February 10th 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Blackouts due to closure of coal-fired power stations

EDITORIAL Behind China's push for global power

CANBERRA OBSERVED The left's appetite for change can't be satisfied

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY The Four Ideologies of the 21st century: Transgenderism, Libertarianism, cultural and Economic, and Radical Environmentalism

SEX-TRAFFICKING Meet modern slavery - in your very suburb

EUTHANASIA Delivering Victoria's death law: an unedifying spectacle

ENVIRONMENT Too hot? Too cold? Blame global warming

OPINION Report on child sexual abuse aimed at Church

FREEDOM OF RELIGION 'Equality' and equally disingenuous terms

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Saudis, Israel confirm Middle East alliance

OBITUARY To the memory of a multimedia Chestertonian: Tony Evans

MUSIC Straight to the heart: for the listener, at least

CINEMA The Commuter: And my criteria for reviewing films

BOOK REVIEW Essays take 'settled science' to task

BOOK REVIEW A pathway through a tangle of nonsense

BOOK REVIEW Quarterly Essay

LETTERS

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BOOK REVIEW A
pathway through a tangle of nonsense




News Weekly, February 10, 2018

FOOLS, FRAUDS AND FIREBRANDS: Thinkers of the New Left

by Roger Scruton

Bloomsbury, London
Hardcover: 304 pages
Price: AUD$35

Reviewed by Terry Noone

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands deals with the “New Left”, influential post-World War II leftist academics and the earlier thinkers who influenced them.

To Scruton these thinkers share several common views. First, “Liberty”, generally accepted outside their circle as freedom from oppression, becomes “Liberation”. Liberation is the removal of all constraints and restrictions since they only exist as an exercise of “Power” by the current mode of society.

Second, “Equality”, usually meaning equality before the law, becomes “Social Justice”, which means that all the goods of society, both material and non-material, must be distributed evenly among the population in every context and sample size. Any unevenness is also caused by an exercise of “Power” as above.

Third, the goals of Liberation and Social Justice can only be secured by the destruction of all of the institutions of Western society since those institutions are what have caused their absence in the first place. This is the New Left’s “revolution”.

Fourth, the New Left posits the spontaneous rising of a Utopia once society’s institutions have been destroyed,
although they are very vague about how this will happen and what this Utopia will look like. Finally, they place themselves in an unassailable position by declaring that anyone who opposes their view is, by definition, wrong.

In Europe and England the New Left firmly tied their project to Marxism and this caused problems for them. Marx’s “scientific” history requires that all political events be caused by economic factors and posits class warfare by the proletariat as the means to the revolution. Undaunted, the New Left devised arguments to justify the activities of academics (only leftist ones of course) as being part of the proletarian revolution despite the fact that this is contrary to the Marxist framework they cling to. Thus they sit comfortably in institutional positions that are funded by the very society they are pledged to destroy.

The arguments used to justify themselves as revolutionaries range from the trite and tedious to the outright absurd. Scruton labels the school of thought devised by French leftists such as Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze and Alain Badiou the “nonsense machine”. The quotations from their work indicate the term is apt. I especially recommend this one from Badiou:

“If no instance can determine the whole, it is by contrast possible that a practice, though in the structure that is proper to it, which is thus a structure that is so to speak dislocated (décalée) with regard to the one that articulates this practice as an instance of the whole, plays the determining role with regard to a whole in which it figures in a decentred manner.” (Alain Badiou, The Adventure of French Philosophy, p156.)

The Cray Institute offers a million dollars to anybody who can solve one of seven infamous mathematical problems. Perhaps someone should offer a similar prize to anybody who can decipher this passage of Badiou.

This illustrates another of Scruton’s points. Language to the New Left is not a means of communication but a weapon. Consider the use of the term “bourgeois”. He demonstrates how it is used to deflect rather than answer criticism.

In the United States the approach was different due, Scruton says, to the mobility between classes and the principles enshrined in the American Constitution and Bill of Rights. John Kenneth Galbraith devised a theory that nothing worked because the free market had been destroyed by production being the driving force, while Ronald Dworkin appointed himself the only true interpreter of the Constitution and proceeded to advocate what amounted to the destruction of the entire legal system. Both share the hatreds and destructive urges of their European and English brethren but without the Marxist straitjacket. Their arguments are equally unconvincing.

Scruton observes that while the stronghold of the New Left is academia, it operates in any bureaucratic environment. The “long march through the institutions” often ascribed to Gramsci (whose work is also examined in this book) is well under way.

Scruton himself was a victim of New Left academics who hounded his publisher so hard that the original version of this book was withdrawn and his academic career came to an end. We should all be grateful that he has tried again. Due to this experience it may be said that Scruton has an axe to grind, but just because you have an axe to grind doesn’t mean that there is not a forest of choking weeds that need to be hacked down.


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