Clio has let me down. Not that I’ve ever regarded History as a reliable guide to the present or the future, and much of my recent writing activity has been devoted to questioning the lessons that others have believed they could infer from the past; but I can usually find one or two historical precedents that might shed some light on the present. There are of course some obvious ones to act as warnings against Trump and Trumpery and Farage and Farageism today, of which Europe in the 1930s is the one that usually comes to all our minds, perfectly reasonably, I think: so long as we take account of the peculiarly American cultural influences that serve to differentiate American Fascism (which it is) from, say, Nazism. But I can think of no historical precedent for the degree of irrationalism that is infecting Anglo-American politics today. The best I can do are inter-war Germany; Berlusconi; the witch-burnings of the 17th century; and lots of events in more ‘primitive’ ages. Even these rarely exhibited the kind of light-headed craziness we are seeing nowadays, and which is a major characteristic. (I touched on this, briefly, many posts ago: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/29/tragedy-or-farce/). Nazism was always deadly serious – though many foreign contemporaries early on regarded Hitler as a bit of a joke. Farage and Trump seem to have entered mainstream politics by donning clownish uniforms, possibly to reassure people. Who wouldn’t mind, in ordinary circumstances, sharing a pint with Nige? (I mean, of course, white men.) We already have ‘Post-Truth’ – it’s just entered the Oxford English Dictionary; why not ‘Post-History‘? (The Sequel to Fukuyama.) I may return to this.
In the meantime I have my talk to give to the Swedish lawyers this afternoon. (https://bernardjporter.com/2016/11/18/brexit-for-swedish-lawyers/.) I’m nervous. I always like to know my audience, and I’ve had little to do with lawyers, apart from academic ones, since they fleeced me of £5000 in connection with my divorce twenty years ago. (In Sweden it would have been much cheaper.) Being Swedish, they probably know at least as much about Brexit as I do: their press reported every twist and turn of the EU debate fully, and much more objectively than ours. Still, I shall dress smartly for them, with a jacket and tie (Kajsa tells me that lawyers are the last profession in Sweden to wear suits); and I understand that wine will be available, to calm me down. (Note to self: Don’t mention Assange.)
On “light-headed craziness”, I wonder. I gave a lecture on Fascism this week, and opened it with a clip of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from the end of Cabaret. At the end, as Michael York drives away and the brownshirts go into their third chorus, there’s a brief cut to Joel Grey nodding and smiling, as if to say “what do we think of the show so far?”. Wasn’t there always an exorbitant, deliberately overstated, not-saying-just-saying quality to Fascism? Boots and clubs not far behind, of course.
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