Archbishop, If you will…

I did not expect, on this cold yet sunny day, to be writing a response to the Archbishop of Canterbury; but upon opening my copy of today’s Mail on Sunday, my eyes were met with the headline “Archbishop: Britain split and crushed by Brexit and austerity”. The Archbishop, it appears, feels as though his job entails the same tasks as that of a political commentator. Given that the Archbishop insists upon interjecting in the lives of the non-religious, I feel that it is only fair for me to give “The Most Reverend” a piece of my own mind in return. Given his Christian nature, I am sure he will forgive me for doing so.

The Archbishop’s article begins by claiming that “we are facing our biggest challenge and shake-up to society since the Second World War”. One of the reasons for this, he believes, is the imminent arrival of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (or “Brexit”, to use that ugly term). The Archbishop says that he is neither “Eeyorish” nor “blandly optimistic” about Britain’s post-Brexit future, and appears to focus on the rocky social climate surrounding Brexit rather than the negotiations or possible implications to the economy. Of course, Archbishop, the first thing the conflicts surrounding Brexit needs is the running commentary of the Church (I hope the reader can sense my sarcasm).

However, all was not bad in his public address. I shall give the Archbishop credit where credit is due, despite my disapproval of his interjection as an official man of the cloth. He expressed his concerns with growing inequality, and his words on the tragedy that struck Grenfell Tower, which he described as “a metaphor for our collective failings, shows us that that we need a moral revolution in housing that centres on people”, were rather moving. He was also right to point out that austerity “is crushing the weak, the sick and many others”. Those words will resonate with a large proportion of the general public. The Archbishop, however, made the age-old mistake of commenting on politics whilst trying to remain apolitical. His written piece was quite clearly an attack on the Conservative Party, but it appears that the Archbishop knows he can only push his luck so far in the realm of politics.

The Archbishop finished his article with a flurry of Christianity (as one would perhaps expect from the Archbishop of Canterbury). His closing statement made it clear, at least according to him, that “it is the duty of the Church and of all us to reimagine what it means to be this remarkable nation in the 21st Century”. The Archbishop is correct to point out that Britain is “suffering from a lack of such common values”, as he was right to say the things he said about Grenfell. But the last thing this country needs is more interference in political matters from the Church (as an institution). Of course, Archbishop Welby is not the first of his line to stick his oar in clouded waters. Again, I shall give Archbishop Welby credit, and praise him for not going as far as his predecessor, Rowan Williams, who called for Sharia Law to be introduced in the United Kingdom for those who wanted it.

Despite the fact that I have many agreements with the Archbishop, we simply cannot have the Church constantly trying to put its foot in the door of politics. The Archbishop can vote as he pleases, he can favour whichever economic system he pleases, and he can be as nostalgic about the Christian days of old as he likes, but he cannot do so on his own terms; and his religious position should not, by any means, give him a national platform to comment on such issues. His opinion must remain an ordinary opinion. If Archbishop Welby wishes to influence government policy he shall have his opportunity at the polling station; he can go one step further, if he wishes, and abandon his Holy post and stand for Parliament. It must also be said that both the Mail and the Archbishop have, perhaps, overestimated the power of Welby’s position. Many people, based upon the reactions I have read online, have expressed concern at the political nature of the Archbishop’s public address, including some Christians who are in absolute agreement with him. Like many other people, my heart sinks when I see an “official” religious figure making political statements (especially when they are doing so in the national press!). Call me cynical, but before I had even read the Archbishop’s piece, I was ready to throw it into the fire of eternal damnation.

Three Thinkers for 2018

Just before the new year, I published a blog piece briefly reviewing and explaining some of my favourite books which I read in 2017. I have decided to follow that post up with this post: three thinkers you must “check-out” in 2018.

Owen Barfield
My obsession with JRR Tolkien is what originally lead me to the Inklings, and thus to Owen Barfield, one of the groups most respected thinkers. Owen Barfield was an author, poet and Philosopher, as well as a Professor at Oxford University. During his Undergraduate years at Oxford, he became close friends with C.S. Lewis, who later went on to dedicate the first of his Narnia books to Barfield’s daughter, Lucy, who was also Lewis’ goddaughter.

Barfield specialised – albeit somewhat controversially – in consciousness, the power of imagination and anti-reductionism. His work is, by no means, an easy read. Matters of consciousness are never easy, to put it lightly. However, if you really want to put your brain to the test, and learn about a truly classical thinker, Owen Barfield might be the man for you in 2018.

Books I recommend from Owen Barfield: Saving The Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. Poetic Diction. Romanticism Comes of Age.

GK Chesterton
I don’t think I’ve ever come across a writer who could be so serious, yet so witty and funny at the same time. Chesterton was certainly a one of a kind writer, specialising in Theology and Philosophy – he was a famous thorn in the side of HG Wells. You will, however, have to take Chesterton with a pinch of salt. He was a product of the late 19th and early 20th Century, and some of his political views and choice of words are a reminder of that.

Books I recommend from GK Chesterton: The Everlasting Man.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I briefly mentioned Solzhenitsyn in my 2017 book recommendations. Solzhenitsyn was a truly classical thinker; a staunch critic of the Soviet Union and Marxism following his imprisonment in one of Stalin’s infamous gulags. Solzhenitsyn’s style of thought and writing can only be described as brutally clinical, often going into important and gritty details. He was also a great critic of modern society, but his criticisms were far from the usual political objections, and he often wrote about the deep moral underpinnings of society (or the decline of that underpinning, to be more accurate).

Books I recommend from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Gulag Archipelago. Cancer Ward. One Day in The Life of Ivan.

Book Recommendations From 2017

Below you will find a list of my favourite non-fiction books that I have read in 2017 – the cream of the crop, as they say!
Anything you recommend for 2018?

Politics

Conservatism, Roger Scruton [4/5]
Famous philosopher, and fellow High Wycomber, Sir Roger Scruton breaks down precisely what Conservatism is. Scruton does a magnificent job of cutting through the usual misconceptions and misunderstandings that people have towards Conservatism, and lays out a fairly detailed history behind the ideology.

Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, Daniel Guerin [4/5]

This book was recommended to me by Noam Chomsky himself via email quite a while ago. I have finally got round to finishing it, and can say that it lived up to my expectations. Guerin seems to cover every aspect of Anarchism in this short work, albeit from a fairly biased perspective.

The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn [5/5]
Possibly one of the greatest books I have ever read, and was a fantastic way to kick off 2017 back in January. Solzhenitsyn, with his usual accuracy and blunt style, cuts through the “that’s not real communism” myth with this masterpiece. Not only is The Gulag Archipelago a attack on the Soviet regime, it also demonstrates how people can logically plan and justify atrocities under the influence of Marxist/Communist doctrine. A complete eye-opener for a former Leftist like myself.
Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke [4/5]

Prophetic piece of work from Burke. In this book, he explains why he thinks the French Revolution will go down hill, as the old saying goes. Given the rise of Napoleon, Burke was clearly right.

Government Bullies, Senator Rand Paul [4/5]
An incredible book from Paul exposing how the American government and politicians, both Republican and Democrat, are destroying liberty. Quite a disturbing read.

Philosophy

Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant [4/5]
Highly recommend. In this book Kant sets out to demonstrate how there are different types of truths, judgments and knowledge. It will certainly test your brain.

A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis [5/5]
Easily the most moving book I have read in 2017. After waiting many years for the love of his life, Lewis’ wife passes away of cancer after just 3 years of marriage. Lewis reflects upon her passing in raw detail, and how it challenged his view on God and Religion. I would highly recommend reading The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis himself before moving on to A Grief Observed.

Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis [4/5]
C.S. Lewis appears on my list for a second time. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis makes a case for the religion of Christianity in its purest form. I highly recommend that everyone, whether you are an atheist, theist or agnostic reads this book. It is a collection of deep philosophical musings on Christianity that are completely separate from dogma and denomination.

A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Edmund Burke [5/5]

Edmund Burke has become one of my favourite philosophers over the past few months. This is, perhaps, his greatest work. A great introduction to the philosophy of aesthetics. A classic, which dives into our conceptions of what is beautiful.

Psychology

Maps of Meaning; The Architecture of Belief, Jordan B. Peterson [4/5]
I started reading this book in December 2016, but I didn’t finish it until February 2017. For some reason, I found this a very tough read, but an incredible one. Peterson offers an alternative explanation for the origins and architecture of religious/spiritual belief, and it is incredible to try and get your head around.

Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, C.G. Jung [4/5]

The theory of synchronicity is, at least to me, one of the most interesting theories in the psychology. There is quite a bit of maths and statistics in this book, which does make it a tough read. Nonetheless, it is very interesting. Jung was never frightened to dive into frowned upon topics, as demonstrated within this book.

History

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown [5/5]
A moving historical account of the genocide against the Native American people. Brown displays a whole array of photographs, first hand accounts, newspaper articles and commentary to tell the tragic story of the Native Americans in the American West.
Hitler’s Table Talk, compiled by Martin Bormann [5/5]
These transcripts of Hitler’s everyday discussions are both interesting and extremely disturbing. Reading about what Hitler would say over lunch gives the reader a huge insight into the mind of one of the most evil men to have ever lived. A must read.

Why Are Our Politicians so Awful?

The answer to the above question is one that I have been trying to put my finger on for a very, very long time. It is only up until recently that I have felt able enough to create a clear and articulated opinion on the matter, and even then, I do not doubt many of you will disagree with me on this subject. The question of “why are our politicians so awful?” is one that we might never be able to answer. I would like to begin by confessing that I have made a very sweeping statement already – and I am willing to concede that all politicians might not be awful (or at least not equally as awful).

My conclusion on this subject is a simple one: politics has shifted from the world of philosophy, and into one of popular culture. That is to say that the philosophical backbone behind the politicians and their views has, over time, been removed. If we look at past political figures such as Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Disraeli, Thomas Jefferson (to name just a few), these people were philosophers both inside and outside of their respected political arenas. Many of them even branched outside of the realm of political philosophy, and into other unrelated philosophical topics. Of course, this is not to say that they are without their faults. Especially given the time period in which these people lived, some of them might have held views many of us in the 21st Century might find distasteful.

In replacement of this philosophical backbone, our politicians and their parties now search for votes in the world of pop culture. Our politicians were once serious thinkers, but nowadays our election campaigns and debates are filled with empty slogans, rhetoric and sometimes even “banter”. The best example of this shift towards popular culture is the actions and campaign techniques of our former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who attempted to paint himself as some kind of Rockstar figure. During the dizzy heights of New Labour’s rule, Blair was often painted by the media as a “cool” guy. He was often pictured carrying his guitar, showing off his torso, or surrounded by many crazed supporters on some kind of imaginary red carpet. This is a technique that is yet to die, and I can only see it getting worse. Recently, politicians have seemingly reverted to millennial “banter”, and some have even played off internet memes and jokes to try and increase their popularity and make themselves look more “in-touch”.

Are we doomed? Is there hope? The truth is I think we are all doomed to play witness to this kind of politics until our final days. It is clear to me that we need some serious philosophical thinkers within all our political parties, but I see no sign of that occurring in the near or distant future. I think the best way for this to happen would be the creation of a new party (or maybe even parties), but this is mere fantasy. Perhaps because of the strength and mass presence of modern day media we have doomed ourselves to reduce politics to mere slogans and jokes. But surely that is just an excuse? I think the only remedy for this modern day political nonsense is for the electorate to start demanding what they deserve: genuine politicians, who think long and hard about their political philosophy and ideas, and back those thoughts up with principled action.

How can the Conservative Party win over the Youth?

Firstly, I feel obliged to point out that I actually didn’t vote for the Conservatives in the 2017 General Election. Instead I voted for the Labour Party, despite being fairly torn towards the party leader Jeremy Corbyn for various reasons (none of which I will cover in this blog post). This seems to be a consistent theme for my fellow millennials. Under Corbyn’s spell, the turnout for 18-24 years old surged from 43% in 2015 to 66.4% in 2017, with 63% of those young people voting for Labour (source: Sky News). So, given the statistics, it was no surprise that Tory MP Damian Green recently said that the Conservative Party must “change hard” to win over the youth. No matter how old (or young) you are, or where your political allegiances lie, it is simply impossible to deny that the Conservative Party are failing to win over young voters, especially when it comes to getting those voters to turn up to the ballot box in the first place. We must now ask ourselves, with Damian Green’s comments in mind, what must the Conservatives do to inspire the youth?

To begin with, we must contemplate whether the problem is actually the Tories, or is it perhaps the millennials themselves? Yes… We need to talk about my fellow millennials, and I’m no longer afraid to say it. (although, as an anti-Tory, I will rush to say that I think the problem lies with both the Tories and the youth). The “problem”, so to speak, with the millennials is clearly reflected on many of our university campuses and social media platforms. A huge proportion of the politically engaged youth, for various reasons, seem to have an obsession with playing the victim. “Safe space policies” are ripe on our university campuses, and identity politics is seemingly more popular than ever. However, I feel as though it is important to remember that the youth have always been radicals; which 16-year-old doesn’t want to free the working classes from their chains, right? So, naturally, many of these millennials may shift to the centre of the political spectrum, in that all-so cliché way. Corbyn has, to his credit, hacked into this social climate. His slogans, campaign material and policies were often centred around equity, state-funded opportunity and giving the future of Britain a helping hand. But before I put forth a potential Conservative alternative to solve such issues, I will swing the gun of criticism from the youth, and point it firmly in the direction of the Tories.

One of the most obvious problems with the Conservatives is their image, or at least how the youth perceive that image. Despite Theresa May’s fairly modest upbringing as the daughter of a vicar, the Conservatives still continue their age-old tradition of being a posh boys club. Everything from the media to technology has changed, and it is very easy for the computer savvy youth to look past the mainstream media and discover the history behind key Conservative figures. It is only natural for an 18-year-old working class student to look at Boris Johnson’s Etonian upbringing and think: “How could that person possibly know what is best for me?”. Something simply must shift in the Conservative Party’s image; they cannot survive on their current dose of Etonians and Bullingdon Boys. As history proves, Prime Ministers are more than often elected based upon how connected a television viewer feels whilst watching them deliver a speech in the comfort of their own home.

But, of course, politics shouldn’t be about personality. The Conservative Party’s policies are unpopular with the youth, as well as many older people too. Most strikingly, it is the economic policy of austerity which has disgusted and angered the vast majority of young voters. The education, NHS and Social Care systems seem to be severely underfunded, and understandably this is a huge worry for many a voter. In order to win over some young voters, the Conservative Party simply must make a giant U-turn on austerity, and bring it to an end once and for all. Some have argued that they should do the opposite, and make the noble case for austerity. However, with many economists torn on the issue, it seems near impossible to sell the policy as an “economic necessity”, as they have done in the past.

As equally as damaging as the problem of austerity, in my opinion, is the lack of Conservative principles. With Labour’s shift to the Left, Theresa May scrambled desperately in the dark chasms of Blairism in a pathetic attempt to snap up those Labour voters who felt alienated by Jeremy Corbyn. But, as Fraser Nelson said in his latest article for The Spectator, “If voters are sold Labour ideas, they’ll buy them from the Labour Party”. So, what should the Conservative Party be offering the electorate? And more importantly, which kind of alternative to Labour and the status-quo can the Tories offer young voters?

Of course, given my political preferences, I am more than happy to be accused of being biased at this point. But, I feel as though a shift towards Classical Liberalism and conservatism (with a small “c”) would offer the youth something to believe in. It feels as though the Conservatives have abandoned the importance of liberty and the individual. By developing such principles, and deeply rooting them in their future policies, the youth (and everybody else, for that matter) could have an alternative to the identity politics which is flourishing within our university campuses, faculties and society in general. It seems cliché and predictable, especially coming from myself, but if the Conservative Party even want me to consider donating my vote to them, they must make an extreme shift away from their fetish for the Neo-Liberal economy, and place all emphasis on the crucial values of freedom, individuality and opportunity for all.

Don’t be a Utopian

Have you ever dreamt of an ideal world? A world where humans can co-exist in perfect harmony? You have? In that case, my friend, you could well be the most dangerous person on the planet. The Utopians have been, undoubtedly, the most dangerous people on the planet, and many of us today have fallen for the very same trap. This is not to say, of course, that we shouldn’t aim to improve our society. But I am suggesting, however, that we improve our society keeping one fundamental key in mind: the key of personal freedom.

To understand why we shouldn’t be Utopians, and why liberty is so important, we must first of all understand what being a Utopian actually means. For God knows how many years,  and partciuarly in the 20th Century, there have always been Utopian thinkers. The Utopians have created, or at least taken to, various ideologies in order to create a “perfect” society. From Marxism to Nazism, Mao to the Medieval Crusaders, the dream of a perfect society was at the very core of their ideas and actions. After studying the book “Hitler’s Table Talk”, a collection of notes compiled by Martin Bormann (Hitler’s own personal secretary), I discovered something quite shocking: Hitler did not think himself to be evil. Of course, many of us (I hope) would have no hesitation to say that Hitler was at least one of the most evil men to ever live… But he didn’t think so himself. Like most people, especially when I was younger, I pictured the likes of Hitler and Stalin to be Sauron type villains – people who knew what they were doing, enjoyed being evil, and only used their political “beliefs” as a way to manipulate and disguise this evil. But as the deeper historical records prove, this is not the case. Even Hitler, the genocidal murderer and war monger, believed himself to be good and sincere – Hitler believed in the perfect German, and global, society. Hitler was a Utopian, and that should scare us all more than anything.

But what connects all these Utopian thinkers? What can an innocent, caring and optimistic 16 year-old Communist possibly have in common with Joseph Stalin (somebody who many Communists are extremely critical of)? The connection is quite a simple one: Utopians believe in one moral truth; a truth that the economy, society and political system must be based upon. This is the danger of Utopianism. You might think that you are noble, and perhaps even moral, for believing in a world where everything is perfect, but ask yourself this, how do you know your vision is perfect? According to who and what do you have the moral high ground over everybody else in society? And believe me, some of the most common answers to these questions would have been like a twin to the answers given by the likes of Hitler and Stalin.

In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece critique of the Soviet Union, Stalin and Communism in general, “The Gulag Archipelago”, he wrote the following on the topic of Soviet”traitors” being jailed after returning from the WW2 battlegrounds:

“Capitalist England fought at our side against Hitler; Marx had eloquently described the poverty and suffering of the working class in that same England. Why was it that in this war only one traitor could be found among them, the business man “Lord Haw Haw” – but in our country millions?”  

The above quote is, perhaps, a prime example of the difference between what we might describe as a “normal” society and a – aspiring – Utopian society. For all its flaws, in Capitalist England there are very few moral codes to abide by; and the codes – or laws – that are already in place (like murder being illegal) have been engraved within global societies for thousands upon thousands of years, and have stood the test of time and critique from a wide range of opposition beliefs. Utopians, on the other hand, have set the rules based on their ideology, and those who do not obey are for the Gulag. If you don’t want to give up your farmland to the collective, to use just on example, then you are a traitor to the revolution, and you must be punished. You can see just how quickly and logically people could (and do) jump from “peaceful theory” to brutal totalitarianism.

In order to maintain a fair and functioning society, one antidote must forever be present: individual freedom. As we already know, a Utopian is somebody who believes their own personal moral point of view is the only acceptable one, and that it must be forced upon all others in order to create a better world

 

But as history proves, when such people gain power (often by violent means), it does not end well. Freedom, and in particular freedom of speech, is crucial for all people to engage in debate and discussion, and then come to a conclusion on which way is the best way forward. But, perhaps most importantly, a free mind living within a free society has the right to choose his own way in life and find his own meaning. Or, in other words, he does not have to obey by the ideas and teachings of Marx, Adam Smith or any other figure.

In order to move ourselves forward as individuals, and with that comes the rest of society, we must all accept one brutal truth: we are not nearly as moral as we think we are. There is always room for improvement, always room to learn, and most importantly, there is always time to consider an opposing point of view. So, if you are a Utopian, if you believe that entire civilizations should be built around your own personal moral code, then you are far more dangerous than you could ever dream of being.