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Book Review – Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, Roger Scruton

July 17, 2019

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New LeftFools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left by Roger Scruton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First, a confession, I was myself once a thinker of the new left. I once found myself digging through works of Marx, the Frankfurt School, Habermas, and others, trying to find some way to make their morally nice ideas work in practice. But, of course, to cut that part of the story short that I have described on here many other times, it’s an impossible task. Just as much as the idea of the philosophers stone was to alchemy or the idea of squaring the circle was to people who couldn’t accept the existence of irrational numbers. Just like this, these left intellectuals cannot accept the reality of human inequality, and motivated alternately by envy of the better, or hatred and shame of their own privileges in life they try to expunge this reality from the society they would like to enforce upon all of us, just to ease their intellectual difficulties living with morally ambiguous realities.

I guess I remember early stirrings of interest in Scruton’s perspective on politics in the views he presented in his book called The west and the rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat. It seemed to be a much more insightful account of the real problems the west faces than I had gotten from any of the lefts standard fair. The left has become truly like a broken record, so that this book criticising their many intellectual representatives, published originally back in 1998 is as relevant as ever in its critique of what the left has become reduced to in its politicising.

Despite all this negativity about the left. I do still wish the left could start to create a new reasonable platform for its views. The problem is threefold. The herd mentality of many; the negative emotions and immaturity that motivate many people in their left wing visions and the existence of a amoral minority happy to exploit and manipulate those emotions in people to obtain predictable responses. The left has become too predictable, too mainstream. It needs a truth to embody, but since the downfall of the proletariat, it has no group who can embody its movement positively, so instead it defines itself as the negation of something that it doesn’t like, something it can claim moral superiority to. A typical example of a slave morality of altruism, of self denial. It has become the thing it originally rallied against the hardest with Marx, the Frannkfurt School and others, it has become a mere commodity. It’s views are exploited to garner support for the further commodification of man and of all people. Leftist emotive outrage is the only thing fueling the commodities of the mainstream media and the newspapers, and much of its entertainment media also. The left has become the system it hates so much, and so it is spiralling out of control in an orgy of ambivalent alternate self destruction and self glorification and projection onto delusive and illusive enemies to continue to kid itself it is the underdog.

Scruton tracks the progress of this view through the 20th century in many figures from Foucault and the Frankfurt School, to Gramsci, Lacan and recently Zizek. Scruton asks of them the question:

“Why is it that after a century of socialist disasters, and an intellectual legacy that has been time and again exploded, the left-wing position remains, as it were, the default position to which thinking people automatically gravitate when called upon for a comprehensive philosophy?”

The answer?

“we are dealing with the religious need, a need planted deep in our ‘species being’. There is a longing for membership that no amount of rational thought, no proof of the absolute loneliness of humanity or of the unredeemed nature of our sufferings, can ever eradicate. And that longing is more easily recruited by the abstract god of equality than by any concrete form of social compromise.”

The problem is a perennial human one of the failure to embrace the tough tasks of the spirit, and to instead hide behind some collective from taking personal responsibility. The left likes to make us well aware of the far right and its evils, largely as a way of diverting our attention away from how similar and cowardly their error is.

This book explores in great detail just how similar their error is and also how equally deadly it is for a human future containing an appreciation of basic human dignity and reasonableness. The left may start in seemingly innocuous niceness and political correctness, where the far right may start in more obvious tribalism, but they both end in the same place of total destitution. A place where reality has been “shrugged” in favor of a collective decision to adopt an ideological attachment that can never be fulfilled in the real world. Just another Utopia motivated by a refusal to accept original sin and face the imperfections and challenges in their own human spirit.

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