When it comes to the likes of Hobsbawm, nil nisi bonum might as well mean ‘another one bites the dust.’ I wouldn’t have spent two words on the demise of this utterly objectionable man, never mind two articles, if it were his demise only.
Unfortunately, Hobsbawm is symptomatic of a deadly disease afflicting our civilisation in general and Britain in particular: endemic anaemia of mind, will and morality. This is still worth talking about, in the full knowledge that it can’t be talked away.
Newspapers are quoting various things Hobsbawm said at different times, and God knows he said lots of them. However, some of them seem to contradict one another.
For example one paper quotes Hobsbawm as saying that he ‘regarded the suburban petty bourgeoisie with contempt’. That essentially means he despised most Brits he’d ever met, for one doubts he numbered many miners and mechanics among his acquaintances.
Another commentator points out elsewhere that Hobsbawm understood ‘that culture is what shapes the world… [and] that culture is totally democratic and comes from people. [People like Hobsbawm] discovered and popularised the value of popular culture – something so integral to our lives today it seems bizarre it was ever denigrated.’
We also denigrate AIDS, graffiti, puke on the pavement and many other things ‘integral to our lives today’, which doesn’t make them praiseworthy. Of course expecting sound logic from this lot is like expecting celibacy from a prostitute, so nothing new there.
Then Niall Ferguson talks about Hobsbawm’s ‘empathy with the little man’, which seems to tally with the previous panegyric. Until, that is, one recalls that all his life Hobsbawm shilled for regimes that had murdered more than 100 million just such little men.
Ferguson also mentions that he and Hobsbawm both ‘loved modern jazz’. This validates Hobsbawm’s devotion to popular culture, a word combination that can take pride of place among the more egregious oxymorons. Show me a sincere lover of popular culture in general and ‘modern jazz’ in particular, and I’ll show you someone whose hold on Western culture is tenuous at best, but then one expects nothing else from our pop historians.
Anyway, how do we reconcile the different facets of Hobsbawm’s personality, as emerging from these quotes? First, we find out that he despised the common man, which is to be expected from a lifelong communist, and a Hampstead communist to boot. Communists don’t feel empathy with little men, they use them as building materials for their political edifice, and slaughter en masse those who can’t or won’t be used in that capacity. This political affiliation also precludes by definition any excessive affection for democracy, and Hobsbawm never did or said anything to contradict this factual observation.
But then we’re told that he extolled popular culture for being ‘democratic’ and hence popularised its value. Contradictions galore, one would think, but actually it all adds up neatly.
Hobsbawm devoted his life to destroying everything in the West that’s worth keeping. He was also cunning enough to realise that the spread of oxymoronic popular culture worked towards the same end. It was what his idol Lenin called ‘legalism’, which is undermining the West by using the West’s own institutions and breaking no Western laws. In relying on this stratagem Hobsbawm converges with the Frankfurters, who fell out of Marx’s buns (this punning allusion to the hotdog is to establish my own populist credentials).
This is akin to Woodrow Wilson’s campaigning for world government, while proclaiming the sanctity of national self-determination. There was no contradiction between the two: the first was the end, the second the means. Wilson knew that an American-dominated world empire would be impossible to achieve without first breaking up Europe’s traditional empires, the British one emphatically included.
That political democracy, in its modern variant, can act as an aggressive weapon has been amply demonstrated by the democratically elected Messrs Hitler, Perón, Mugabe, Putin, Ahmadinejad and Macîas Nguema (who gratefully murdered a third of the population of Equatorial Guinea that had voted him in). Today’s empire builders of the US neocon species (and their British hangers-on, such as Ferguson) have also inscribed democracy on their banners. Let the world perish so democracy may triumph, is the underlying animus one can infer.
Cultural democracy can be an even deadlier WMD, and Hobsbawm must have felt it in his sick viscera. Had he thought that his purpose would be better served by an advocacy of cannibalism, he would have written tetralogies on the march of man-eating progress through history. As it was, he was a democrat today, a communist tomorrow, an elitist the day after and a populist the day after that. Whatever works.
That’s why the widely asked question, whether he was a member of the Cambridge spy ring in the 30s, is ultimately moot. If he was, how differently would he have acted throughout his life? If he wasn’t, he might as well have been.
This makes me repeat the question I asked yesterday, but so far haven’t answered. How is it that the likes of Hobsbawm and his sycophantic admirers, have come to dominate popular media and, through those, public opinion? The question is too involved for a short piece to tackle, but one can be certain that the answer will have nothing to do with a clash between the left and the right, conservatives and liberals, socialists and capitalists – at least not as those terms are defined today.
What then is the common ground on which the Hobsbawms of this world meet the Fergusons? The answer has to lie in the wholesale rejection of Western tradition, as it has been formed over two millennia. It’s not money that shapes the world, as both Ferguson and Hobsbawm preach, but indeed culture, as Hobsbawm also believed with his usual consistency.
It’s just that when the West was called Christendom, culture, understood here in the broadest possible sense, moved the world in one direction, and today’s cultural simulacrum moves it in the opposite one, towards perdition. One suspects that God alone can reverse this lethal motion. The rest of us can only abhor accolades for its active agents. Such as Hobsbawm.