Saturday, 31 December 2016

Spiked, December 16, 2016

From Sweden to Cuba: stop looking for utopias
Fantasising about perfect foreign countries is a way of dodging real debate.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Spiked, December 9, 2016

Veganism: a cult of purity
This obsession with clean living is a denial of human nature.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Spectator Blogs, December 8, 2016

The mystery of Kent's disappearing Polish shops
Patrick West

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Spiked, December 6, 2016

Are cries of sexism holding back science?
Humans are not ruled by biology – that doesn't mean it's not important.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Spiked, November 25, 2016

The wrath of the Do-Gooders
Are bien pensant observers the most hateful people in politics?

Friday, 18 November 2016

TLS, November 18, 2016

Gary Hayden 
A philosophical hike through the British Isles 
224pp. Oneworld. £12.99. 978 1 78074 656 2 

Friedrich Nietzsche used to walk for up to eight hours a day, often rising well before dawn. “I am always on the road two hours before the sun comes over the mountains,” he wrote from Switzerland in 1877, “and especially in the long shadows of afternoon and evening.” His fellow philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was of a similar disposition, writing to his niece thirty years before: “every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it”. It is no coincidence that these two men, each physically and mentally tormented, were both keen walkers. 

As Gary Hayden, the author, previously, of You Kant Make It Up!: Strange ideas from history’s great philosophers (2011) observes in his latest book Walking with Plato: A philosophical hike through the British Isles, there is something about walking that soothes the spirit and frees the mind, especially for those with a less than cheery temperament. Walking with Plato has the appearance of a semi-serious travelogue, in which the author and his wife make the sometimes arduous and often dreary hike from John O’Groats to Land’s End. One might expect Bill Bryson with a dash of Alain de Botton. But Hayden, by his own admission, isn’t very interested in the landscape. He hasn’t even taken a notebook with him. It’s mostly an inventory of damp campsites and nondescript hotels, where “we lounged on the bed, ate crisps and chocolate and watched Strictly Come Dancing. But, apart from that, it’s all a blank”. 

Candid throughout about his own sombre constitution, Hayden is here, rather, on an inward journey. The physical act of trekking becomes a challenge in itself, the landscape a sideshow. He introduces us to other characters for whom the simple act of perambulation was an end in itself. The cast includes Bertrand Russell (“The secret of happiness is to understand that the world is horrible, horrible, horrible”), Charles Dickens, who composed A Christmas Carol in his head in a series of nocturnal ramblings in the winter of 1843, and Plato, who came to learn that physical vigour promotes intellectual vigour, and that the two promote psychological vigour. 

The author emerges at the end a happier man in this affable affair. “I did take pleasure in pitting myself against these obstacles, day after day, and overcoming them.” At Land’s End he surfaces as a naive, everyday Nietzsche – the philosopher who proposed that life was about accepting strife in order to overcome it. 


Spiked, November 18, 2016

The rise of the Capitalist Left
Today's self-styled radicals care more about GDP figures than people.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Spiked, October 27, 2016

How politics got personal
Why is everyone suddenly ‘ashamed to be British’?

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Catholic Herald, October 21, 2016

Why not choose our politicians by lots?
Abolish elections and save democracy, says Patrick West

Against Elections
By David Van Reybrouck, Bodley Head, £9.99

Democracy today is in crisis. Never in modern history has there been more discontent with the democratic system in the West, with voter participation at the ballot box and party membership falling, and mistrust of politicians growing. Cynicism and apathy seem to abound. 
Yet the appetite for democracy is stronger than ever, as the emergence of protest groups and counter-mainstream populist movements bear witness. How do we resolve this paradox?
One radical solution, put forward here by Van Reybrouck, is to abolish elections and have democracy by lot. Those who legislate should be chosen at random, he says, as a means to eliminate bickering, factionalism, media distortion and corruption and to erase the distinction between the governed and those who govern.
This is not as outlandish as it first sounds. After all, we still choose juries on this random principle. And democracy by “sortition” was the norm in ancient Athens and Renaissance Venice. Our mental association of “democracy” with “elections” is but a legacy of the American and French revolutions, which borrowed the concept of elections from the papacy, in order to retain landed interests in large nation states. More than 200 years later, elections and political parties still prop up our now tottering “elective aristocracies”, he says.
There are problems, though. Sortition might have worked in small, culturally and racially homogenous ancient city states, but may not be suited to today. 
In response, Van Reybrouck argues that when citizens of all capabilities are brought together to make decisions that will affect their lives, they behave rationally and exchange wisdom and expertise. 
Having served on a jury this year, I am well inclined to believe that ordinary citizens of all hues are well suited to making responsible, sound decisions. Far from being facetiously contrarian, as it initially presents itself, Against Elections makes a compelling argument indeed.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Spiked, October 21, 2016

Remainers, please rein in your petulance
Will there be no end to their wailing and hollering?

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The TLS, October 14, 2016

Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau
The secret codes of French conversation revealed
320pp. Duckworth Overlook. £16.99.
978 0 7156 5125 4

A traditional complaint from English speakers who go to France and try to speak the language is that such efforts are usually met with indifference or hostility. Unless your French is grammatically correct and pitch perfect, the nonchalant reply will either be in English, or – as used to be far more common – an actual reprimand. “Vous écorchez la langue!”, British visitors would often be corrected – “you’re flaying the language!” This has helped to shore up the Anglosphere stereotype that the French, especially Parisians, are incorrigibly rude. But, as the two French Canadian journalists Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau explain in this anthropologically flavoured guidebook, this perception is based on a misapprehension. The French don’t merely speak a different language. They communicate in a different code.

The French will correct you because their language is intrinsically bound to their national identity. In 1789 less than half the population even spoke French. Most spoke regional dialects. Thus, the acquisition and implementation of formal French subsequently became core to universalist Frenchness. This is why they don’t refer to a linguistic mistake as “une erreur”, as anglophones might, but rather as “une faute” – a word with a graver moral inference. This fear of being “at fault” explains such correctness. It also explains why French supermarket assistants, bus drivers or civil servants will never admit to being wrong.

The two most important words in the French language, write the authors in this fascinating and delightful work, are “bonjour” and “non”. The first signals less a mere “hello”, but instead: “hello, here I am, ready to engage and talk with you”. The French love rhetoric and argument. They consider conversation to be a sport. That is why the second most important word is “non”. When the French say it, appearing obstructive and unhelpful, they aren’t necessarily being negative. They are daring you to answer back. This is the country, after all, which created the salon, the place where one went to display one’s rhetorical prowess.

The authors conclude by recommending not to broach the following subjects: family, work, money or race relations. These are faux pas. Never try Anglo-Saxon-style, self-deprecating humour, either. You will look a fool. In France – the land of the public intellectual – one must instead display wit.


Spiked, October 14, 2016

Corbyn's Labour is not a socialist party
Socialists don't pity or fear the poor like the Corbyn crew does

The Tablet, October 8, 2016

Friday, 7 October 2016

Spiked, October 7, 2016

Leave voters are the real wise ones
Remainer rage is fuelled by ignorance, not knowledge.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Catholic Herald, September 30, 2016

The 'rational' revolution that became unhinged

The French Revolution
By Ian Davidson, Profile, £25

In the popular imagination, the French Revolution was a bloody episode that witnessed France’s dishevelled and impoverished rise up against a hated and spoilt aristocracy, whose heads they proceeded to chop off. It’s a narrative laid down by Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and the stories of the Scarlet Pimpernell, and later cemented on stage in Les Misérables. It’s a perception that Ian Davidson seeks to challenge and dismantle. 

As every schoolboy learnt, the Revolution’s origins lay in middle-class discontent. It had begun as a bourgeois protest against the inequity of the tax regime, from which the nobility had earned outrageous exemptions under the centralising reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV as a compensation for their loss of powers. Middle-class anger was also fuelled by the fact that they were effectively barred from taking posts in the army and the Church, the two traditional avenues of advancement in France. It was the muscle-flexing bourgeoisie, in the guise of the Third Estate, who forced the hand of the nobility and king. They initially sought mere reform, not revolution or regicide. 

Alas, as Edmund Burke predicted, and as history has a nasty habit of reminding us, circumstance and human avarice inevitably caused matters to spiral out of control. Louis XVI was a spineless, vacillating king who had the capacity to alienate even sympathetic factions with his dithering and lack of scruples. The French state was already in financial dire straits, and the emergency measures adopted by revolutionaries only made things worse. France happened to be hit by food shortages, antagonising the sans-culottes, whom Maximilien Robespierre mistakenly hoped to both use and contain. 

The fanatics and anti-clerical elements eventually took control. Hence, the enduring image we have today of the Revolution is that of aristocrats in tumbrils being taken to their appointment with Madame Guillotine. 

Davidson is the former Paris correspondent of the Financial Times, so it’s no surprise that The French Revolution should be written with authority, clarity and journalistic immediacy. The Revolution as remembered today, with its Terror and mass beheadings, only took place between 1793 and 1794. And even then, the Revolutionaries spoke not for France as a whole; most of the rest of the country was appalled by the increasing fanaticism and anti-clericalism of the protagonists in Paris. The counter-revolution in the Vendée of 1793, writes Davidson, was not so much an overt pro-royalist or pro-Catholic affair, as a revolt against the centralism and militant secularism found in the capital.

The frustrated and educated French middle-class, who had set the Revolution in motion, were well-versed in the philosophy of their home-grown Enlightenment, so there was always the chance that a simple reformist urge was going to assume an ideological bent. And when a movement becomes an ideology, it will inexorably drift ever more to the extremes, as protagonists each seek to prove how more pure and righteous they are. 

The worst types will always rise to the top in such scenarios – in this case, Robespierre and the awful Jean-Paul Marat. The first was a lawyer and the second a journalist. Indeed, so many of the Revolutionaries came from these two professions: the two types that are perhaps least-well suited to running a country, governed as they are by arrogance and resentment. 

The problem with the French is that they are too logical and literal-minded. That is the source of their genius, but it’s also their downfall. Shortly before his death, Robespierre famously pronounced: “Virtue, without which Terror is fatal; Terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is nothing else than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is thus an emanation of Virtue.” It took a special kind of embittered Frenchmen, in thrall to ideology and reason, to utter these chilling words. 

The Revolution could never settle down into the messy Anglo-Saxon compromise between monarchy, church, state and democracy. The French had to take reform to its last, logical, legalistic, rational conclusion, in which the new religion of laïcité (secularity) would trump all. This has been the poisonous legacy of the Revolution, writes Davidson, which was “for a long time disastrous for the polity and the society of France”. The rival claims between Church and state were only officially resolved in the Concordat of 1905, which enshrined laïcité, but this was less a peace treaty and more of an armistice. 

One could argue that the doctrine of laïcité continues to cast a disastrous shadow, as witnessed with the French state’s war on Islamic dress, which has backfired terribly, alienating an already volatile Islamic underclass. No wonder the Church in France doesn’t support the ban on burkinis: it has been besieged by the literal-minded, secularising militants of the French state for more than two centuries now. Why would it support what the late, somewhat enigmatic Fr Jean-Marie Charles-Roux called “the regicidal state”?

Patrick West

Spiked, September 23, 2016

The pre-modern public shaming of Gazza
Making a spectacle of ‘criminals’ has no place in a democracy.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Spiked, September 9, 2016

Climate change is not a political issue
The environment has been hijacked by both left and right

Friday, 2 September 2016

Spiked, September 2, 2016

Would anyone publish The Satanic Verses today?
The West has gone backwards on free speech since 1989.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Spiked, August 26, 2016

In defence of jury service
In an age beholden to experts, jury service reminds us of the importance of common sense.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Spiked, August 19, 2016

The age of belligerent victimhood
From BLM to feminism, too many want to play the victim.

Spiked, August 12, 2016

Veganism isn’t a diet – it’s an ideology
Vegans are more interested in being pure than saving the planet.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Spiked August 8, 2016

'Post-truth politics': a smear on the masses
Those denouncing Brexit voters as hoodwinked fools are starting to sound like a cult.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Spiked July 15, 2016

The EU: a disaster waiting to happen
From its inception, the European Union has been destined for ruin.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Spiked, July 8, 2016

The post-Brexit ugliness of the left
Money-obsessed and anti-working class – the liberal left has revealed its ugly side.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Spiked, June 24, 2016

In praise of dead white males
Freud, Marx and Nietzsche continue to shape our world.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

The Catholic Herald, June 3, 2016

An anti-Establishment take on the 1916 Rising

1916: Ireland's Revolutionary Tradition
By Kieran Allen, Pluto Press, £12.99

Perspectives on the Easter Rising tend to assume two forms these days. On the one hand, they depict and revere the 1916 insurrection as a foundation myth of the modern Irish state. On the other, they regard it as a bloody betrayal of constitutionalism which left the island physically and emotionally divided. Kieran Allen takes a third position. He believes that the events in the Dublin GPO and elsewhere throughout Ireland were indeed a blow for Irish freedom, the culmination of Ireland’s revolutionary tradition – but that this tradition was betrayed by the Irish themselves. 
Allen, previously author of Austerity Ireland, is very much of the hard leftist tradition that is antagonistic towards nationalism, religion and capitalism. He has little sympathy for today’s Irish politicians who invoke the spirit of 1916. “The current Irish state is not a product of the Rising – it owes its existence to the counter-revolution of 1923,” he writes.
The IRA and the Republican movement’s failure to support the Labour movement in the crucial years from 1916 to 1923, focusing instead solely on military strategy, fatally compromised the revolutionary, anti-imperialist struggle against the British. “The Free State, however, offered its population one compensation for the dashed hopes of the revolutionary years – strict Catholic morality.” Allen speaks about religion as if it is imposed unwillingly from above, as though working-class individuals have no free will of their own. 
There is much rhetoric here, too, about “the Establishment”, “privilege” and “elites”. But the author is no Dave O’Spart and this book has many surprises. Allen demolishes the myth that the “good old IRA fought a fair, clean fight unlike the ‘terrorists’ of the Provos” between 1918 and 1923. The old IRA shot police officers in cold blood and executed informers. I didn’t know, either, that a soviet was established in Limerick in April 1919. 
We should have more books like this. For a tenured sociologist, Allen writes with a rare lucidity. And when it comes to history as blessed by politicians and the Establishment, a counter-narrative is always welcome.

Patrick West

Spiked, June 3, 2016

A Top Gear for our times
The post-Clarkson show is PC, inclusive and bland.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Spiked, May 26, 2016

A new study of Ray Bradbury reminds us how much the author of Farenheit 451 believed in humanity.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Spiked, May 20, 2016

The tyranny of the trans movement
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Spiked, May 13, 2016

The fallacy of happiness
We must stop pathologising normal human emotions like stress and anxiety.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Spiked, May 6, 2016

No one wants a United States of Europe
By pushing for more central control, the EU has signed its death warrant.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

The Catholic Herald, April 29, 2016

The atheists who take heaven for granted

According to recent research by the University of San Diego, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as atheists doubled to 22 per cent between 1984 and 2014, while the proportion of the populace who believe in or regularly pray to God has reached an all-time low. No surprise there, you might say. It’s a while now since atheism in the United States was considered “un-American” or tainted by association with godless communism.

Yet the research also shows that this decrease in the belief in God has been accompanied by a rise in the belief in heaven or some kind of afterlife. This figure has risen from 73 to 80 per cent since 1972. “It was interesting that fewer people participated in religion or prayed, but more believed in an afterlife,” remarked the University of San Diego psychology professor, Jean Twenge. “It might be part of a growing entitlement mentality – thinking you can get something for nothing.”

I suspect that Twenge, author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable Than Ever Before (2006), is on to something. People’s day-to-day religious outlook is inevitably shaped by social, technological and cultural forces. Just as the first information technology revolution, the printing press, occurred in tandem with the emergence of Protestantism – both of which challenged authority from below – so the second big information technology is likewise fostering a society in which greater importance is placed on the 

For instance, some sociologists noted in the last decade the resurgence of a belief in guardian angels. This was deemed a logical outcome in a society that both adheres less to organised religion and has become more atomised, consumerist and focused on the self.

This shrinking inwards towards the self has been accelerated by the age of Instagram selfies and Twitter. A generation that grew up with the internet has come to expect most commodities – from online news to television to movies – to be free and instantly available. A “paywall” is spoken of as a monstrous effrontery. 

For those today who know only instantaneous gratification – who wouldn’t understand the concept of waiting for holiday photos to be developed, or for one’s favourite television programme to be repeated – even reading a book seems daunting. Accomplishment is measured instead by more superficial methods, such as how many “likes” or “retweets” you get on social media.

“Self-esteem” and “self-belief” is what matters now. This is why, when they go to university, Generation Me become so easily upset and offended, demanding “safe spaces” and censorship. The new generation, as Professor Twenge outlines in her book, are taught “to be whatever you want to be, as long as you ‘believe in yourself’.” This is why the language of gender-fluidity appeals to them (and baffles their elders): one can “be” a man or a woman as long as one simply “identifies” oneself as such.

Yet some things don’t change in human nature: a hardwired fear and incomprehension of death. Appropriately, this can be witnessed most obviously on the internet when a much-loved celebrity dies before their time: Victoria Wood and Prince being the most recent examples. They are “out there somewhere” or “looking down on us now” or “resting in peace”. This language transcends ages and cultures. 

For centuries, belief in heaven in Christian cultures was accompanied by the notion that for some reason, usually by good behaviour and avoidance of sin, your soul warranted a place there. Thanks to my generation having cosseted them and filled their heads with all this babyish talk of “self-esteem”, Generation Me don’t believe in making an effort to get your rewards. I mean, why do good or try to change the world when a quick sympathetic hashtag will do? Let’s hope the Pearly Gates don’t have a “paywall”.

One of the most pleasing aspects about the 1998 film Shakespeare 
in Love was that it portrayed the Bard not so much as a poet or grand man of letters, but more akin to a hack. He’s always searching for new ideas, looking for sponsors to pay him money to write, scribbling into the small hours to meet urgent deadlines.

I like to think of his Spanish contemporary Miguel de Cervantes, the 400th anniversary of whose death we also commemorated recently, as likewise an inspiration for creative types. Here was a man who endured injury, kidnap, imprisonment, bankruptcy, an unhappy marriage and ill-health, and who in his prime saw his 20 to 30 plays sink into obscurity.

Only in 1605, in his 59th year, did he publish Don Quixote, which became an instant bestseller, and which today is regarded as a masterpiece of European literature. There is a lesson here for all writers and artists who toil alone.

Patrick West is a columnist for Spiked

Friday, 22 April 2016

Spiked, April 22, 2016

Don Quixote: birth and death of the novel
Cervantes’ classic was the first postmodern novel. Pity it wasn't the last too.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Catholic Herald, April 15, 2016

Review of 'The Seven' by Ruth Dudley Edwards

Spiked, April 15, 2016

Muslims aren't the problem - Western self-doubt is
Euro-Islamism springs from decades of cultural cringe.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Spiked, April 7, 2016

Ian McEwan is right about trans
Pick’n’mix genderfluidity springs from the cult of consumerism.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Spiked, March 24, 2016

The smug nonsense of 'What about Ankara?'
It’s no mystery why Brits are more shocked by the Brussels bombs – they hit closer to home.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Spiked, March 18, 2016

It’s no surprise that Jeremy Clarkson is pro-EU
The former Top Gear presenter is the perfect poster-boy for Remain.

Spiked, March 4, 2016

Father Jack: ‘feck off’ to the anti‑fun police
Let’s raise a glass of Toilet Duck to the foulmouthed priest.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Spiked, February 26, 2016

The EU is well past its sell-by date
We don’t need Brussels to stave off another World War.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The TLS, February 19, 2016

Spiked, February 19, 2016

The closure of the Independent mind
The death of print newspapers is bad news for our intellects

Friday, 12 February 2016

Spiked, February 12, 2016

In defence of The Selfish Gene
Richard Dawkins’ book is more than a Thatcherite manifesto.

The Catholic Herald, January 29, 2016

Spiked, January 29, 2016

Washed-up misanthropy
The declaration of man as pestilence on the planet is adolescent and tedious.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Spiked, January 22, 2016

After Cologne: where are the feminists?
Why are 'progressives' so reluctant to question what happened?

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Salon, January 21, 2015

I’ve had enough of public grief: What are we really grieving when an artist dies?
At times like these, I have the feeling I must be missing a compassion gene that the rest of my generation shares

Friday, 15 January 2016

Spiked, January 15, 2016

Bowie's death: a Diana moment for Generation X
Social media has been gripped by the worst case of mourning sickness for 20 years.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Spiked, January 8, 2016

Lemmy: the nice man of rock’n’roll
The harder the sound, the softer the performers.

Spiked, December 29, 2015

Snobs don’t take Christmas off
Only rich people have the luxury of moaning about consumerism.