Author: Ben Sixsmith

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 …

The Social Justice Left and the Alt-Right: Our Divided New World

If you have ventured across the World Wide Web much further than cat pictures, recipes and nudie pics you might know of two eccentric movements in modern politics: the “social justice” Left and the “Alt-Right”. Both of them exist largely on the Internet and both of them represent extreme forms of the identitarian elements of left and right wing ideology. Both of them approach the culture war meaning business. The social justice left came first. Fusing anti-racist, feminist and LGBTQ concerns, it is not a particularly coherent ideological or political movement, encompassing both communists as well as liberals. The left wing elements represent the tendency of Marxists, disillusioned by the lack of Western revolutionary potential, to pursue what Rudi Dutschke called a “long march through the institutions of power“. Yet what made social justice so ubiquitous was its potential for subsummation by the capital class. As Rory Ellwood has argued, businesses have financial incentives to support immigration and female labour — and, importantly, one can seem cool and countercultural by endorsing progressive social opinions even if …

In Defence of Christians

On July 26th, jihadists stormed into a church in Normandy and slit the throat of Father Jacques Hamel, an 86-year-old priest who had been giving mass inside. This came at the end of a month in which dozens had been slaughtered in attacks on France and Germany but still shocked Europeans, who began to post #JeSuisPretre — “I am a priest” — on Twitter. This was an awful attack, but it was predictable. Jihadists hate our freedoms, says common wisdom. They do, of course, but they also hate our traditions. Militant Islamists harbour an age-old resentment towards Christianity, and express it through violence and oppression. Across the Middle East and Asia, Christians have died in their hundreds. In Iraq, the Christian population has plummeted after such attacks as the 2013 Christmas bombing, where 38 men, women and children were killed. In Pakistan, this year, 70 people died when jihadists attacked Christians on Easter. In Lebanon, just last month, a Christian village was hit by multiple suicide bombings that killed five people. Along with Ahmadis, Christians in Muslim …