Things Fall Apart

oz dlag tatteredIf a Cold Warrior who died a half-century ago were to return today he might be surprised. Two ideologies are currently at war with Western civilisation, but neither of them is Marxism-Leninism. It is the dictatorship of bohemia—not the dictatorship of the proletariat—that is upon us. And while we allow an unreconstructed bohemian-leftist ruling class to call the shots, the West will continue to appease the other great anti-bourgeois movement of our era, Islamic revivalism.

Roger Sandall’s seminal The Culture Cult: Designer Tribalism and Other Essays (2000) nominates Jean-Jacques Rousseau as bohemia’s “exemplary original”. According to Sandall, Rousseau’s rejection by French society instigated his hostility towards intellectual virtuosity and the greatest thinkers of the time. Whereas the sophisticated Parisians were false and perverse, asserted Rousseau, the mythical “Noble Savage” was natural and dignified. The revolt of the civilised against civilisation had begun.

Ressentiment also informed the views of the German philosopher and critic Johann Gottfried Herder. Many speak of Herder’s passion for “cultures” as a sign of the man’s open-mindedness and affection for humanity; but not Sandall, who draws the portrait of a provincial intimidated by the erudition of the French philosophes. Herder’s assertion that every last primitive clan has “its own irreplaceable contribution to make to the progress of the human race” was less a celebration of diversity than a tribal dagger aimed at the heart of civilisation. Sandall’s designation of Herder as “the father of multiculturalism” is not intended as a compliment.

The triumph of the bohemian insurgency over the past century can be measured by the near disappearance from academic discourse of the concept Matthew Arnold in Culture and Anarchy (1868) defined as “civilisation”. Arnold spoke to the British people, extolling the civilisational exemplars contained in the “illustrious traditions of Hellenism, Hebraism, Christianity, none of which are British”. In other words, he was claiming something for “civilisation” that went beyond a Herder-like cele­bration of what we now label “culture” but in an earlier era called “tribe”.

An argument could be made for rating Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856) as a particularly high point in the history of bohemian art and literature; and Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ (1987) as, well, not so high. Both works, in any case, fit the overarching theme of bohemian art and literature through succeeding generations. This might be summarised as transgression against traditional (meaning bourgeois or Christian) sensibilities, including a preference for the exotic over the familiar, spontaneity over respectability, eccentricity over conventionality, self-expression over propriety, and so on ad infinitum.

The institutionalisation of bohemia, according to Sandall, received an extraordinary boost with Frank Boas’s opening of Colombia University’s anthropology department in the 1920s to the “would-be writers” Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. Their new notion of anthropology—“heavily didactic semi-fiction”—went on to shape much of our contemporary world, including American-style liberalism: “The effect on American manners and morals would be to legitimise the bohemian counterculture of Greenwich Village.”

The bohemian standpoint invariably contrasts the multifaceted unnaturalness—or perversity and artifice—of Western civilisation with the unaffected genuineness of pre-modern tribal cultures. Sandall astringently cited Walt Disney’s Pocahontas (1995) as the apotheosis of the “Noble Savage” caricature in which old stereotypes are wholly inverted. Immaculate Powhatan Native Americans exist in a state of sacred harmony until Westerners—“uncivilised” and “ignorant heathens” who are “beasts” and “filthy savages”—descend on paradise like “ravenous wolves” and “devour everything in their path”. The civilisational self-hatred of the Disney writers smacks of unalloyed nihilism.

The indigenous/non-indigenous dichotomy is, in the mind of the bohemian socialist, a zero-sum game in which the inviolable indigenous tribe is either exploited by, or engaged in militant resistance to, Western or capitalist malice. Germaine Greer’s On Rage (2008), as an example, rationalises the documented violence perpetrated by Aboriginal men against Aboriginal women in outback communities as a function of “hunter-gatherer” men’s rage at being dispossessed centuries ago of their land (and women) by “Whitey”. Greer counsels Aboriginal men to form a movement in the name of “hunter-gatherer” resistance. And on the subject of female genital mutilation, Camille Nurka, lecturer in Gender Studies at the University of Melbourne, was not alone in defending Greer for questioning the “cultural assumptions” of those in the West who criticise the practice.

Greer self-identifies as a Marxist and there is some sense in which her work, starting with The Female Eunuch (1970), borrows from the assertion in Friedrich Engels’s Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) that the wives of workers are exploited in a zero-sum relationship with their proletarian husbands who, in turn, are exploited in a zero-sum relationship with the capitalist class. But if Engels acknowledges that patriarchy and capitalism are inter-connected, he retains the notion of proletarian politics as outlined in The Communist Manifesto (1848)—which was, incontrovertibly, nothing more and nothing less than a bourgeois-versus-proletarian showdown. That is to say, the nemesis of the bourgeoisie could only be the urban proletariat (the industrial working class), and that involved men and women struggling side-by-side for humanity’s emancipation.

Greer’s liberation feminism, then, is a Marxist heresy. It constitutes collectivism of a sort but is, more often than not, at odds with proletarian opinion. Long-time Trotskyist Christopher Hitchens, in his political memoir Hitch-22 (2010), put the matter succinctly when he lamented the jettisoning of proletarian politics in the late 1960s as “the personal became political”. He disparaged the non-Marxian idea that “to be a member of a sex or gender, or epidermal subdivision, or even erotic preference” was to “qualify as a revolutionary”. In Greer’s The Whole Woman (1999), for instance, she speaks of emancipation not in terms of equal opportunity for women or equality between men and women but as “self-definition and self-determination”. Greer, in other words, is a bohemian socialist who endorses yet another “tribe” for inclusion in the Left’s rainbow of discontents.

Marxian socialists often ascribe “false consciousness” as a reason for the working class rejecting their assigned task role to overthrow the bourgeois order. According to bohemian socialists, on the other hand, those who eschew their allocated group or tribal role to demonise “Whitey” are identity traitors. Because the Ngarrindjeri “dissident women”, led by Dorothy Wilson, heroically stepped forward during the 1996 Royal Commission on the Hindmarsh Island bridge to dispute the veracity of the “secret women’s business”, reality eventually won out—but at a personal cost to the truth-tellers. There are, of course, other indigenous Australians, along with individual Muslims, individual women, individual gays and lesbians, individual university undergraduates, individual academics, individual teachers and so on, who assert their intellectual and moral autonomy by courageously rejecting the strictures of group or tribal conformity, and yet it is a risky enterprise.

Moreover, the Great Bohemian Cultural Revolution, if we may label it so, appears to be gaining momentum. In October 2015, hundreds of students at Cardiff University petitioned authorities to ban none other than Germaine Greer from making an address titled “Women and Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century”. The author of The Female Eunuch stood accused of committing the offence of “misogyny”. Declared the Rainbow Guard activist Rachael Melhuish: “Greer has demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether.” This righteous anger reminds us of Mallet du Pan’s maxim about the revolution devouring its children.

The irony is that Greer promotes herself as arbiter of what constitutes identity treason. In 2006 she endorsed “The Campaign Against Monica Ali’s Film Brick Lane”. Monica Ali’s acquired “British-ness”, according to Greer, negated her “Bengali-ness”: this “lack of authenticity” meant Ali had no business portraying in dramatic form the Sylhetis of Brick Lane, since Ali’s Anglicised perspective might result in an unsympathetic depiction of the local Sylheti community and undermine its “self-esteem”.

At least Greer did not suggest the producers of Brick Lane invite the Pocahontas screenwriting team in to give the script a Disney makeover. An ever-growing number of identity groups, based on everything from erotic preference to religious deference, do exactly that. They pursue “self-definition and self-determination” but, unlike the more robust Germaine Greer, demand the full Disney culture-wash. People are adopting “identity authenticity” at the cost of their actual identity.

Consider our universities. “Safe spaces” on campuses thrive as reality takes a sabbatical. “Trigger warnings” are provided in literature courses before a student commences reading (say) Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The authorities at Oberlin College in America, notes journalist Jill Filipovic, issue a caution for Things Fall Apart to circumvent potential psychological distress: “It may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more”. One wonders how anyone who has experienced suicide is in a state to be triggered by anything. Leaving that aside for the moment, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, we might recall, is a denunciation of racism, colonialism, religious persecution and violence. We might also remind ourselves that it is, well, a novel.

As Roger Sandall wrote: “Cultures are good: civilisation is bad. Those six words tell you all you need to know about the moral judgement we have inherited from Herder and Rousseau.” Today the “heavily didactic semi-fiction” of Margaret Mead-style anthropology typifies Postcolonial Studies, Education Studies, Peace Studies, Queer Studies, Islamic Studies, Community Care Studies, Indigenous Studies, Gender Studies, and so on ad infinitum. And when students find themselves exhausted from paddling about the shallow end of the intellectual swimming pool they can always relax in the sanctuary of their “gay safe space” or “Islamic safe space”. Literally and metaphorically our institutions of higher learning continue to murder Western civilisation and increasingly they are a microcosm of broader society.

The perpetuation of tribalisation in Australia will lead to a backlash. On university campuses there is already talk, some of it exaggerated perhaps, of the “white safe space”. But there is nothing apocryphal about Reclaim Australia rallies or the populist far-Right United Patriots Front, let alone the Australian Liberty Alliance and its plan to win 20 per cent of the vote in the next federal election. Diaa Mohamed, purportedly in response to the rise of anti-Islam parties, has founded the Australian Muslim Party with the intention of winning a New South Wales Senate seat in 2016 built on Muslim voters in western Sydney. To do so, however, Mohamed will have to overcome the identity politics of the Labor Party, which has its sights set on co-opting those very same voters. I am hoping the Muslims of western Sydney will, as a contrarian such as Dr Tanveer would doubtless advocate, snub both the Labor Party and the Muslim Party.

The French Republic and a dozen other European nations have already charted the sectarian path we are heading down. Back in January 2015, after the Charlie Hebdo and Kosher Delicatessen murders, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, threatened to sue any media outlet that claimed there were “no-go” zones (zones urbaines sensitives) in the City of Love: “The image of Paris has been prejudiced and the honour of Paris has been prejudiced.” In reality there are hundreds of neighbourhoods in Paris and beyond in which the writ of the French Republic no longer runs. Emmanuel Todd’s Who is Charlie? (2015) is an exasperating read, not the least reason being that it blames the two Salafi jihadist massacres that took place in January 2015 on the bigotry of the French themselves. Yet Todd, who is an historian and sociologist at the National Institute of Demographic Studies in Paris, is an old-school proletarian leftist rather than a bohemian-style socialist, and so he recognises there is only one alternative to civil war in the Republic: consummation of the venerable French revolutionary project of systematic and comprehensive assimilation.

Polyculturalism, as Emmanuel Todd insists, is a crock. The theme of Western civilisation—which is a high point in the upswing of civilisation in general, Walt Disney’s Pocahontas (I and II) notwithstanding—denotes the deliverance of the individual from tribal or feudal subjugation. In the West, at least, I am still free, whatever my ethnicity, class, religious inclination, gender (or transgender) and so on, to settle with humanity and the world as I find it. I am free to enjoy and explore the universe as far  as I am humanly able. I do not have to blow up the Buddhas of Bamiyan to accommodate the lunacy of my millennialist madness. I do not have to believe that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam. I do not have to spend my university years in a “safe space”.

On Christmas Day in 1991 the Soviet Union dissolved. You could argue that the Cold War (or the Third World War) had concluded at the 1987 Reagan–Gorbachev Washington summit with the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. But that would be quibbling. The Fourth World War or the War of Freedom or whatever you want to call it officially commenced on September 11, 2001, when Salafi jihadists struck New York’s Twin Towers. The (allegorically speaking) Powhatan tribe, presently enduring a bout of violent apocalyptic psychosis, has been at war with us ever since—downright confusing considering we are all Powhatans now.

Daryl McCann has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au.


12 thoughts on “Things Fall Apart

  • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

    I disagree, slightly, with your analysis that WW4 started on Sept 11 2001. Wars of this sort have been ongoing for centuries or longer, it is merely the war of freedom versus totalitarianism. Sept 11 was merely the date that one of the totalitarian forces ranged against freedom openly identified itself and was [partly] recognised. To my mind, the left has had an enchantment with, and has been fascinated by, totalitarianism from well before the 20th century, albeit not openly. However during the last century the leftists embraced the socialist totalitarianism of its two ugly lethal cousins – communism and Nazism – with ill disguised relish and enthusiasm. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries it was/is theological totalitarianism of Islam that came to enchant the leftists. This is/was because many leftists have a suicidal sado-masochistic delusion that they will be able to ‘use’ Islam to further weaken western society to the extent that they will be able to establish their mythical socialist Nirvana. That is why in any conflict between freedom [i.e. free markets or capitalism] and totalitarianism of any sort, albeit the secular totalitarianism of the communists and Nazis. or the theological totalitarianism of Islam, the left will invariably back the totalitarians.
    To my mind the totalitarianism of Islam will never be defeated until the leftists in academia, judiciary and the bureaucracy lose their enchantment with totalitarianism and/or have their influence in western culture minimised or eliminated.

    • acarroll says:

      “To my mind the totalitarianism of Islam will never be defeated until the leftists in academia, judiciary and the bureaucracy lose their enchantment with totalitarianism and/or have their influence in western culture minimised or eliminated.”

      I think man has a tendency to totalitarianism…

      We know how purges of the academy were conducted by many regimes in the last century. How can we eliminate or at least minimise the Leftist influence in academia without becoming totalitarian in the process?

      Some might argue temporary measures, spring cleaning so to speak. When you go that far, the people who’re getting their hands dirty doing it realise that they have the power of violence or intimidation. Human nature as it is, it will be difficult to contain a new, possibly worse totalitarianism from springing up. Who defines what’s totalitarian or isn’t? Usually those whose ideology controls the state.

      So it’s possible the liberty that we now nominally enjoy will likely become totalitarian in the future anyway, we’ll each have to pick our side of the conflict. Leftists already have, and since the majority of the population are apathetic they’re making huge gains.

      • ellenbraddock says:

        11 September 1683 marked the high point of the Islamic conquest of Europe. Had they not been repelled from near Vienna, that city would have fallen, and who knows what else might have happened.

        11 September 2001 was the anniversary of that date, and one can reasonably suspect that it was chosen because of that significance.

        So, 9/11 (as the Americans call it) was not the start of WW4, but rather the reanimation of a world war that precedes what the West has come to call WW1. Perhaps it should be WW0, for if we lose it, zero is what will become of us.

      • rh@rharrison.com says:

        That’s a very good question: How to purge the academy without resorting to totalitarian measures?

        One thing to try, that is perfectly liberal philosophically, is defunding. That is, the government ceases to provide finance to universities (and other cultural institutions such as the ABC) unless they conform to reasonable requirements for intellectual honesty and rigour (ie, no postmodernist nonsense or other manifestations of Cultural Marxism).

        The hard left have the right to indoctrinate their followers with their poison; they don’t have the right to use our taxes to do so.

        • ellenbraddock says:

          Charter schools seem to be a step in the right direction. It satisfies the urge of people to demand ‘free’ education, but it forces those affected to make choices about where that education is obtained.

          • Jody says:

            Could you shed any light at all as to why people feel they are entitled to “free” education? Since we have so little money to spread around these days from the public purse for defense, hospitals and health infrastructure it beggars the imagination that people still think as they did post 1788 – that universal free education is a right. Times have changed; we don’t grow our own vegetables and have sheep in the paddock out the back. Parents send their kids from State schools to ‘schoolies’ holidays in Qld and on cruises. Let’s get real!

          • ellenbraddock says:

            Oh, I agree with you about the ‘free’ stuff, but as far as what is politically possible at the moment …

        • acarroll says:

          I think that’s the way to start Richard H.

          Whether it can be pulled off is another matter.

  • patrick.mcerlean@defence.gov.au says:

    Mr McCann, I am one of the nobody couple of thousand subscribers to this great magazine. You article was one of the best and most enlightening things I have ever read on this site (When not including Mr Bendle’s marvellous contributions). My first post in three years as a subscriber and you, Mr McCann, were the impetus. Well done , sir.

  • Jody says:

    Great article; excellent subsequent comments! We are seeing authoritarianism from the “progressive” Left dominating all modern discourse, especially in universities and the ABC etc. One person has commented today on a music blog that at university meetings the first thing females say when contributing is “from a feminist perspective…”. And a favourite tactic of theirs is to demonize the press favoured by the conservative middle ground as ‘dominated by Rupert’ – ergo, not valid or really representing the views of the conservative middle class. Well, I think Mark Steyn would see it differently: both he and I would define these really as issues of basic freedom.


    I love the idea of ‘bohemianism’ and, yes, that was Rousseau and his ‘noble savage’. I doubt Marx would have promulgated his ideas on the socialist utopia if he hadn’t read Rousseau!! The resulting Communist ‘project’ from 1917 showed us what a spectacular train wreck arises from the confluence of reality and utopianism.

    In short, dangerous ideologies need to get out more!

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    It is superbly educational articles like these that make Quadrant the preeminent publication in Australia – both print and online – dealing competently with subjects that matter, rather than frivolous, ephemeral trash. One repeatedly marvels at the depth and breadth of the authors’ familiarity with their subjects and the wast range of their readings.

    On the subject of totalitarianism, there is no need to be concerned about becoming totalitarian by vigorously opposing the same. Not if the weapon of that opposition is vigorously insisting on the preservation/resurrection of uncompromising, unfettered free speech. Whenever and wherever free speech is threatened or shut down, we must go elsewhere, out on the street, if necessary, defending and practicing free speech, even if that means being charged with an “offence” and going to jail for it. Sounds drastic? It might well have to be in order to keep totaritanism from subduing us.

    • acarroll says:

      Great comment Bill. I completely agree.

      The starting point is having organised networks to do such things, and gather without giving notice because, as we’ve seen, when notice is given the self-proclaimed anti-fascists roll up in large numbers and get violent. I’m think guerilla protests… hit and run.

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