military reforms, and technological innovation, much of which modernised Russia and made her into a Great Power; but these changes did not go unquestioned. In fact, many of the influential groups in Russia rebelled, sometimes violently, as in the Moscow Rising of the Streltsy in 1698. 

The legacy of Peter’s reforms, however, were not felt until much later. Of course, all major cultural and social changes take time to really be felt at all, but the ‘short eighteenth century’ was a time of such rapid and dislocating change – across all of Europe, but especially in Russia – that many generations found themselves intellectually and culturally cut adrift from those who came immediately before them. Peter, pursuing a programme of Westernisation insisted, for instance, that the Russian court speak French, a language thought of as ‘intellectual’ (with good reason); dress like the Prussian court; rationalised the military along the Western European lines; built an entirely new town on a North Italian design (St. Petersburg – of course); and, in one of my favourite little quirks of history, outlawed beards in that city’s borders. 

Cultural issues grow like pearls grow – a single grain of sand works its way into a mollusk, and irritates the mollusk in such a way that bacteria and calcium grows around it. Cultural changes irritate the social fabric of the community it works into; but we don’t have bacteria to grow around it, we only have each other. Yet we can understand cultural issues in the same way as a pearl – an irritant works its way in, and we grow that irritant into a recognisable tangible entity, by coalescing around it and growing it in such a way that it becomes instantly recognisable. 

This is what led to the Slavophiles. Petrine Russia thought it was undefeatable – and from the Great Northern War onwards, it very much was – until Napoleon came roaring in. But the Napeolonic Wars did two things for Russia, both with the same outcome; the first was importing many ideas into Russia that challenged the existing understanding of Russian political and social structures; the second was, in the same way Soviet soldiers pushed Nazi Germany back into Europe, Petrine soldiers followed Napoleon back into Europe. In both instances, educated Russian men saw the way Europeans lived, and realised that their society was not the improved form that their reforming leaders dreamt of. 

And just as with a grain of sand in a pearl, the cultural dislocation of Peter’s reforms that had long irritated the reactionary elements of eighteenth-century Russia, was seized on by many of the early-nineteenth century intelligentsia as a means of explaining the situation in which they had found themselves. This fermented a series of backlashes, intellectual and cultural, that led to an explosion of political movements, such as the terrorists, the socialists, the populists (narodniki), and – most importantly – the Slavophiles. The Slavophiles looked at the state of Russia in the 1830s and considered the Petrine reforms to be an unmitigated failure: they had not kept Russia at pace with the rest of Europe; they had dislocated the cultural and social elites from the people over whom they ruled; and worst of all, they had severed the Russian people from their own past. Peter the Great had made the mistake of proto-enlightenment liberalism, that there were universal standards of humanity against which peoples’ behaviours, cultures and laws could be judged, and in doing so, he had not attempted to “reform” Russia’s venerable history, but deny its very existence, and begin from scratch.

Instead, the Slavophiles urged a return to pre-Petrine, Muscovite-style Russianism, an embracing of folk styles, food, clothing, language, and so on – not to petrify them into a living museum of nostalgia, but to rectify the mistakes of the previous century, and offer an alternative direction into the future. This precipitated many of the following century’s movements: for instance, the emphasis on the folk of Russia encouraged the nascent populism into radicalism; the embracing of the Russian commune form of land management gave Russian socialism a concrete model from which to work; and the idea of Russia taking an entirely unique path of development to Europe created the intellectual condition for Lenin and the communists to believe Russia could “leapfrog” past the bourgeois liberalism of the continent and move straight to socialism. This is not to say the Slavophiles were socialists – to even say so is to misunderstand the subtle relativism that denies such universalist theories in itself. Indeed, many Slavophiles were ardent absolute monarchists, with the famous Memorandum to the Tsar by Alexei Aksakov in 1831 claiming that Russia’s unique place in history stems from its Orthodox Christianity, the invitation by the Kievan Rus to the Varangians to rule them, and the steppes shaping the Russian mindset to one of boundless opportunism (something that Berdayev later used as a comparison to the American prairies and Manifest Destiny). 

The consequences of the Slavophile movement might not be palatable, but their inspiration is something that Anglo conservatives need to pay attention to. Their movement began by an important moment of clarity: the political reforming project of the previous age had failed. It is no secret that the emerging conservatism in Britain despises the Blairite consensus, and in many ways that means we are already doing as the Slavophiles did:  only by recognising that we are in Blairite Britain can we undo its disastrous effects. But we need to go further; we cannot simply throw our hands up and accept Blairism as the present condition of Britain, but we need to see it for what it truly is. It is a complete and utter separation of Britain from our past, a denial of that past’s validity, and an attempt to create a new political identity on entirely alien lines. 

Moving into the future requires acceptance of the present circumstance; one of the silliest phrases is that the clock cannot be wound back, when the truth is, if the clock is showing the wrong time, it is imperative  that you wind it back. And just as taking the wrong turn and continuing down the wrong path will only get you further from where you want to go, so too must you turn back. We are all Blairites now; and just as alcoholics have to admit they’ll never recover from their alcoholism, we have to admit we will likely never recover from Blairism, but will always “be” recovering. 

But I do not want to be defeatist; the first step of recovery is acceptance. We need to accept that we live in Blairite Britain, and only then can we begin tearing it apart. We need to start ripping out its core parts: the communications act (2003); the equality act (2010); the Supreme Court; the devolved assemblies; the abolition of the hereditary aristocracy; the fox hunting ban; the smoking ban; in short, all of the components of a foreign way of life that have been foisted upon the British people by our own misguided maniacal reformers. It is time to go to war; but you can only do that if you accept the war is already going on.


Photo Credit.

In a Pandemic, Anarcho-Tyranny Reigns Supreme

Towards the end of February, the general public were graced with a brand spanking new billboard from the Merseyside Police Department. Was this new billboard highlighting the good work the police department was doing? Was it highlighting new Coronavirus guidelines? Was it alerting people to a new potential criminal threat that existed inside of the county? No. The new billboard brandished an LGBT rainbow flag and superimposed beside it lay, in large bold capital lettering, “Being Offensive is an Offence”. 

To no one’s surprise, this turned out to be part of a new campaign by Merseyside Police to combat ‘hate crime’ in the area and invite people to report it to the department. This was met with outrage with many calling it out as a chilling and horrible act by the Merseyside Police; illuminating how authoritarianism, identity politics and ‘wokery’ had seeped into the uniforms of our police service. The department did retract somewhat and apologised for stating that being ‘offensive’ was a crime – which they admitted it wasn’t – but they doubled down on the need for the public to report so-called ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate crime’, all the while stressing the need to show ‘solidarity’ with the LGBT community. Truly stunning and brave. 

The issue no one seems to be addressing is why on earth is Merseyside Police putting efforts into combating ‘hate crime’ when violent crime, the county’s main source of crime, has increased by 5% in the last year alone? Surely their time, money and efforts would be better spent dealing with rising violence in their county rather than unsettling the people of Merseyside with an authoritarian and inaccurate billboard? Perhaps not. After all, catching criminals is hard; controlling ordinary citizens is easy. 


The efflorescence of outrage over this event provides me an opportunity to bring back into the fold one of my favourite concepts – anarcho-tyranny. 

For those not aware, anarcho-tyranny is a concept which seeks to describe and explain how a state controls ordinary citizens in their behaviour but ultimately fails to enforce the protective rule of law; enabling crime and disorder to flourish while innocent citizens become ever more restricted and regulated. If you wish to learn about the origins and core examples of this concept, I recommend you read the first article I ever wrote for this publication entitled ‘Anarcho-Tyranny Reigns Supreme’. While the Merseyside Police billboard can be seen as a more traditional example of anarcho-tyranny, it enables an analysis into something more interesting, especially if one considers the context. The context that this billboard was erected in was the Coronavirus pandemic i.e. the largest national crisis that this country has faced for many years. So, while the actions of Merseyside Police may seem inappropriate considering the current climate, it does highlight two things. Firstly, that the real priorities of the state and its allied elites to control ordinary citizens remains the same; secondly, and most importantly, this pandemic has given a blank check to anarcho-tyrants whose only concern is regulation and control.

Take for example the infamous Coronavirus Act 2020. This act has facilitated a growth in the size and remit of the state that seemed impossible to most just a little over a year ago. While the British state has, in the past, taxed you, spied on you and regulated what you do with your own body, it now explicitly tells you how, when and where you are able to live your life. Except for the odd occasions when you need to go outside for shopping or exercise (or to virtuously bang your pots and pans together for our Lord and Saviour the NHS) you remain essentially under house arrest – unable to enjoy life as we normally understand it. This drastic expansion of the state into regulating every minute detail of people’s lives is a core tenant of the ‘tyranny’ part of anarcho-tyranny. As Samuel T. Francis, the originator of the term, writes, anarcho-tyranny extends and entrenches ‘the power of the state, its allies and internal elites’, so the more things that become offences – such as meeting up with others outside or going for one too many daily runs – the more power the state and its allied elites have over the citizenry. Thus the Coronavirus Act can be seen as a new zenith of British anarcho-tyranny, as it has given the state an unprecedented ability to not just regulate large aspects of an average citizen’s behaviour but effectively plan their lives. If you would like some to read some more in-depth analysis of the Coronavirus Act and its consequences for civil liberties, I’d highly recommend going through Big Brother Watch’s collection of ‘Emergency Powers & Civil Liberties Reports’ which highlight the extensive and draconian nature of the Coronavirus Act.

Another core pillar of anarcho-tyranny is that the rules only apply to the innocent and not to the ruling elites or criminals, and what has been seen during this pandemic highlights that the Coronavirus restrictions have only really applied to ordinary citizens and not to state elites and their allies. When journalists, celebrities and politicians were caught breaking lockdown rules they did not pay the same costs that ordinary citizens who broke the rules did. Many of the chief architects of these lockdowns were also caught breaking the rules and while, at worst, they had to resign their posts, it wasn’t surprising to watch government officials run to their defence. If one sees “anarcho-tyrants are the real hegemonic class in contemporary society”, as Francis did, this makes complete sense as those in power would seek to protect those that have made this pandemic such a shining example of anarcho-tyranny. The state always protects its own – especially those who enable its power.

While the anarcho-tyrants have been busy protecting their own during this pandemic, they continue to absolve the innocent of genuine protection against actual crime. While many celebrate the fall in crime overall in the nation, it is often ignored that this is not the trend for all forms of crime. On the contrary, violent crimes such as domestic abuse and homicides have risen dramatically with drug offences going through the roof also. During the first lockdown (March – June 2020) domestic abuse ended up accounting for one in five crimes during that period while drug offences climbed by 30%. The rise in drug crime is especially worrying, as lockdown has caused a litany of turf wars to break out in the country between competing drug gangs who – since being cut off from their international smugglers due to travel restrictions – have now turned to recruiting locally for dealers, smugglers and muscle; bringing ever more people into the dangerous narcotics black market. While police are busy breaking into people’s houses, arresting old ladies for protesting and shouting abuse at people simply for going for a walk, innocent people are being terrorised by violent husbands and drug gangs. As David Matthews points out, the neighbourhood drug dealer has essentially gone about his normal business during lockdown while the rest of us remain under house arrest. Currently, drug dealers are more of an essential worker than you are.

One might accuse me of sensationalism and claim, with a degree of optimism, about this all being ‘solved’ when restrictions begin to ease. But considering the last time restrictions were eased, police inevitably found themselves stuck between dealing with rapidly rising post-lockdown crime or regulating what Coronavirus rules are still in place. And if one considers the recent history of the British police, I wouldn’t advise putting any money on them dealing with the former. After all, many of the police have shown great enthusiasm in enforcing the laws of the Coronavirus Act and, in turn, have revealed themselves to be as horrible and unreasonable as some of our leftist adversaries have proclaimed them to be. 

The Scottish Police stand out to me to be particularly despicable anarcho-tyrants, with one now infamous and harrowing incident standing out amongst the rest; where police officers broke into a family home and arrested those inside because there were ‘too many people’ in the house. Even though many were outraged at the event – with various civil liberties organisations running to the defence of the family – the police got off without so much as a smack on the wrists, while the adults in the family got fined for ‘abuse’ and ‘assault’. To make matters worse, this event only occurred because a fellow anarcho-tyrant, this time from amongst the ordinary population, snitched to the police despite having no grounds to or evidence that this family was breaking lockdown rules. This pandemic has not just revealed the true nature of our state, our elites and our police but the true nature of our fellow Britons also; their authoritarian streak becoming finely tuned during this pandemic. 

Worse still is the Sarah Everard vigil which quickly descended into a violent mess of arrests, fighting and screaming thanks to the Metropolitan Police; with Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball giving a contemptible statement claiming that the police “absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary” and that they broke up the vigil “because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.” Large sections of the right-wing commentariat are lambasting the Met for hypocritical policing but this criticism rings on deaf ears and fundamentally misses the point. The Met engages in hypocritical policing because that is the system we currently live under – anarcho-tyranny. The police refuse to deal with genuine threats to the public like BLM pulling down statues and terrorising London for weeks on end because it is hard to control; a peaceful vigil predominately attended by young women, on the other hand, is very easy to control. It is that simple. Furthermore, the politicians and journalists crying about this event need to shut their mouths as they are the reason this tragedy was even able to happen in the first place. Politicians don’t get to simultaneously vote for continuing lockdown – which inevitably curbs our civil liberties – and then cry about the police enforcing the rules they voted for; the same goes for lockdown fanatic commentators and journalists who have helped the state construct this atmosphere where fear and hypocrisy rule. Many in these camps seem to be rapidly developing amnesia; forgetting that they are the reason all this misery, abuse of power and statism is taking place. Do not let these anarcho-tyrants forget what they supported. 

Regarding the police, they remain the greatest paradox of modern Britain as they are both terrifying and pathetic. One minute they’re forcefully breaking into your house, harassing your grandparents and confiscating all of your kitchenware; the next minute they’re off to twerk in a rainbow patterned skirt in the middle of their nearest cosmopolitan hellscape. While many relish in hilarity at the current state of the British police it is no laughing matter; especially for the ordinary citizen who is the one who suffers the most under the anarcho-tyranny state. In all honesty, in their current form, the police are not our friends nor are they worthy of our support as it seems increasingly impossible that the rot of anarcho-tyranny will ever be decontaminated from the uniforms of our police. If the last year of draconianism, abuse of power, hypocrisy and out and out brutality from our police hasn’t changed your views on them even a tiny bit, then I am certain that nothing ever will. And while this may be difficult for conservatives to hear – it is ultimately true. 

This pandemic has only exacerbated this rot in our country because, like during all crises, the state and its allied elites have been allowed to expand, enrich and entrench their power. Worse still, the public seem to be none the wiser about it, our media none the smarter to understand it and our politicians none the braver to address it. Woe betide what elements of Coronavirus draconianism will remain with us post-pandemic. But while this pandemic continues, one fact remains abundantly clear – anarcho-tyranny reigns supreme.


Photo Credit.

Five Truths from Dostoevsky’s The Devils

Whenever I scroll through the news on Twitter or listen to talk radio, I like to play a game called “Dostoevsky called it.” As one can guess, it consists of identifying events or trends that correspond with those in Feodor Dostoevsky’s novels and letters. Because Dostoevsky devoted so much ink to warning about the motives and effects of atheist-utilitarian socialism from the radical left, the game often points to his most direct attack on those ideas: The Devils.

Published between 1871 and 1872 and written in response to the Nechaev affair, where an underground group of socialist-atheist radicals, planning to ultimately overthrow the Tsarist government through propaganda, terrorism, and assassination, murdered a former comrade who had left their secret society, The Devils (Бесы; also translated as Demons or The Possessed) is Feodor Dostoevsky’s most explicit expose of and polemic against the revolutionary nihilism growing in late nineteenth-century Russia. Although, due to his own participation in a socialist plot aimed at educating and ultimately liberating the serfs, he often gave the benefit of the doubt to the moral idealism of the younger generation of radicals—assuming their hearts, if not their methods, were in the right place—in The Devils he nonetheless skewers the radical ideology and his generation and the next’s culpability for it.

While his main focus is on the characters’ psychologies and their symbolic significance, Dostoevsky nonetheless lays out many of the ideas populating late-nineteenth-century Russia, displaying a thorough understanding of them, their holders’ true motives (which, like those of that other ideological murderer Raskalnikov, are rarely the same as those consciously stated by their loudest advocates), and what would be the results if they were not checked. In several places, Dostoevsky unfortunately calls it right, and The Devils at times reads as a preview of the following fifty years in Russia, as well as of the modes and methods of radicalism in later places and times.

It would be too great a task to cite, here, all the places and times where Dostoevsky’s visions were confirmed; at best, after laying out a few of the many truths in The Devils, I can only note basic parallels with later events and trends in Russia and elsewhere—and let my readers draw their own additional parallels. Nonetheless, here are five truths from Dostoevsky’s The Devils:

1: The superfluity of the preceding liberal generation to progressive radicals.

The Devils is structured around the relationship between the older and younger generations of the mid-1800s. The book opens with an introduction of Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky, father to the later introduced radical Peter Stepanovich. A Westernized liberal from the 1840s generation, Stepan Trofimovich represents the upper-class intelligentsia that first sought to enlighten the supposedly backwards Russia through atheistic socialism (a redundancy in Dostoevsky).

However, despite his previously elevated status as a liberal and lecturer, by the time of The Devils Stepan Trofimovich—and, with him, the 1840s liberals who expected to be honored for opening the door to progress—has become superfluous. This is highlighted when his son returns to the province and does not honor his father with figurative laurels (when such a symbol is later employed literally it is in satirical mock).

Though never the direct butt of Dostoevsky’s satire, Stepan Trofimovich cannot (or refuses) to understand that his son’s nihilism is not a distortion of his own generation’s hopes but is the logical, inevitable product of them. The older man’s refusal to admit his ideological progeny in his literal progeny’s beliefs, of course, enables Peter Stepanovich to mock him further, even while he continues to avail himself of the benefits of his father’s erstwhile status in society. This “liberal naivete enabling radical nihilism” schema can also be seen in the governor’s wife, Yulia Mikhailovna von Lembke, who believes that she can heroically redirect the passions of the youth to more socially beneficial, less radical, pursuits but only ends up enabling them to take over her literary fete to ridicule traditional society and distract the local worthies while agents set parts of the local town ablaze. Stepan Trofimovich, Yulia Mikhailovna, and others show that, despite the liberal generation’s supposed love for Russia, they were unable to brake the pendulum they sent swinging towards leftism.

The same pattern of liberals being ignored or discarded by the progressives they birthed can be seen in later years in Russia and other nations. While it would historically be two generations between Belinsky and Lenin (who was born within months of Dostoevsky’s starting to write The Devils), after the 1917 Revolution, Soviet Russia went through several cycles of executing or imprisoning previous generations who, despite supporting the Revolution, were unfortunately too close to the previous era to be trusted by new, socialistically purer generations.

In a more recent UK, Dostoevsky’s schema can also be seen in the Boomer-led Labour of the ‘90s and ‘00s UK paving the way for the radical, arguably anti-British progressivism of the 2010s and ‘20s (which, granted, sports its share of hip Boomers). In America, it can be seen in the soft divide in congressional Democrats between 20th-century liberals like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and “the squad” comprised of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and others who have actively tried (and arguably succeeded) in pushing the nation’s discourse in a left progressive direction.

2: Ideologies as active, distorting forces rather than merely passive beliefs.

“I’ve never understood anything about your theory…” Peter Stepanovich tells the serene Aleksei Nilych Kirillov later in the book, “I also know you haven’t swallowed the idea—the idea’s swallowed you…” The idea he is referring to is Kirillov’s belief that by committing suicide not from despair or passion but by rational, egotistic intention, he can rid mankind of the fear of death (personified in the figure of God) and become the Christ of the new utilitarian atheism (really, Dostoevsky intends us to understand, not without pity for Kirillov, an antichrist thereof). The topic of suicide—rising in Russia at the time of the book’s writing and a result, Dostoevsky believed, of the weakening of social institutions and national morality by the subversive nihilism then spreading—is a motif through the book. Countering Chernyshevsky’s romanticized revolutionary Rakhmetov from What is to Be Done?, Kirillov is Dostoevsky’s depiction of the atheist rational egotism of the time taken to its fullest psychological extent. Like others he had and would later write (Raskalnikov, Ivan Karamazov), Kirillov is driven mad by an idea that “swallows” him in monomania and which he has admitted to being obsessed with—the idea of a world without God.

Though Dostoevsky considered it the central issue of his day (which still torments Western culture), my focus here is not on Kirillov’s idea, itself, but on his relation to it. Countering the Western Enlightenment conceit that ideas are mere tools to be rationally picked up and put down at will, Dostoevsky shows through Kirillov that ideas and ideology (ideas put in the place of religion) are active things that can overwhelm both conscious and unconscious mind. Indeed, the novel’s title and Epigraph—the story of Legion and the swine from Luke 8—already suggests this; for Dostoevsky, there is little difference between the demons that possessed the pigs and the ideas that drive characters like Kirillov to madness.

Of course, a realist-materialist reading of Kirillov’s end (I won’t spoil it, though it arguably undercuts his serenity throughout the book) and the later Ivan Karamazov’s encounter with a personified devil would contend that there was nothing literally demonic to the manifestations, but for Dostoevsky that matters little; for him, whose focus is always on how the individual lives and experiences life, being possessed by an ideology one cannot let go of and being in the grasp of literal demons is nearly synonymous—indeed, the former may be the modern manifestation of the latter, with the same results. In his work, such things almost always accompany a lowering of one’s humanity into the beastial.

The problem with ideology, Dostoevsky had discovered in Siberia, was in their limited conception of man. By cutting off all upper transcendent values as either religious superstition or upper class decadence, the new utilitarian atheism had removed an essential part of what it meant to be human. At best, humans were animals and could hope for no more than thus, and all higher aspirations were to be lowered to achieving present social goals of food, housing, and sex—which Dostoevsky saw, themselves, as impossible to effectively achieve without the Orthodox Church’s prescriptions for how to deal with suffering and a belief in afterlife. Of the lack of higher impressions that give life meaning, Dostoevsky saw two possible results: ever-increasingly perverse acts of the flesh, and ever-increasingly solipsistic devotion to a cause—both being grounded in and expressions not of liberation or selflessness, but of the deepest egotism (which was a frankly stated element of the times’ ideologies).

From this view, Dostoevsky would have seen today’s growing efforts to legitimate into the mainstream things like polyamory, abortion, and public displays of sexuality and increasingly aggressive advocacy by groups like Extinction Rebellion or NOW (he predicted both movements in his other writing) as both being attempts to supply the same religious impulse—which, due to their being cut off by their premises from the transcendent metaphysic required by the human creature and supplied by Christianity, &c, is a doomed attempt.

3: Seemingly virtuous revolution motivated by and covering for private vices.

By the time he wrote The Devils Dostoevsky had seen both inside and outside of the radical movement; he had also depicted in Notes from Underground and Crime and Punishment characters who discover, to their angst and horror, that their actions were not motivated by humanitarianism, but by envy, cravenness, and the subsequent desire for self-aggrandizement. The Devils features the same depth of psychology beneath the main characters’ stated ideas and goals, and the book often shows how said ideas cannot work when applied to real people and real life.

As the chronicle unfolds, characters often speak of the petty vices that undermine the purity of the revolutionaries’ stated virtues and goals. “Why is it,” the narrator recounts Stepan Trofimovich once asking him, “all these desperate socialists and communists are also so incredibly miserly, acquisitive, and proprietorial? In fact, the more socialist someone is…the stronger his proprietorial instinct.” So much for those who seek to abolish property; one can guess to whom they wish to redistribute it! The revolutionary-turned-conservative Ivan Shatov later continues the motif, digging deeper into the radicals’ motives: “They’d be the first to be terribly unhappy if somehow Russia were suddenly transformed, even according to their own ideas, and if it were suddenly to become immeasurably rich and happy. Then they’d have no one to hate, no one to despise, no one to mock! It’s all an enormous, animal hatred for Russia that’s eaten into their system.”

Leftists might accuse Dostoevsky of merely wishing to make the radicals look bad with such an evaluation; however, as addressed by Joseph Frank in his chapter on the topic in Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871, the “bad for thee, fine for me” mentality of The Devils’s radicals (if their ideology doesn’t completely blind them to such inconsistency in the first place) was straight from the playbook of men like Nechaev: the Catechism of a Revolutionary. Far from trying to evade contradictory behavior, such a work, and other later analogues (Marcuse’s “Repressive Tolerance”; Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals) advocate being inconsistent and slippery with one’s principles for the sake of the revolution. Indeed, contradicting the rules one was trying to impose on others was and is seen not as an inconsistency but as a special privilege—of which several examples can be found, from upper party opulence in the USSR to modern champagne socialists who attend a $35,000-per-seat Met Gala while advocating taxing the rich.

4: Social chaos and purges as necessary and inevitable in achieving and maintaining utopia.

Perhaps the single most prophetic scene in The Devils occurs in the already mentioned chapter “‘Our Group’ Meets,” which depicts the various local radicals meeting under cover of a birthday party. A cacophony of competing voices and priorities, the scene’s humorous mix of inept, self-serving idealists is made grotesque by the visions they advocate. Most elaborate of the speakers is Shigalyov, whose utopian scheme for the revolution was insightful enough that Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn both referred to the Russian government’s post-October Revolution policies and methods as “Shigalevism.” 

While Shigalyov’s whole speech (and Peter Stepanovich’s commentary) is worth reading as a prophecy of what would happen less than fifty years after the book, here are some notable excerpts:

“Beginning with the idea of unlimited freedom, I end with unlimited despotism…One-tenth will receive personal freedom and unlimited power over the other nine-tenths. The latter must forfeit their individuality and become as it were a herd [through re-education of entire generations]; through boundless obedience, they will attain, by a series of rebirths, a state of primeval innocence, although they’ll still have to work…What I’m proposing is not disgusting; it’s paradise, paradise on earth—there can be none other on earth.”

A direct goal of the purges in Soviet Russia, and of the alienation of children from their parents, was to create a new, purely socialist generation unburdened by the prejudices of previous or outside systems.

“[We’ve] been urged to close ranks and even form groups for the sole purposed of bringing about total destruction, on the pretext that however much you try to cure the world, you won’t be able to do so entirely, but if you take radical steps and cut off one hundred million heads, thus easing the burden, it’ll be much easier to leap over the ditch. It’s a splendid idea…”

While hundred million murders may seem like hyperbole in the scene’s darkly comic context, in the end it was an accurate prediction of what communism would accomplish if put into systemic practice; however, we should also not miss the stated method of destabilizing society via conspiratorial groups aimed not at aid but at acceleration—a method used in early 20th-century Russia and employed by modern radical groups like Antifa.

“It would take at least fifty years, well, thirty, to complete such a slaughter—inasmuch as people aren’t sheep, you know, and they won’t submit willingly.”

Besides the time element, the identifying of the individual human’s desire for life and autonomy as a lamentable but surmountable impediment to revolution—rather than a damning judgment of the radicals’ inability to make any humanitarian claims—is chilling.

“[Shigalyov] has a system for spying. Every member of the society spies on every other one and is obliged to inform. Everyone belongs to all the others and the others belong to each one. They’re all slaves and equal in their slavery.”

A corrollary to the section above on freedom-through-slavery, this part accurately identifies the system of paranoid watchfulness in the first half of the USSR, as well as the system currently in place in the DPRK, among other places.

“The one thing the world needs is obedience. The desire for education is an aristocratic idea. As soon as a man experiences love or has a family, he wants private property. We’ll destroy that want: we’ll unleash drunkenness, slander, denunciantion; we’ll unleash unheard-of corruption… [Crime] is no longer insanity, but some kind of common sense, almost an obligation, at least a noble protest.”

Anti-traditional-family advocacy and the flipping of the criminal-innocent dichotomy as a means of destabilizing the status quo all took place in the early years of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, they are all too familiar today in the West, whether we’re talking about the current argument in the US that children’s education belongs to the community (i.e. teachers, public unions, and the government) to the exclusion of parents, or the argument heard at several points in the 2020 that crimes and rioting committed during protests were an excusable, even “noble,” form of making one’s voice heard (while nicking a TV in the process!).

More recently and ongoing here in California (often uncannily parallel to the UK in certain policy impulses), our current District Attorney George Gascon, in an attempt to redefine the criminal-victim mentality in the state, has implemented policies that benefit criminals over victims by relaxing the definitions and sentences of certain crimes and refusing to try teenagers who commit felonies as adults (among other things); as many expected would happen, crime has risen in the state, with the Los Angeles PD recently advising residents to avoid wearing jewelry in public—which, to this resident, sounds oddly close to blaming the victim for wearing a short skirt by another name, and is certainly a symptom and example of anarcho-tyranny.

To nineteenth-century readers not as versed as Dostoevsky in the literature and ideas behind the Nechaev affair (which was publicly seen as merely a murder among friends, without the ideological significance Dostoevsky gave it), this section of The Devils would have seemed a comic exaggeration. However, to post-20th-century readers it stands, like a clarion pointing forward to the events later confirmed by Solzhenitsyn, as a dire warning not to forget the truth in the satire and not to dismiss the foolishly hyperbolic as impotent. Even in isolated forms, the ideas promoted by Shigalyev are real, and when applied they have been, as Dostoevsky predicted, disastrous.

5: Socialism not as humanitarian reason, but as religious poetry; revolution as primarily aesthetic, not economic.

An amalgam of, among other members of the 1840s generation, the father of Russian socialism Alexander Herzen, Stepan Trofimovich is, by the time of the 1860s setting of The Devils, an inveterate poet. This reflects Dostoevsky’s evaluation of his old theorist friend, whom he nonetheless cites as the enabler of men like the nihilist terrorist Nechaev, despite Herzen’s claims that the terrorist had bastardized his ideas (see truth number 1, above).

The brilliantly mixed critique of and homage to Dostoevsky’s own generation that is Stepan Trofimovich presents one of the book’s main motifs about the nihilist generation: that they are not pursuing a philosophically rational system of humanitarian goals, but a romantically poetic pseudo-religion. “They’re all bewitched,” cries Stepan Trofimovich about his son, “not by realism, but by the emotional and idealistic aspects of socialism, so to speak, by its religious overtones, its poetry.” Later, at the aforementioned pivotal meeting scene, Peter Stepanovich shows he is completely conscious of this fact—and willing to use it to his advantage. “What’s happening here is the replacement of the old religion by a new one; that’s why so many soldiers are needed—it’s a large undertaking.” In the next scene, Peter Stepanovich reveals to Stavrogin his desire to use the enchanting nobleman as a figurehead for revolution among the peasantry, intending to call him Ivan the Tsarevich to play off of the Russian folk legend of a messianic Tsar in hiding who will rise to take the throne from the “false” reigning Tsar and right all the world’s wrongs with his combined religious and political power.

Peter Stepanovich, himself, is too frank a nihilist to believe in such narratives; focused as he is on first destroying everything rather than wasting time pontificating about what to do afterwards, he even treats Shigalyov’s utopian visions with contempt. However, the rest of the radicals in the book are not so clear-sighted about the nature of their beliefs. Multiple times in the book, susceptibility to radical socialism is said to inhere not in reason but in sentimentality; showing Dostoevsky’s moderation even on a topic of which he was so passionately against, this critique often focuses on younger men and women’s genuine desire to good—which ironically makes them, like the naive and forthright Ensign Erkel, susceptible to committing the worst crimes with a straight, morally self-confident face.

It is this susceptibility to the art of revolution that causes Peter Stepanovich to be so sanguine about others’ romanticism, despite its falling short of his own nihilism. His intention to use others’ art for his own advantage can be seen most clearly in his hijacking of Yulia Mikhailovna’s  literary fete to use it, through his cronies, as a screed against the social order and to mock artistic tradition. His doing so is just a follow-through of an earlier statement to Stavrogin that “Those with higher abilities…have always done more harm than good; they’ll either be banished or executed. Cicero’s tongue will be cut out, Copernicus’s eyes will be gouged out, Shakespeare will be stoned…it’s a fine idea to level mountains—there’s nothing ridiculous in that…we’ll suffocate every genius in its infancy.”

Against his son’s leveling of mountains, Stepan Trofimovich, to his infinite credit and speaking with his author’s mouth, declares, with the lone voice of tradition amidst the climactic fete, that “Shakespeare and Raphael are more important than the emancipation of the serfs…than nationalism…than socialism…than the younger generation…than chemistry, almost more important than humanity, because they are the fruit, the genuine fruit of humanity, and perhaps the most important fruit there is!” In this contrast between the Verkhovenskys, it is not different views on economics but on art—on Shakespeare, among others—that that lie at the heart of revolution, with the revolutionaries opposing the English Poet more viscerally than any other figure. This reflects Dostoevsky’s understanding that the monumental cultural shift of the 1800s was not primarily scientific but aesthetic (a topic too large to address here). Suffice it to say, the central conflict of The Devils is not between capitalists and socialists (the book rarely touches on economic issues, apart from their being used as propaganda—that is, aesthetically), nor between Orthodox and atheists (though Dostoevsky certainly saw that as the fundamental alternative at play), but between the 1840s late Romantics and the new Naturalist-Realists.

The prophetic nature of this aesthetic aspect of The Devils has many later confirmations, such as the 20th century’s growth of state propaganda, especially in socialistic states like Nazi Germany or the USSR, though also in the West (Western postmodernism would eventually make all art as interpretable as propaganda). Furthermore, the Stalinist cult of personality seems a direct carry over of Peter Stepanovich’s intended desire to form just such a pseudo-religious cult out of Nikolai Vsevolodovich.

Having written a novel on the threat posed to Shakespeare by the newest generation of the radical left (before reading of Verkhovensky’s desire to stone Shakespeare—imagine my surprise to find that Dostoevsky had called even the events in my own novel!), I hold this particular topic close to my heart. Indeed, I believe we are still in the Romantic-Realist crossroads, and in dire need of backtracking to take the other path that would prefer, to paraphrase Stepan Trofimovich, the beautiful and ennobling Shakespeare and Raphael over the socially useful pair of boots and petroleum. Like Stepan Trofimovich, I believe comforts and technical advancements like the latter could not have come about were it not for the culture of the former—and that they would lose their value were their relative importance confused to the detriment of that which is higher.

Conclusion

There are, of course, many other truths in The Devils that have borne out (the infighting of radical advocacy groups competing for prominence, radicalism as a result of upper-class boredom and idleness, revolution’s being affected not by a majority but a loud minority willing to transgress, self-important administrators and bureaucrats as enablers and legitimators of radicals…). While the increasingly chaotic narrative (meant to mimic the setting’s growing unrest) is not Dostoevsky’s most approachable work, The Devils is certainly one of his best, and it fulfills his intended purpose of showing, like Tolstoy had done a few years before in War and Peace, a full picture of Russian society.However, while Tolstoy’s work looked backward to a Russia that, from Dostoevsky’s view, had been played out, The Devils was written to look forward, and, more often for ill than good, it has been right in its predictions. Not for nothing did Albert Camus, who would later adapt The Devils for the stage, say on hearing about the Stalinist purges in Soviet Russia that “The real 19th-century prophet was Dostoevsky, not Karl Marx.”


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Audubon’s Legacy of Birds and Tomfoolery

For someone who has anger issues, entering the Audubon’s The Birds of America exhibition was like entering a whole new world. Upon the entry, I saw giant screens showing details from Audubon’s work and I could hear quiet bird noises in the background. It was an incredibly calming experience, as much as one can consider stuffed birds and plates depicting birds massacring another bird calming. Naturally, this wasn’t the centre of the exhibition – it truly celebrated the skill and the creativity of the bird illustrator with a passion for nature.

The exhibition is running in the National Scottish Museum in Edinburgh from the 12th of February to the 8th of May of this year. It displays over 40 plates, each measuring almost one metre in height. Most of them have never actually been shown to the public before. It is split into 4 sections, each of them with its own theme – the first one, ‘Meet the Birds of America’ introduces the ‘world’s most expensive book’ and Audubon, in general.

John James Audubon was a 19th-century ornithologist and naturalist. He made a point of studying and cataloguing the birds he encountered in their natural habitats. A son of a sugarcane plantation owner and a chambermaid, he must have had a conflicted childhood. Audubon moved to the US to avoid participation in the Napoleonic Wars – and focused on birds instead. 

The second section of the exhibition titled ‘An Art and a Science’ examines the influence of other illustrators on Audubon as well as the scientific, or sometimes quasi-scientific context. With the Industrial Revolution clashing with the Romantic movement, the transcendental search for nature was at its peak. The illustrations at the time were generally quite dull due to drawing from taxidermy and lifeless study skins.

Audubon, however, made a point of painting directly from wildlife, by personally hunting the birds and sometimes getting others to hunt for him. He would then paint the birds he gathered by pinning them into lifelike poses observed in the wild. This resulted in his art being vivid and life-like. He didn’t want to paint the taxidermied birds as he felt this would take away their lively spark from them. He was known for sometimes romanticising the birds he saw in the wild, for example when painting the Mocking Bird, in which a rattlesnake attacks birds in a bush, where it would be impossible for a rattlesnake to do so. Audubon would also sometimes add more human behaviours to the birds to allow the audience to relate to the birds. He was sometimes accused of not exactly presenting the truth.

The third part of the exhibition called ‘Audubon in Edinburgh’ explores the role of Scottish intelligentsia in ensuring that Audubon was embraced by the art society, after his rejection by the scientific community in Philadelphia. He befriended William Home Lizars and started engraving. Edinburgh was central to Audubon’s beginnings as a bird illustrator, making it extremely relatable to the Scottish audience, and it became somewhat a privilege to live in the same city where Audubon once found inspiration and was embraced by the art world.

The fourth section called ‘The Great Work: The Making of a Masterpiece’ deals with technical and artistic achievements. There are short films available for those whose attention span is longer than mine. However, this section also shows the bound edition of Birds of America which is extremely large (100 x 130 cm when open). Audubon insisted that the illustrations would show the birds life-size. Only two paper mills in the UK were capable of printing these, as he used a double elephant folio which is 96 x 66 cm. For those who are capable to rotate shapes in their head, this number will probably mean a lot.

The fifth section ‘Naturalist or Showman’ focuses on his contribution to discovering new species. Audubon identified 25 new species. This part of the exhibition explores some of the ‘controversies’, for example, Audubon was known for his strong belief in phrenology, the science which is now deemed ‘pseudoscience’ by some. Phrenology suggests that one can find details about someone’s personality from their skull shape. Seeing what kind of person he was, he probably used phrenology to mock his rivals. He was often accused of plagiarism and scientific fraud due to misidentifying some species and fabricating scientific data. Sometimes he invented new species to impress people who might then buy his work. Reportedly, he even stole the specimen of Harris’s hawk from his subscriber to then pretend he never knew him. He also lied in his own autobiography.

The sixth and final section of the exhibition ‘Birds of the World’ considers the impact of the modern era on the preservation and extinction of many birds. Some, such as the Carolina parakeet is entirely extinct – they used to always flock in large groups which made it easier for the hunters to kill them. They’ve also been considered a pest by farmers, which contributed to their demise. The exhibition ends on a thoughtful note, advising us to consider the repercussions of human behaviour on the natural world.

This prompted many conversations, such as the possibility to clone the extinct animals using their DNA tissue, however, so far, this was only tried with Pyrenean Ibex in 2003, but this one died not long after from lung defects. It might be a way forward in the future though.

The exhibition was a visual feast for the eyes and the birds are engraved and painted beautifully. The sheer skill of Audubon’s art is undeniable, and it trumps any accusations he received. He may not have been rigidly adhering to the scientific advice, but he created something that’s still worth looking at. Audubon inspired George Bird Grinnell to create the National Audubon Society in 1905 (although the idea goes back as far as 1895 when the first Audubon Society was created). The organisation protects the birds and their habitats in the Americas. If you like birds, you can donate here.

Audubon’s exhibition included a wealth of important items, including some study skins of birds and many taxidermized birds as well as his diaries, plates, and his hunting double-barrelled rifle. The exhibition is beautiful, thoughtful and certainly fascinating. For anyone who craves the return to transcendentalism and ancient values – it’s a feast for their eyes. If you fancy a trip to Edinburgh before the end of the exhibition on the 8th of May – make a point of stopping by at the National Scottish Museum to look at some birds, I strongly recommend it.

Photo Credit.

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