Author: Ben Sixsmith

In Defence of Anonymity

Few recent events have united public opinion more than CNN’s petty, vindictive and astonishingly self-defeating investigation into the life of an anonymous Redditor who had created a mischievous GIF aimed at the station. It had repurposed a clip of Donald Trump clotheslining WWE CEO Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania by putting a CNN logo on McMahon’s face. Many thought it puerile and obnoxious when the President tweeted the GIF out to the world but when the media giant targeted its obscure, anonymous creator—discovering his real-life Facebook page and implicitly threatening that they would expose him if his postings annoyed them again—their bullying angered even Trump’s liberal critics. One did not have to like “@HansAssholeSolo” to dislike the power imbalance. Being so dense as to think that people would side with the multi-billion dollar corporation says something about the delusions of the media classes. Still, some sympathised with the network. Most of them were journalists. David Frum, the Atlantic columnist, proclaimed: Predictably, this did not go down well on Twitter. “Spoken like someone who does not fear for their safety,” wrote “@SaucissonSec”. …

The EU’s Cosmopolitanism Gap

Senior figures in the European Union are growing impatient with its Eastern members over their refusal to accept refugees. Emmanuel Macron, the new president of France, has threatened sanctions if Poland and Hungary remain stubborn. Why is this? I hope to avoid unduly extending generalisations. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe are all different. All contain multitudes. In Poland, where I am fortunate enough to live, I have met progressives, liberals, libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists and, perversely, given recent history, adherents of communism and national socialists; as well, of course, as many people who hate politics. Nonetheless, it is a matter of undeniable fact that nations of the CEE tend to be less receptive to mass immigration—and, especially, Islamic immigration—than their Western cousins, on the level of elites and on the level of the masses. A simple explanation is that they are more homogenous. Western Europe has been rich enough, and liberal enough, to attract migrants for decades. The British are about 5% Muslim. Germans are about 5% Muslim. The French are probably more. People …

A Hundred Years of Communism

We must give the Bolsheviks their due. Their success in gaining power was astonishing. A ragtag gang of activists and intellectuals, they seized control of Russia in October, 1917, and defended their rule in a vicious, bloody civil war. No one can deny the force of their conviction, or the scale of their courage, or the keenness of their talents. But wielding power was a different matter. Revolutionaries dream that crops will grow out of their fire but in most cases it leaves scarred and arid earth instead. Collectivisation, with its monstrous violence and inefficiency, left millions dead in Russia, Ukraine and the Caucasus. Paranoia and persecution, all too evident in Lenin’s “cleansing” of “harmful insects” — landowners, dissidents and priests the Bolsheviks interned, starved, tortured and killed — reached its absurd apotheosis in Stalin’s purges. Stalin killed so many people in the Great Purge that it is remarkable that anyone was left to do the killing. Former comrades, artists and intellectuals, military officers, clergymen, dissidents, outcasts and normal Russian men and women were slaughtered in a …

The Troubles and The Terror

It is rather ironic that a day after the death of Martin McGuinness, terrorism was inflicted on Londoners. Once it was the Irishman’s Republican movement that was the leading cause of terrorism in Britain. From the 1970s to the 1990s dozens of bombs exploded in London alone. Outside the House of Commons, for example, in 1979, where five innocents would be killed thirty-two years later, Airey Neave MP died when an explosion blew his legs off. In the Docklands bombing, twenty-one years ago, the IRA killed two men and did a hundred and fifty million pounds worth of damage. That bombing was in revenge for Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Republicans, being excluded from peace talks. The British government accepted their demands and the IRA slowly began its decommissioning. Years on, Martin McGuinness shook hands with the Queen and was considered a statesman and not a terrorist. It is difficult to imagine the time when Republicans and loyalists were slaughtering each other. It is painful to remember. It is also impolitic. So, as …

How French Intellectuals Lost Their Faith

As the Socialist government of François Hollande slumps into obscurity, the favourites in this year’s French presidential elections are a liberal, Emmanuel Macron, a conservative, François Fillon, and a national conservative, Marine Le Pen. Amid the usual corruption scandals is the smell of what the French call “le declinisme.“ France is a country ill-at-ease with itself. Mr Hollande plumbed record depths in his approval ratings and while Ms Le Pen is predicted to lose the elections, it is astonishing that she has so much of a shot. Populism has spread across America and Europe, of course, but what distinguishes France is the extent to which its artists and intellectuals have expressed the same concerns as its electorate. This is somewhat surprising. French intellectuals have long been at the forefront of revolutionary thought. Voltaire and Rousseau radicalised French liberal opinion in the years before the toppling of the Ancien Regime. In the 20th Century, Sartre, Althusser and Badiou promoted communism, while Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault dug into the foundations of Western culture. Their disciples led the …

The Rise of the Right and the Triumph of Rhetoric

The great conservative historian Maurice Cowling was once criticised in the London Review of Books for being unable to defend his opinions with arguments. Cowling, who was famously sardonic, wrote in his response: Given that I have a certain articulateness, it is, it seems to me, quite likely that I can argue them. Argument, however, is not what it seems to me suitable to do with opinions. What one does with opinions — all one needs to do with them, having found that one has them — is to enjoy them, display them, use them, develop them, in order to cajole, press, bully, soothe and sneer other people into sharing (or being affronted by) them. To argue them is, it seems to me, a very vulgar, debating-society sort of activity. As amusing as this is, he did not write in jest. Cowling taught in Peterhouse college, the oldest college of the University of Cambridge, and formed around himself a sort of conservative mafia through which to preserve and promote his cynical elitist traditionalism. Members of the “Peterhouse …

The Blank Slateism of the Right

“What a piece of work is a man!” Hamlet exclaimed. What indeed? Something less than God. Something more than dust. But what else can be said has remained controversial. There is an idea that human nature is a “blank slate,” a tabula rasa, free of inherited content, on which education and experience leave their marks. This idea, found in the work of progressive philosophers like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, suggests that we are wholly or mostly the products of our environments. This concept is central to left-wing belief regarding unequal societies and the almost unlimited potential of mankind if we escape what Marx and Engels called our “chains”. This belief has been extensively discredited, first by observation and now, increasingly, by science. Steven Pinker summarised the genetic and psychometric research that documents the scale of our inherited characteristics in his 2002 book The Blank Slate, which has since been updated in 2016. Some of this research is unsurprising. No one would maintain that if they had worked out more in the gym and eaten fewer hamburgers they could …