Short Cuts

Jenny Diski

We should give thanks for Melanie Phillips, who writes for the right in a column for the Daily Mail here in the UK, and now has a book out in the US with Encounter Books (other new titles: How the Obama Administration Threatens Our National Security, How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting the US Economy, The Bad Science and Bad Policy of Obama’s Global Warming Agenda – which would make Phillips’s The World Turned Upside Down a really snappy title if it hadn’t already been taken by the Diggers, Christopher Hill and Chumbawamba). Our thanks are not so much due for her outlining of the history of the property rights, ideas and politics of the West, all originating with the Hebrew Bible, and the shocking devaluation of all three (and much besides) since the Enlightenment: civilisation ruined thanks to Francis Bacon, Rousseau, Hume, Comte, Marx, Bergson, William James, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Gramsci, Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins, liberation theologians, Princess Diana, Professor Nutt, someone called Matthew Fox, Madonna, Cherie Blair – and Barack Obama. Nor is our gratitude due for her elucidation of why human beings are not in any way responsible for climate change, which her selected ‘real’ evidence shows isn’t happening anyway. We don’t have to be thankful for her explanations of the historical and legal rectitude of Israel’s claim to Gaza and the West Bank; the fact of Israeli victimisation at the hands of almost everyone except the US neocons, another someone called Robin Shepherd, Nick Cohen and the Christian right; and the revived and almost universal hatred for the Jews. It’s not even her analysis of the Quran and the inevitable violence and hatred (again, lots of hatred) for the West that it fosters, or how she tries to help us understand that Western civilisation can only survive if the state of Israel does, for which we have to be grateful. It is for the following paragraph we should give thanks:

Those who believe that Israel is the historic victim of the Arabs – and that its behaviour, while not perfect, is generally as good as could be expected given that it is fighting for its existence against an enemy using the weapons of religious war – typically have a rational, non-ideological approach to the world, arriving at conclusions on the basis of evidence. Those who believe that Israel is the regional bully hell-bent on oppressing the Palestinians, and who equate it with Nazism or apartheid, are generally moral and cultural relativists who invert truth and lies, right and wrong over a wide range of issues, and are incapable of seeing that their beliefs do not accord with reality.

The quality of Melanie Phillips’s project – her wish to show the way that unreason and irrationality have taken over the world via academe and the intelligentsia – is perfectly rendered in this paragraph, and it obviates the need for anyone to read any more of the book or her opinions. Be glad.

I would say that, though, wouldn’t I? And especially in this paper, what with it being one of ‘those sacred citadels of the intelligentsia’, a ‘propaganda arm of the jihad against Israel and the free world’. And yet I agree with a good deal of what Phillips says, not because she has persuaded me with an argument, but because it’s impossible not to when she incorporates every and any kind of nonsense and stupidity as proof positive that the left is irrational and totalitarian. Any humanitarian, socialist, scientist, atheist and believer in the world’s complexity, who finds the views of Phillips and the neocons oversimplified, rigid and histrionic, has to paddle around in her pool of tears in the company of crystal gazers, pyramid sitters, Nazi homeopaths, animal liberationists, suicide bombers and religious fanatics of the wrong kind, and utopians of any kind. All these whack jobs are lumped in with serious thinkers and doers, as proof of the forces of irrationality and of a conscious attempt to destroy Western civilisation by anyone who was against the invasion of Iraq, believes that it’s a good idea to limit our carbon footprint, wants to keep borders and minds open, and who is offended by the militarism and injustice of Israel. She makes it a requirement, if one is to disagree with her about those things, to stand up for Madonna’s Kabbalism, Prince Philip’s paganism and Indian population control.

Phillips repeatedly insists (repetition dreadfully filling her 400 pages) that the godless, climate-conserving, Islam-loving craven left have reversed reality. Britain actually leads the way in ‘unstitching the fabric of society’: ‘To the bewilderment and dismay of many, freedom is giving way to coercion, order to anarchy, progress to obscurantism, modernity to medievalism, tolerance to bigotry, rationality to dogma, truth to lies.’ The proofs of these ‘true facts’ are the laws against offending racial groups; the acceptance of other cultures within Britain; child-centred education; the post-Darwinian rejection of the argument for intelligent design. ‘From man-made global warming to Israel, from Iraq to the origin of the universe, the West has replaced truth with ideology.’

Those who disagree are unhinged, deranged, pathological, paranoid. ‘For example, as the unchallengeable orthodoxy in Britain today, human rights law has institutionalised injustice and led people to think they are living in a world that has taken leave of its senses.’ Topsy-turviness is the manner of her discourse. She points at progressives and says: ‘Nah-nah-nuh-nah-nah, you’re the fascist, right-wing, freedom-deniers – and no returns!’ The book has all the power of Munch’s Scream embedded in a singing birthday card. All this is in the name of ‘self-evident common sense’ (always a worrying claim) for which she is the self-ordained champion. Scientism has attempted to mystify the common sense that belongs to ‘ordinary people’. The intelligentsia, who are vilifying those ordinary people’s correct apprehension of the world, brook no debate or dissent not only over global warming, Israel and Darwinism, but also ‘all the “phobias” and “isms” such as homophobia, racism and sexism’.

Finally and a bit strangely, the reason for the craven collapse of the West is Freudian, even though Freud is at the heart of all the sexual and familial chaos instigated by 1960s radicals. Attacks on Israel are entirely the result of the West’s guilt at their centuries of ‘Jew-hatred’. Having given the Jews their ‘rightful’ homeland at last, to salve their conscience after the war, the West was dismayed to see them ‘defending’ themselves against their enemies. The suppressed underlying anti-semitism returned in the form of the ‘projection’ of all the West’s guilt onto the blameless and righteous Israeli state.

Phillips assures us that she has no ‘prior agenda’, she is not ‘a covert creationist, a secret Mossad agent or in the pay of Big Oil’. Still, none of those groups to which she does not belong will be in the least bit unhappy to read her views. What I find very discouraging is that even though I am one of those progressives of whom she speaks, I seem to have failed, for all my power and totalitarian zeal, to have produced a world that is in almost any way to my liberal, relativist, anti-authoritarian liking.