I can understand why the Nazis burned books. One book can subvert a whole culture. Perhaps one of the most subversive books I’ve known was “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. I must have read it when I was 14 or 15.
It tells the story of a group of schoolboys whose plane crashes onto a remote island. They survive the crash, but descend into violence and chaos and finally murder. They lose all the trappings of civilisation, inside and out, in a very short time.
This was and is a shocking book. It called the bluff of moral progress and ethical evolution. Our civility is just skin deep Golding was saying. From the moment I finished the book, I knew that Golding was right and that progressive politics was based on a misjudgement of human nature. Our ethical progress was just skin deep, and could be lost in an instant.
I keep on being haunted by images of Nazi book burning and the smashing up of Jewish shop fronts from Germany in the 1930’s. Something like a collective madness came on the people of Germany. It really seemed to erupt almost out of nowhere. How could such a civilised people, the children of Goethe and Beethoven, so swiftly become the breeding ground of Nazism, with its book burnings, thuggery and ultimately the horrifying and very Golding-like final solution?
I’m not the only one to make this connection.
John Cryer the Labour Party Chairman was horrified by anti-Semitic tweets that were coming from some Labour Party members during the conference. “I have seen some of the tweets from Labour Party members and I am not kidding you, it makes your hair stand on end,” he said. “This stuff is redolent of the thirties.”
Mindless thugs beating their opponents in public were not the preserve only of the Brown Shirts in Berlin, of state apparatchiks in Moscow, but it’s odd to find gender activists demonstrating in favour of love, peace, tolerance and inclusion, beating up elderly feminists at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park.
Speakers’ Corner is where you go to exercise the rights of democracy and free speech. You may be laughed at, heckled, ignored or cheered. But it’s the safe space par excellence for a free and democratic society. It’s as close as you get to a sacred place in a secular culture.
It’s not easy to describe what happened, but it goes something like this.
Maria Machlachan, a 60 year old mother of two, who describes herself as a ‘gender critical feminist’ was at a small demo in Hyde Park. She is a member of a group which is called ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists’ (TERF’s). They are very keen for safe spaces for women. They strongly doubt that men who ‘identify’ as women actually are women, at least in terms of preserving a safe space away from anyone with XY chromosomes.
They are hated by another inclusionary group called Trans-Activists. And not much liked it seems by the ‘LGBTQ+ Society’ from Goldsmiths University, or an organisation called ‘Sisters Uncut’, and not even by ‘Action For Trans Health London.’
Members of these groups turned up at Speakers Corner to heckle and then threatened the despised TERFs.
The threats turned to thuggery as one of the trans women, (a person with XY chromosomes and a penis who was in the middle of crowd funding £5,000 to make his/her/? voice higher) jumped Maria, grabbed her camera and punched her to the ground.
He/she/? ran away.
A great deal is made by the left that the threat of violence comes from the ‘far Right.’ In fact the press and media don’t bother with the ‘Right’ any more. Anything less than socialist is called ‘Far-Right, – or Nazi. There is no near-right, or middle right, or further right; just Far-Right.’
I don’t think demonising the Left or Far/Extreme/way-out Right, helps us much. Both Far-Left and Far-Right look to the State to impose their controlling dogma. Both use thugs to intimidate with violence. Both hate free speech while pretending to love it; until the fists go in.
The real difference is between those of either political extreme who look to the State to forcibly perfect people, closing down free speech and using violence when they grow more confident;- and those who think, with Golding and others, that humans are flawed and that State can organise and control them, but can’t change them.
For a substantial moral and psychological change you need another subversive book. Those who read it claim it changes them. They turn the other cheek, care for the poor, and love their enemies.
If you want people to be changed in that way, you have to look beyond politics, progressive or otherwise, to faith. Christianity has the best record for changing people with a list that includes ex-IRA bombers, ex-Muslim terrorists to 18th C ex-slave traders like John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace.
To get a fuller map than the over-simplistic usual political polarities. Instead of just (Far)- Left and (Far)-Right, commentators might recognise the other source of human and social change, and add ‘(Far)-Up’.