catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Gummo Trotsky on Koestler – the tip of an iceberg

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Abstract of this piece prepared by Nab.

Gummo appears to be some kind of oik that still uses public libraries.
He chose to focus only what I wanted to spotlight in my gloss on Koestler and so he pointed out how I missed about half of the story that I was trying to sell.
Now let me define consensus in favour of my view. And here’s a list of my favourite bugbears. They have nothing to do with Gummo’s points but I’m hoping you’ll make a guilt by association connection.

I would like to introduce Gummo Trotsky as my hardworking colleague and voluntary research assistant. It is just as well that his assistance is voluntary because his work is not quite up to the standard that I would expect for a paid assistant. He has visited the great public library in
Melbourne, a massive book-filled space where I sometimes called while waiting for a bus to the old Essendon airport from the city offices of ANA and TAA which were not far away.

Gummo on Koestler

Gummo checked out the Koestler essay where the sickness of British industry was jointly attributed to the “us versus them” and “go slow” ethos of the trade union movement, the failings of the class and education systems and the perverse attitudes towards trade and industry harboured by the upper and much of the middle classes. He chose to see only what he wanted to see in my gloss on Koestler and so he missed about half of the story that I was trying to tell. He chose to see a two-fisted attack on the working class with all the blame for the stagnant economy placed on them. The result is a strange caricature of my view on these matters.

How did he manage to overlook these passages?

“Koestler’s essay described how the class structure of England and the mentality of the workers and the “toffs” made Britain the sick nation of Europe after World War 2…The purpose of this appendix is to explain that the ideological battles of the last two centuries have involved at least three quite different clusters of ideas. The conventional notions of left vs right or capitalism vs socialism or labour vs capital are confusing rather than illuminating because they do not describe all the options that are available. In economic policy the free traders or economic rationalists represent a third party, quite distinct from socialists and conservatives who support very similar kinds of interference with markets.”

“the spirit of enterprise in Britain was ground down between the millstones of trade unionism and the prejudices of the upper classes”

“the upper classes were hopelessly biased against manual work (indeed against paid work of any kind – recall the segregation of the professional cricketers), against wealth (unless acquired by inheritance) and against trade, industry and enterprise generally. Many of the new magnates bought country estates and blended into the old aristocracy, hoping that their past would be forgotten…The genteel middle classes and especially the literarati came to share the views of the aristocracy and the radical critics of trade and industry”.

The original HR Nicholls paper contains this passage from Michael Shanks in The Stagnant Society (Pelican, 1961):

One suspects that at bottom it is our inherited class system that is at fault.The old tradition that ‘a gentleman doesn’t indulge in trade’ lingers insidiously on. Too many of our top industrialists, one feels, are almost too concerned to be ‘gentlemen’ to be really good at ‘trade’. Too many others, because they feel themselves to be ‘traders’, and therefore not ‘gentlemen’, have a totally unjustified inferiority complex which makes them shun contact with the remote and rather rightening world of the universities. Subconsciously, we still seem to resent the industrial revolution. The ambition of too many industrial tycoons is to buy a plot of land and set up as a tax-loss farmer, and bring up their sons to be intellectuals, civil servants, or ‘something in the city’.

It was cut to make the Catallaxy post shorter and I could have gone on and on about the anti-intellectualism of the great private schools, the narrow minded snobbery of the middle classes, the hatred of trade and manual work among the gentry, the neglect of technical education, etc etc.

I would have thought that this account represents something approaching a consensus view among people who are not blinded either by some kind of Marxism or the economic illiteracy of the Tory conservatives, using Tory in the original sense rather than the meaninglesss modern usage which is just a term of abuse for people who don’t vote Labor.

For what it is worth, there is a corroborating account in the comments on Gummo’s post.

my experience living and working in the UK for 4 years , reading whatever was topical during this time in the 1980’s and having an absorbing interest in the local Militant lead Labour Party meetings( Bermondsey area – Southwark ) makes me agree with Rafe Champion’s assertions ( if it is that they are his and not another author’s).

The upper classes are famous for their distain for all work and their distaste for new money . Bizarre ideas like the following were stated without any idea they might sound strange.

“Anyone who buys furniture is definitely non U.”

” But don’t you agree that there is a ruling class based on breeding ? “. ( like they are so many thoroughbreds).

“Mummy loves gardening – she tells the gardeners so all the time !”

Many persons I spoke with regarded the upper class revulsion for enterprise and commerce as instrumental in Britain’s economic decline . A gentleman would not work – he would head for the art dealers of Bond Street, the wine merchants of the south Bank or even in one case a cheese shop ( only the best of course , shop in Mayfair ) was preferred to the horror of working in the City. Only New Money actually worried about making more don’t you know.

The tip of the iceberg – What is going on here?

In addition to setting the record straight on one small post there is a more significant issue that emerges from the kind of criticism that comes from Gummo and others of the same ilk. The issue is the quality of leftwing scholarship and commentary in general.

It is a great pity that the sociology of knowledge is primarily a leftwing industry because there are lot of questions about the reception, the non-reception and the distortion of free market, classical liberal/libertarian and other good ideas like critical rationalism that need to be explored.

How can so many people hold so many good ideas at bay for such a long time? More research is required on a whole lot of questions about the history and ecology of ideas in recent times – the reasons for the popularity of POMO, the reign of political correctness (now possibly waning), the politicisation of so many university departments, professional associations (especially the school teachers), parts of the ABC and the public service, the number of people who boast that they don’t know anyone who votes Liberal and much more.


Written by Admin

June 22, 2006 at 10:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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