The New Statesman came through the door today. It's not mine, of course. My son takes it, having been persuaded by his mother to have a subscription as a gift. The deed was done when my back was turned. I'd rather it had been Loaded or NME or The Oldie.
The cover story: 'Laptop Fascists', by John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. It seemed from the title to be about the perils of the hordes of far-Rightists online. Resentful of this selectivity, I growled: "How many laptop Trotskyites are there?"
Actually it's not about the use of new technology by neo-Nazis at all: rather, it dwells on their position as 'modernizers', but ones who realize that (according to Gray) economic liberalization and prosperity can go hand in hand with political illiberalism:
Like the fascist parties of the past, the far right accepts the economic orthodoxies of its time. Today, those are the orthodoxies of the free market.
… the notion that a modernised economy is bound somehow to engender a liberal society [is] a fantasy. … The link between liberal values and economic growth is a historical accident, not a universal law.
…the Enlightenment faith that, with the growth of knowledge and wealth, human beings will shed their various, divisive identities to become members of a universal civilisation. Once the prerogative of Marxists, this fanciful rationalistic creed is now the intellectual basis of market reform throughout the world.
… in Europe today, where welfare states and trade unions are strong, persuading voters to accept open borders must be a forbiddingly difficult task.
… Europe has contrived to weaken national identities at a time when the legitimacy of its institutions has never been more widely questioned. It is a dangerous place to launch an experiment in liberal utopianism.
Interesting article. Exactly the same hand-wringing is taking place on the classical-liberal side of the fence.
I'm surprised to find Roger Scruton doing the NS wine column. The last time I heard his name mentioned in libertarian company, a comrade snorted. But I have a lot of time for Scruton. I go out of my way to read or hear him. I'm glad he and his opinions are nowhere near power, because he's a paternalist and I don't believe that Paternalist Knows Best. But I always emerge wiser from an encounter with him. He gives the impression that his views are the product of a deep, thought-through system of values that infuse his whole life. He seems to be – as far as I can tell – one who lives as a philosopher should, reflectively.
I have to say the same about Anthony Grayling, whom I've had a go at previously. He's popped up recently on radio and in the papers on the side of the angels, defending voluntary euthanasia and drug legalization. But, although I probably overlap more with Grayling than with Scruton on most issues, it's the latter who seems to me to have depth.
But I shan't be reading Scruton's wine column. Surprisingly, this is the acme of pseudery:
The Merlot from the Languedoc is both shy and impeccable, like an endimanche peasant. Don't be deceived by the "vin de pays" label: in the Languedoc, this means nothing. After a few months in the bottle, this shy peasant may well become a jovial buffoon.
… The reservas and gran reservas have more of the sleepy vanilla flavour for which Rioja is famed. But the Crianzas have a firmer tread on the palate, and this one wound its way down the oesophagus like a sure-footed donkey on a mountain path.
I suppose there just isn't enough that is true and useful to fill a weekly wine column.