Marcus Clarke – novelist, journalist and bohemian

Convict flogging in Australia
MICHAEL WILDING remembers a foundational Australian writer

Marcus Clarke’s His Natural Life is one of the great novels of the nineteenth century. The classic indictment of the horrors of the English convict system established in Australia, it is the story of Richard Devine, transported for a crime he did not commit and transmuted into the convict Rufus Dawes. The world of the Tasmanian convict settlement he encounters is presented in unforgettable detail: the career criminal John Rex, the brutal officer Maurice Frere, the alcoholic clergyman Rev North, the young daughter of the camp commander, Sylvia, and the horrific episodes of floggings, homosexual rape, child suicide, cannibalism, escapes and recaptures. Retitled For the Term of His Natural Life after Clarke’s death, His Natural Life has never been out of print since it was first published in 1874. As well as Australian, British and American editions, it has been translated into German, Dutch, Russian and Chinese, and adapted for the stage, cinema, television and graphic novel.

Marcus Clarke was born in the London borough of Kensington on 24 April 1846. He was an only child and his mother Amelia died of tuberculosis just before his fourth birthday. He was educated at Highgate School, where his closest friends were the brothers Cyril and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Gerard described Marcus as a ‘Kaleidoscopic, Parti-coloured, Harlequinesque, Thaumatropic being’, and reinvented his surname as ‘Marcus Scrivener’ – which Clarke used as a pseudonym in his earliest writings1. Gerard wrote to Ernest Hartley Coleridge, grandson of the poet, ‘I must tell you that Clarke writes very good poetry. He and I compare notes and ideas.’2 They collaborated on various projects, noted in Gerard’s journals and in the biography of Marcus that Cyril was later to write.

In 1863, Clarke’s father, a barrister with a good London practice in chancery, suddenly fell ill, lost the power of speech, and was put into an asylum at Stoke Newington, where he died on 1 December. Marcus wrote to Cyril Hopkins:

I remember, when my father was first taken ill, his telling me that I should be well provided for. He worked too hard and too long; which produced his final and fatal attack of paralysis … My cousins thought that he was worth at least seventy thousand pounds … Judge then of our consternation at finding affairs in the greatest confusion, the house in Ireland (left him by his elder brother) sold, and only a certain sum at his banker’s. Records of nothing! His cheque books showing large sums of money drawn out of his banking account with no trace of where they went to.3

Poor Clarke is on the voyage out to Australia, his father having met with a paralysis of the brain,’ Gerard wrote to Ernest Hartley Coleridge4.

Three months before his father died Marcus was packed off to Australia where his uncle James was a judge in Victoria. Earlier, his uncle Andrew had been Governor of Western Australia and his cousin Andrew the first Surveyor-General and Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands for Victoria, and Member of Parliament for Emerald Hill. Marcus was found a job in a bank. Hamilton Mackinnon, in his biographical introduction to Clarke’s writings, records Clarke’s farewell encounter with the manager:

 Clarke: “I have come to ask, sir, whether you received my application for a few weeks’ leave of absence.”

‘The Manager: “I have, Mr Clarke.”

‘Clarke: “Will you grant it to me, sir?”

‘The Manager: “Certainly, Mr Clarke, and a longer leave, if you desire it.”

‘Clarke: “I feel very much obliged. How long may I extend it to, sir?”

‘The Manager: “Indefinitely, if you do not object!”5

Marcus Clarke at 20

Clarke worked on the Swinton and Ledcourt sheep stations in the Wimmera district of Western Victoria for a couple of years from 1865­ to 1867. Arthur Patchett Martin wrote of Clarke’s time there:

It is said that Mr Holt, the squatter, used to tell how he debauched the unsophisticated minds of his boundary-riders, by reading to them the too realistic pages of the great Balzac. He was in the habit of propounding theories as to the proprietorship of land resembling those of Mr Henry George, and which, it must be confessed, were not calculated to make those rude sons of toil contented with their lot.6

Returning to Melbourne, Clarke found work as a journalist with The Argus newspaper and its associated weekly, The Australasian. He did the usual things. He wrote a review of a concert performance that, unknown to him, the singer had cancelled through illness. It lost him his reporting job, but he still continued to contribute as a freelance, and retained a regular column, ‘The Peripatetic Philosopher’.

He remarked on the ‘instincts of monopoly of the parsimonious management of the Theatre Royal’ and warned about the production that ‘they have selected to mutilate’. The Theatre Royal sued for defamation and won a farthing’s damages on each of two counts7,  and Clarke, who had written and adapted a number of plays, got no further work in the theatre for the next five years.

When the Argus and the Age boycotted the Melbourne Cup over a dispute about free tickets, Marcus wrote a report of it for the Herald,allegedly obtained by camera obscura. It read like something out of a novel. It was. Marcus had recycled an account of a race from his first novel, Long Odds. Writing for the Herald lost him any further work with the Argus group.

Amidst it all he plunged into la vie Bohème. The Café de Paris of the Melbourne Theatre Royal was one of Clarke’s favourite hangouts. ‘Founded by a gentleman who had some difficulty in paying his bricklayers,’ Clarke wrote, it became the fashionable place for the Bohemians of the time. Theatre people, journalists, and others’. Especially others.

Clarke described his lifestyle at that time:

I was living then in Fig Tree Court with my friend Savage, and we dined at the Café daily. We were not rich, for we had both dissipated our incomes in the exact manner recorded of the Prodigal Son. I wrote for the Peacock, and Savage for the Screechowl.We made some four pounds sterling a week — and we were really thankful (not being grocers or drapers) to earn so much. The morning was spent in scribbling, the afternoon in tobacco, the evening in dinner, theatre, and gaslight. I fear we did not lead virtuous lives. I am sure that we were often out of bed after the small hours. I know that Madame Gogo and Lisette de Jambejolie assisted in the spending of the Peacock’s bounty.8

The journalist Charles Bright recalled meeting Clarke at the Café de Paris:

I noticed as a peculiarity of the newcomer that he partook of absinthe, a drink rarely called for by any but Frenchmen, and I asked if he liked it.

‘“Not particularly,” he said, “but I’m experimenting with it. They say it’ll drive a fellow mad in a month and I want to find out if that’s a fact. I’ve tried opium-smoking, and rather like that. There are a lot of lies told about these things, you know, and we have scriptural authority for proving all things and holding fast that which is good. I can’t say yet if absinthe be good, or not.”9

With the right family connections, Clarke joined the establishment Melbourne Club in 1868. In the same year he helped establish the more Bohemian and literary Yorick Club with Frederick Haddon, another young Englishman, who was editor of The Argus.

The Yorick Club provided a meeting ground for fellow writers and journalists. Initially the group moved to a café, but the regulars there objected to the noise they made, so a room was rented for £1 a week in the Punch office. The Argus office was next door. Mueller’s tavern was below. ‘In its early days Mueller catered for the club until two o’clock in the morning, after which it stayed open until four or five o’clock for members who were newspaper printers.’10

The first official meeting of the club was held 1 May 1868. Dr Patrick Moloney, a friend of Clarke’s and at this time an intern at Melbourne Hospital, gave Clarke a skull which Clarke brought to the club room and placed on the mantel-shelf with a pipe under its jaw. Clarke suggested the club should be called the ‘Golgotha’ because it was ‘the place of skulls’. According to the 1911 history, The Yorick Club: Its Origin and Development,he ‘hammered away at the idea all night’ but the club ended up being called the Yorick — an allusion not only to Hamlet but to Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.

In the end Clarke got very huffy, took his skull and disappeared, not returning for some days. He gave the skull to the actor Walter Montgomery, who was playing Hamlet at the Theatre Royal, and used it in the famous ‘Alas, poor Yorick’ soliloquy.

Clarke himself wrote about the club in his ‘Peripatetic Philosopher’ column in The Australasian, 2 May 1868, still calling it the Golgotha.

Everybody wants to know the secrets of the prison-house, and as Timmins, one of our number, incautiously told his wife that we keep a skull on the mantelshelf, there is much suspicion and terror around. I may briefly mention, however, that the story of the newspaper lad being scraped to death with oyster shells at a late supper, and buried in the back kitchen, is not absolutely true in all its details.11

It is a wonder that he could mention anything, since the first official meeting had occurred only the previous day; and the article would have had to have been written two days before that in order to meet The Australasian’s deadline.

The poet Henry Kendall, who moved to Melbourne from Sydney the following year, described his first visit to the club:

Facing the landing, an old door opened into an aromatic room, which, I was informed, did duty as ‘the reading, talking, and smoking-den’. The most remarkable items of its furniture were the spittoons — useful utensils in their way, no doubt, but distressingly plentiful and palpable at the Golgotha. Passing through a suggestive lavatory, we entered the library, where I found a stock-in-trade, consisting of a couple of desks, four or five chairs, a table, two shelves bristling with ancient magazines and effete blue-books, certain other sundries of a doubtful character, and a melancholy waiter. An apartment, called by courtesy the dining-room, and devoted principally to a brace of dissipated newspaper reporters, was the only other feature that arrested a somewhat disappointed stranger’s attention.12

Clarke provided an account of what the Yorick Club members did not do. But what exactly did they do? Haddon had originally hosted Saturday evening gatherings that used to offer a mixed bill of stories, songs and excellent brandy. The Yorick Club seems to have added a certain vociferousness to these occasions. The journalist and novelist, G. A. Walstab, was an early exponent of face-painting. He specialized in taking coals from the fire in the early morning, and blackening the faces of the members dozing in their chairs or beneath the tables13.  The official history, The Yorick Club,records that Adam Lindsay Gordon at times was wildly jovial, and one evening pitched Clarke up to very near the ceiling and caught him again coming down. There was nowhere to sit in comfort at first, anyway. At one stage they sat on bales of newspapers, at another on kerosene drums. Clarke denied that they drank the kerosene:

I may, without breaking faith, refute the accusation made by a friend, that the members sit on tubs round the room, smoke green tea, and drink neat kerosene out of pewter pots. More I cannot reveal.14

Though they certainly had pewter pots. ‘Not empty, gentle reader,’ records one member15. One unsubstantiated theory is that they passed round a skull with some opium-based mixture. And the green tea Clarke refers to might have been hyonskin tea, popular in the outback and reputed to drive you mad according to some doctors; or it might have been marijuana, sometimes colloquially referred to as tea. It was about this time that Clarke persuaded a Collins Street doctor to get him some hashish. The doctor agreed to on condition that he could watch and make notes while Clarke took it. He wouldn’t let Clarke see the notes and, the doctor records, Clarke ‘became sarcastic in his remarks’.16

After three and a half hours Clarke began to dictate a story. And he seems to have continued to use hashish. A Dr Cannabis appears in the ‘Noah’s Ark’ columns he contributed to The Australasian in 1872 and 1873.

The Yorick Club recalls that Clarke ‘was always ready for mischief night and day.’ The journalist Alfred Telo, Clarke’s former flatmate, is described as ‘one of the most outrageous of the practical jokers’. He brought back from the Pacific islands a collection of long spears and one night these were used in a piece of Dadaist street theatre to lift from their hooks the gilded hats hung out as signs by Melbourne hatters. Another favourite game was collecting brass doorknobs. Telo particularly prized one he had stolen from the theatre critic James Neild. Neild wrote a letter to The Argus denouncing the

…idiots who could find nothing better to do than to wrench off citizens’ knockers’ — ‘only to find, on the following morning, that his house had been visited afresh and ornamented with a fishing rod and a gilt fish, a pawnbroker’s sign, and an undertaker’s board.17

On 22 July 1869, Clarke married Marian Dunn, the youngest daughter of the Irish comedian and actor John Dunn. He had typically failed to look for lodgings for them both until the marriage ceremony had actually been concluded. She had been a popular actress before her marriage. Eleven years later she was back on the stage again to help out with the family cash crises, Clarke writing A Daughter of Eve and adapting a French comedy Forbidden Fruit, or the Custom of Caudubec with parts especially for her.

In 1870, according to Hamilton Mackinnon,

…overwork had told its tale upon the restless brain, and the doctors ordered change of air to the more salubrious climate of Tasmania. But as funds were, as usual with him, decidedly short, how was the change to be effected?18

The printer and publisher of the Australian Journal, A. H. Massina recalled the solution in an interview on his retirement forty years later:

Clarke came to me one day and said, “Massina, I want £50.”

‘“Oh”, I said, “You’ve had enough out of me. What more do you want?”

‘“£50,” replied Clarke, “I can write a story for your journal. I am going to Tasmania to write up the criminal records and I’ll do the story for one hundred pounds.”

‘We jumped at it.19

Clarke may already have arranged for the Argus group, with its associated weekly the Australasian, to help finance the holiday by a journalistic assignment ‘to write up the criminal records.’ Haddon, the editor of the Argus, had visited Tasmania the previous January. Now he went there again with Clarke.

On 21 January 1870 Clarke and Haddon arrived in Launceston, and on 26 January they visited Port Arthur. The trip is described in a series of articles Clarke wrote three years later when the closure of Port Arthur was announced. They were published in the Argus, on 3, 12 and 26 July 1873, and reprinted in the Australasian 26 July and 2 August20.

“You will find it difficult to get down to Port Arthur unless you’ve got friends there!” said the genial but imperative landlady of the Ark Hotel. “Of course, I mean friends in the Government,” she added, seeing that I looked askance.

‘We had friends in the Government, for Hacker, my companion, was a man of mark at the office of the Peacock and had hinted vaguely of columns of lead minion to be supplied by my eminent hand.

Clarke’s account of his visit captures the horror of the place.

To me, brooding over stories of misery and crime, sitting beside the ironed convicts, and shivering at the chill breeze which whitened the angry waters of the bay, there was no beauty in those desolate cliffs, no cheering picturesqueness in that frowning shore. I saw Port Arthur for the first time beneath a leaden and sullen sky; and as we sailed inwards past the ruins of Point Puer, and beheld barring our passage to the prison the low grey hummocks of the Island of the Dead, I felt that there was a grim propriety in the melancholy of nature.

He continues:

I know that I thought to myself that I should go mad were I condemned to such a life, and that I caught one of the men looking at me with a broad grin as I thought it. I know that there seemed to me to hang over the whole place a sort of horrible gloom, as though the sunlight had been withdrawn from it, and that I should have been ashamed to have suddenly met some high-minded friend, inasmuch as it seemed that in coming down to stare at these chained and degraded beings, we had all been guilty of an unmanly curiosity.

There were still some 574 inmates – convicts, invalids and insane at Port Arthur. Looking through the records Clarke asked to see one of them, transported for poaching when he was thirteen:

The warder drew aside a peep-hole in the barred door, and I saw a grizzled, gaunt and half-naked old man coiled in a corner. The peculiar wild-beast smell which belongs to some forms of furious madness exhaled from the cell. The gibbering animal within turned, and his malignant eyes met mine.

‘“Take care,” said the gaoler; ‘he has a habit of sticking his finger through the peep-hole to try and poke someone’s eye out!’

‘I drew back, and a nail-bitten hairy finger, like the toe of an ape, was thrust with rapid and simian neatness through the aperture.

‘“That is how he amuses himself,” said the good warder, forcing-to the iron slot; “he’d best be dead, I’m thinking.”

The experience was a horrifying one. The library researches Clarke made through the published records were no less so. He writes,

In out-of-the-way corners, in shepherds’ huts or roadside taverns, one meets “old hands” who relate terrible and true histories. In the folio reports of the House of Commons can be read statements which make one turn sick with disgust, and flush hot with indignation. Officialdom, with its crew of parasites and lickspittles, may try to palliate the enormities committed in the years gone by; may revile, with such powers of abuse as are given to it the writers who records the facts which it blushes for; but the sad grim truth remains. For half a century the law allowed the vagabonds and criminals of England to be subjected to a lingering torment, to a hideous debasement, to a monstrous system of punishment futile for good and horribly powerful for evil.

On 19 February 1870 the Australasian published the first of Clarke’s articles, under the series title ‘Old Stories Retold’. His Natural Life had been advertised in the Australian Journal in Januaryand the first instalment appeared in the March issue. The publisher A. H. Massina recalled:

Now Clarke was going to write that story in twelve monthly sections. At first he wrote enough for two months, then enough for one month, and got down to very little. In fact we had once to put it in pica type, instead of brevier to swell out the size of that month’s contribution. But on one occasion he had nothing ready and we had to go to press with an apology to our readers. Finally we had to lock him in a room to get his matter written.21

His Natural Life ultimately ran for twenty-seven episodes, instead of the originally agreed upon twelve. The ‘Old Stories Retold’ series appeared simultaneously, on and off, through fourteen tales, some in multiple parts over two or three weeks, concluding on 24 June 1871, and were collected as a book, Old Tales of a Young Country, in 1871.

His Natural Life first appeared as a serial in the Australian Journal from March 1870 to June 1872. Clarke then revised it considerably for book publication. The Irish nationalist politician Charles Gavan Duffy, at this time a member of the Victorian legislature, recalled in My Life in Two Hemispheres how Clarke had approached him for advice on revising the serial for book publication, and how he followed his ‘suggestions for vigorous cutting’, reducing the 370,000 word serial into a 200,000 word novel22. Clarke provided a new explanation and motivation for the protagonist’s transportation, removing the 40,000 word opening section that dealt with alchemical experiments in Europe, and the conclusion that fulfilled the alchemical theme by emerging from the Nigredo of imprisonment into the discovery of the Victorian goldfields.

George Robertson published the book in Melbourne. Two readers reported on the book to the London publisher Richard Bentley, Lady Charlotte Jackson who was unenthusiastic, and Geraldine Jewsbury who recommended publication: ‘an extremely powerful and well written work, and you will do well to accept it subject to one condition.’ The condition was that Rufus Dawes should survive. Clarke was willing to make the change, but in the end the English edition followed the Australian edition with Dawes drowned at sea. Geraldine Jewsbury was the long-standing and intimate friend of Jane Carlyle, and the Carlyles were long-standing friends of Gavan Duffy, who published his Conversations with Carlyle in 1892. Duffy, who was in Europe at the time, may have been an influence in achieving the novel’s publication, as well as helping in its revision. And he arranged for the proofs to be read by Frances Cashel Hoey, wife of Duffy’s associate editor on the Irish journal The Nation, who may also have been responsible for some of the stylistic changes made in the English edition23.

The revised book version was dedicated to Duffy. Clarke does not remark that Duffy himself had been twice imprisoned by the English for his involvement in Irish independence movements, and had more than twelve months’ experience in Ireland of the interior of ‘a house of correction’, to quote from the dedication. But the facts were well known. Clarke’s dedication of his great novel to Duffy can be seen as a proclamation of his own increasing alienation from English establishment values. In the serial version of the novel, Dawes finally returns to England. In the book version he drowns. There was no return.

In 1870, the year after his marriage, Clarke took a salaried job as Secretary to the Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library24. He wore his duties lightly. The moving spirit behind the establishment of the library and the chairman of its board of trustees was Sir Redmond Barry. Hamilton Mackinnon remarks on ‘the interest Sir Redmond Barry evinced in the rising littérateur, whom he took under his parental wing, when obtaining for him the secretaryship of the Public Library’ and records one characteristic vignette:

It was a hot summer’s day, and, as was his style in such weather, the librarian was dressed dandily in unspotted white flannel, with a genuine cabbage-tree hat stuck defiantly on the back of his head; and so clothed he was leisurely wending his way up the steps of the library when he met the President, looking more starched, if possible, than ever, and wearing the well-known, flat-rimmed, tapering bell-topper, which shone in the glare of the noonday sun: and the following brief dialogue ensued.

‘President: “Good morning, Mr Clarke.”

‘Librarian: “Good morning, sir.”

‘President: “I scarcely think your hat, however cool it may be, is exactly suited to the position you occupy in connection with this establishment, Mr Clarke — Good morning, Mr Clarke.

And with a stiff bend of the erect body the President took his departure with just a glimmer of a smile playing round the firmly closed haughty lips’25.

Clarke was fond of his cabbage-tree hat. It had been made for him by a convict in Pentridge Prison. In 1902 his third son, Rowley, took it with him when he sailed to South Africa with the 2nd Commonwealth contingent. It is preserved in the picture collection of the State Library of Victoria26.

Hugh McCrae recalled his father George Gordon McCrae’s friendship with Clarke:

George, who admired him, often pointed out a green metal lion half-way up the steps leading to the Melbourne Public Library. It was into the mouth of this lion that Marcus used to commit his unfinished cigar, before being manacled to the desk at his office. The lion, smoking the cigar, became a signal to his friends that Marcus was within.

Clarke coveted his freedom so much that he would rather scintillate outside than be earning his salary as sub-librarian locked up among books. Actually, in his own words, he preferred to “trinquer” at the “House-of-the-Light-Wine-of-the-Country” before his humdrum devoirs at the Bibliotheque

Marcus could never be found when he was wanted. Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von Mueller once said he might go to the Botanic Gardens and be certain of seeing there an example of the native fuchsia tired to a stake from Monday to Monday — but Clarke was no native fuchsia; and that he carried his household with him wherever he went. At the beginning of the week, he might be in Coburg; and the middle of it in Essendon; and, at the end of it, in Brighton — or Moonee Ponds.27

‘I have sold my birthright of free speech for a mess of official pottage, and so to all intents and purposes my “Peripatetic” is dead …’ Clarke wrote in The Australasian,11 June 1870, announcing the end of his ‘Peripatetic Philosopher’ column. A public service position was deemed to preclude him from journalism that involved anything that might seem like political comment. Nonetheless, he continued to write and publish no less prolifically, not only the serial of His Natural Life, but also the historical ‘Old Tales Retold’ that became Old Tales of a Young Country, the novel Chidiock Tichborne, the stories collected in Holiday Peak and Other Tales  and Four Stories High, together with poems and articles, as well as the occasional theatrical venture. And the official pottage meant that his income was double the amount he had earned simply from writing. But it still wasn’t enough.

His Natural Life may have brought Clarke fame, but it didn’t bring fortune. In 1874, the year it was published in book form, he was declared bankrupt. His debts amounted to £2,186. 6s. 6d; his assets to £505. A catalogue was printed for the sale of his books, The Well-Selected Library of Mr Marcus Clarke28. He began a new column, ‘The Wicked World’ for the Melbourne Daily Telegraph’s weekend magazine, the Weekly Times. It shows Clarke at his most Balzacian, portraying the moneyed world of Melbourne in all its pretensions and dishonesties.

He had been hoping to be appointed the new Melbourne Librarian, but in November 1879 he wrote an essay for the Victorian Review on the irrelevancy of Christianity in the modern age29. The Bishop of Melbourne, Dr James Moorhouse, replied. Clarke responded with a second article exposing weaknesses in the bishop’s arguments which the Victorian Review refused to publish. The Melbourne Review accepted it, only to withdraw all copies from sale upon publication. The whole debate was collected in book form as Civilisation Without Delusion (1880) and sold rapidly.30

It made Clarke no friends with the Melbourne establishment, and didn’t help his chances of being appointed Librarian. Mackinnon records the reaction of the President of the Trustees of the Public Library, Sir Redmond Barry:

The President appeared one evening in the librarian’s office with a somewhat clouded countenance, and said, “Good evening, Mr Clarke.” The librarian with an intuitive feeling that a lecture was about to be administered, returned the salutation, when the President remarked: “Mr Clarke; you would oblige me greatly if you were to leave some things undone. For instance, that unfortunate article of yours — attacking so estimable a man as the bishop. Very indiscreet, Mr Clarke. I — think — I — should require — to — have — some — thousands a year of a private income before I would — venture — upon writing such an — article on — such a subject, and among so punctilious a community as exists here. Good evening, Mr Clarke.”31

Then Clarke helped adapt Gilbert A’Beckett’s burlesque The Happy Land, based on the play The Wicked World by W. S. Gilbert (under the pseudonym F. Tomline). It dealt with the visit of three politicians to Fairyland, where the benefits of popular government are explained to them. Clarke helped to adapt it from English to Australian conditions. The Victorian government immediately banned it and The Argus and The Age just as promptly printed the text. Clarke’s name was not specifically mentioned, but it was widely known that he had been involved in the adaptation. Clarke may have been surprised when he was not appointed Librarian. No one else was.

But he had little time to be surprised. He had borrowed money on the strength of being appointed. The money-lender, Aaron Waxman, pressed for payment. Clarke declared bankruptcy for a second time, and so was required to resign his library position. He became sick with pleurisy, Mackinnon records,

…and this developing into congestion of the liver, and finally into erysipelas, carried him off in the space of one short week…the end came upon him rapidly. Losing his speech, he beckoned for pencil and paper, and seizing hold of the sheets moved his hand over them as if writing. Shortly afterwards the mind began to wander, but still the hand continued moving with increasing velocity, and every now and then a futile attempt to speak was made.32  

He died at St Kilda at 4 p.m. on 2 August 1881. He was thirty-five, and left a wife and six children, the eldest only eleven.

  1. The Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume, ed. Hamilton Mackinnon, Cameron, Laing & Co, Melbourne, 1884, 15–16; The Austral Edition of the Selected Works of Marcus Clarke, ed. Hamilton Mackinnon, Fergusson and Mitchell, Melbourne, 1890, i–ii []
  2. Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. C. C. Abbott, Oxford University Press, 1956, 14 []
  3. Cyril Hopkins’ Marcus Clarke, ed. Laurie Hergenhan, Ken Stewart and Michael Wilding, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2009, 44 []
  4. Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 16 []
  5. The Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume, 13; The Austral Edition, iv []
  6. Arthur Patchett Martin, ‘An Australian Novelist’, Temple Bar, 71, 1884, 96–110. Clarke’s views may have resembled George’s, though the 1860s are too early for a direct influence. Henry George’s Progress and Poverty was published in the USA in 1879 and he visited Australia in 1890 []
  7. The Argus reported the case, 21-26 August 1874 []
  8. ‘The Café Lutetia’, Weekly Times, 28 February 1874, 9, reprinted in L. T. Hergenhan, ed., A Colonial City, 337, 338, and in Marcus Clarke, ed. Michael Wilding, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1976, 667, 668 []
  9. Charles Bright, ‘Marcus Clarke’, Cosmos Magazine, 30 April 1895, 418–19 []
  10. Geoffrey Hutton, Adam Lindsay Gordon: the Man and the Myth, Faber and Faber, London, 1978; Melbourne University Press, 1996, 148 []
  11. ‘A Quiet Club’, Australasian, 9 May 1868, 593; reprinted in The Peripatetic Philosopher by ‘Q’,George Robertson, Melbourne, 1869, 48 []
  12. Henry Kendall, ‘A Colonial Literary Club, by a Wandering Bohemian’, Town and Country Journal, 18 February 1871, reprinted Henry Kendall: Poetry, Prose and Selected Correspondence,ed.Michael Ackland, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1993, 161 []
  13. Hugh McCrae, My Father and My Father’s Friends, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1935, reprinted in Hugh McCrae, Story Book Only, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1948 []
  14. Australasian, 9 May 1868, 593; reprinted in The Peripatetic Philosopher, 48 []
  15. Hamilton Mackinnon, Austral Edition, vi []
  16. ‘Cannabis Indica – a Psychological Experiment’, Colonial Monthly, 1, 6, February 1868, 454–68; reprinted Marcus Clarke, ed. Michael Wilding, University of Queensland Press, 1976, 545, and as ‘A Haschich Trance’, Austral Edition, 413, and Marcus Clarke, Stories,Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1983, 213 []
  17. Brian Elliott, Marcus Clarke,Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1958, 105 []
  18. Mackinnon, Memorial Volume, 37 []
  19. ‘A Master Printer. Fifty Years in Business. Mr A. H. Massina,’ Herald (Melbourne), 2 March 1909, 6 []
  20. Reprinted in Michael Wilding, ed, Marcus Clarke, 511-37 []
  21. Herald (Melbourne), 2 March 1909, 6 []
  22. Charles Gavan Duffy, My Life in Two Hemispheres, T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1898, vol 2, 312-4 []
  23. P. D. Edwards, ‘The English Publication of His Natural Life’, Australian Literary Studies,10, 1982, 520–6 []
  24. John Arnold, ‘Marcus Clarke Joins the Public Library, Museum and National Gallery of Victoria’, Margin,40, 1996, 19–21; Sandra Burt, ‘Marcus Clarke at the Public Library’, La Trobe Library Journal, 67, 2001, 55–60 []
  25. Mackinnon, Memorial Volume, 43; slightly revised in Austral Edition, xi []
  26. Ian F. McLaren, Marcus Clarke: An Annotated Bibliography, Library Council of Victoria, Melbourne, 1982, items 3003, 2128 []
  27. Hugh McCrae, My Father and My Father’s Friends, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1935, 47 []
  28. Facsimile in Ian F. McLaren, Marcus Clarke: An Annotated Bibliography, Library Council of Victoria, Melbourne, 1982, 340–60 []
  29. ‘Civilization without Delusion’, Victorian Review, 1, 1, November 1879, 65–75, reprinted Marcus Clarke,ed. Wilding, 672–83 []
  30. Civilization without Delusion, F. F. Baillière, Melbourne, 1880, reprinted as What is Religion? Robert Barr, Fitzroy, 1895 []
  31. Hamilton Mackinnon, Austral Edition, xi []
  32. The Austral Edition, ed. Mackinnon, xvii–xviii []

Medical notes from underground

“Theodore Dalrymple”, anatomist of modernity (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
MARK GULLICK profiles the cultural commentator THEODORE DALRYMPLE

The English writer Theodore Dalrymple, whose real name is Dr. Anthony Daniels, spent much of his professional career as a hospital and prison psychiatrist. He has also written many books on a variety of subjects, and travelled the world extensively.

But, even given the breadth of Dr. Daniels’s voracious reading and the length of his journeying, his most memorable books report back from a place far bleaker than the many and often pitiful countries he has visited. These are the books and essays which deal with his experiences among Britain’s ‘underclass’, and his ruminations as to why these unfortunates are kept in their place by a society which is, by global standards, extremely wealthy. These are the writings I will concentrate on here.

To read Dalrymple’s accounts of the inhabitants of the prisons, hospitals and sink estates where he ministered to them is to enter a type of hell, but what is most frightening is not any inscription above the gate reading ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’, but the simple four numerals at the end of many of the most appalling essays. For example, ‘1995’ and earlier. Does anyone believe things have improved in the quarter century since the good doctor painted his Bosch-like visions of Britain?

One of the most apparent aspects of Dalrymple’s talent is his ability to take the pulse of his own culture, and he is never more accurate in his many observations than when writing about his fellow Britons:

Gradually, but overwhelmingly, the culture and character of British restraint have changed into the exact opposite. Extravagance of gesture, vehemence of expression, vainglorious boastfulness, self-exposure, and absence of inhibition are what we tend to admire now – and the old modesty is scorned

Anything Goes

Although it is Dr. Daniels’s literary avatar Theodore Dalrymple (a pen-name which puts me in mind of some Dickensian notary public) who publishes these diagnoses of country, people, political regime, or seismic cultural shift, it is the doctor who really does know best. He is a hyper-realist and draws on professional experience, not on social theories that happen to be de rigueur, and he has the ability to bring analytical forensic skills as much to a society, culture or woeful institution as he would be to the body or mind of a patient.

The National Health Service (NHS) in particular presents unfavourable symptoms. There are many hustlers and grifters who have exploited Britain’s much-lauded health service for their own advancement and comfort, and at whom Dalrymple often takes aim:

Britain now has more educational bureaucrats than teachers, as well as more health-service administrators than hospital beds

Not with a Bang but with a Whimper

This in itself is a scandal and, having worked for the NHS in four different capacities myself, I can vouch for Dalrymple’s depiction of “a British bureaucratic zombie, for whom work is a painful interruption of entertainment” (If Symptoms Persist).

Dr. Daniels clearly sports the livery of old-fashioned Conservatism, which naturally earns him sneers and smears from the bien pensant class, displaying as they must their ‘woke’ insignia with misplaced pride. Dr. Daniels is everything ‘woke’ is not. He clearly feels for the British ‘underclass’, but is able both to state plainly that “I delighted in what my patients said” (Not with a Bang but with a Whimper), and to render them in miniature with merciless accuracy:

More flagrant injustices by far, worse physical conditions, greater exposure to violence, were of course to be encountered elsewhere: But for sheer apathy, for spiritual, emotional, educational and cultural nihilism and vacuity, you must go to an English slum

If Symptoms Persist

Anthony Malcolm Daniels was born in 1949 in London’s fashionable Kensington. Thus, he began his life in a recently bombed city in a district of which, the last time I visited it five years ago, seemed still to be a building site in perpetuity, but for more modern reasons of appreciating the value of property rather than rebuilding one of civilisation’s great conurbations.

His father, we are informed in an essay on the poverty of English post-war architecture, was a communist (and Dalrymple will have much to say on the subject of communism) and despised Victorian art and architecture, to the extent of destroying some quite valuable paintings from that era which he felt were taking up loft space. This may or may not be a Freudian moment which directed the course of Daniels Junior’s future beliefs. We will never know; Daniels is scathingly dismissive of Freud.

In 1980, Daniels, writing as ‘Theodore Dalrymple’, so impressed the editor of The Spectator, Charles Moore, that he began a regular column in that magazine on the strength of unsolicited submissions, a breaking of precedent by Mr. Moore. There followed a string of books – as well as regular writings in various periodicals online and off – which were mostly received with discreet critical approval without the usual attendant razzmatazz of press and television appearances. Dalrymple has always swum against the stream of what is now called the ‘narrative’, a sort of media-instituted and pre-fabricated substitute for the truth, and his profile in the mainstream media is concomitantly rather sparse.

For the British, at least, one of the most staggering allegations Dalrymple makes is that social services have absolutely no intention of helping those under their care. The NHS – at least at the level of management – are not overly interested in sick and injured people or their recovery, teachers are actively opposed to well-tried educational methods on ideological grounds, and the police would look askance at anyone suggesting they went out preventing crime by their presence as they used to do.

An example – from many candidates – concerns the British police. The ‘TICs’ mentioned here are ‘Taken into Considerations’, or crimes the defendant admits to in order to lessen the likely sentence for his present misdemeanour. A defence counsel will use these playing cards blatantly and the police will be all the more grateful for that, and for the following reason;

TICs are the means, roughly speaking, by which known criminals admit to offences they didn’t do, in order for the police to clear up crimes they can’t solve

Life at the Bottom

Criminals in one area tend to know each other, and these TICs serve as a kind of barter system. Added to this, the criminal serves less time for his act, and possibly none at all, while the police delight their masters by delivering improved statistics. Everyone, as they used to say at British fairgrounds, is a winner.

This wholly twisted version of policing is typical of Dalrymple’s dealings with the public sector in Britain, although many of his interactions provoke laughter as much as despair. Dalrymple is a comic writer in that he presents a lacklustre reality and invites the reader to find it grimly funny – Alan Bennett does something similar – while always gently reminding us that if we do find ourselves sniggering at this shabby round-dance of foolishness and ignorance, our laughter is very much in the dark, and we, like him, are whistling past the graveyard.

Although Dalrymple is an intellectual by definition, and one who indeed finds much compensatory delight in his studies of literature, we are fully aware of his ingrained attitude toward the intellectual class, “whose livelihood depends on ceaseless carping”. We recall Thomas Sowell, among others, when Dalrymple writes that:

[M]ost of the social pathology exhibited by the underclass has its origin in ideas that have filtered down from the intelligentsia

Life at the Bottom

It is no longer government that threatens social cohesion and culture, he writes, but “the universities and the intellectuals, or semi-intellectuals, that they turn out” (ibid).

Dalrymple is less an intellectual than a professional with both the life experience and the depth of reading to make him a perfectly capable philosopher. Indeed, he gives one of the finest mission statements for philosophy (my own subject) that I have come across:

The philosopher is an archaeologist of knowledge, rather than a builder of it: he strips away the misconceptions that have accreted since birth

In Praise of Prejudice

This definition is in bold contradistinction to the destructive, moth-like work of the intellectual, and bad ideas, when their time comes, can only lead to what modern sociologists term ‘bad outcomes’. One more than others.

Outside of the mainstream media, the dread realisation is taking place that the West is undergoing what I call ‘Sovietisation’ (although I am sure I am not the first to coin the phrase). It can scarcely be said that Britain, as one of the most egregious examples, is moving away from rather than towards the type of societal control around which the communist apparatus was constructed.

Writing from experience, Dalrymple has made many points concerning communism, but they have as their centre of gravity the same essential statement; the point of lying to the people, a practice inherent in the communist system, is not to persuade the populace of the truth of what is being said, but to humiliate them in the realisation that they must believe or, in many cases, die. This summation comes from The Wilder Shores of Marx:

Apart from the massacres, deaths and famines for which communism was responsible, the worst thing about the system was the official lying: that is to say the lying in which everyone was forced to take part, by repetition, assent or failure to contradict

Dalrymple still writes for several online magazines, and the closest he has to a mantra follows him there:

In my study of Communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate…

Interview with FrontPage Magazine

And, along the same lines: “[T]he purpose of political correctness is not to enunciate truth but to exercise power” (‘Rigid Diversity’, Taki’s Magazine).

A modern refusenik, then, but if Dalrymple is a contrarian, that should be placed in context. The British media has a rather cunning way of appearing to be in touch by occasionally feinting a blow at the clumsily named cultural phenomenon known as ‘political correctness’ (a chrysalis whose emerging creature is ‘woke’). But this is mere nose-thumbing for effect, and there is another aspect of modern cultural dysfunction that is sacred for the media – victimhood.

It is axiomatic for the British media class that, in a dreary revival of Marx’s misplaced dictum in The Communist Manifesto, everything must be viewed through the (distorting) lens of class conflict, and that battle to be further parsed into the constant war of oppressor and oppressed. This now has its new identity as racial/social justice. This is succinctly summed up by Dalrymple in his collection Farewell Fear. The author is describing the appeal of conversion to Islam to a woman named Lauren Booth, half-sister-in-law to ex-British Prime minister Tony Blair. Ms. Booth displayed, writes Dalrymple,

…the very characteristic thirst of modern people who have lived privileged lives for the safe psychological haven of victim status

Just as Dr. Johnson was of the opinion that patriotism (or the pretense of patriotism) was the last refuge of the scoundrel, now another doctor indicates that victimhood is the first refuge of scoundrels we must now call ‘woke’.

Here we are at the heart of cultural darkness, the blind spot that seems to affect Western governments. If whole generations of the ‘underclass’, along with ethnic minorities, and those of one non-heterosexual persuasion or another, are constantly told that they are neither culpable for their actions or, perhaps, in need of psychological care, and also that they are and have been somehow repressed by a supposedly dominant ethnic group, they will gladly accept the nomination.

And as victimhood is offered freely and for free, courtesy of the state in Britain, so too its status seems to absolve the victims of responsibility. Dalrymple makes a comparison between African countries (specifically Tanzania and Nigeria) and Great Britain:

Yet nothing I saw [in Africa] – neither the poverty nor the overt oppression – ever had the same devastating effect on the human personality as the undiscriminating welfare state. I never saw the loss of dignity, the self-centredness, the spiritual and emotional vacuity, or the sheer ignorance of how to live that I see daily in England

Life at the Bottom

You will emerge from the writings of Theodore Dalrymple enlightened and entertained, but also disgusted and with a stain on your soul, which admittedly doesn’t sound like an endorsement. It is a stain no soap could ever wash away – disgust with the weakness of people who could be helped by even a small show of strength on their part, disgust with the frankly wicked waste of money spent in the callow belief that it is a god who will answer the petition of prayer and provide for the meek and lowly, and disgust for the level to which British culture has been allowed, and even intentionally manipulated – to sink. Above all, you will feel a searing disgust with those ‘in charge’, those in well-remunerated positions of power who believe they are doing good when what they are in fact doing is misusing money to salve their negligible consciences and inflated egos, as well as adhere to political dogma which would disgrace a poor African nation, what Dalrymple calls “the baleful influence of mistaken ideas”.

The collected works of Theodore Dalrymple, advised as he is by his éminence grise, Dr. Anthony Daniels, should be read by every social worker and politician, every police officer and NHS manager, every journalist and every teacher in Great Britain, but of course they will not. Quite the opposite. They will be cast into the fire so that those people – many of whom Dalrymple describes as performing “makework” jobs – can return to the state-funded, well-sucked thumb of Critical Race Theory, or whatever name it has this month. As the good doctor himself quotes more than once from T S Eliot, “mankind cannot bear very much reality”.


Dr. Daniels was kind enough to answer a few brief questions for The Brazen Head…

BH: Is there any hope for the British public sector?

AD:  There are three main problems, it seems to me. First is centralisation. Second is the size and the number of the tasks it is expected to perform. The third is its corruption – moral, intellectual and increasingly financial. They are interconnected. In most cases, people have little idea what the purpose of their organisation is, and goals have been obscured by ideology and political entrepreneurs. As far as financial corruption, I am afraid it was Mrs. Thatcher who started the ball rolling. It is much worse than the offering of money under the table. Financial corruption has been legalised. 

BH: Do you see in the response of Western governments to the COVID pandemic reason and measure, or have they used it for a more sinister accumulation of power?

AD: I have some sympathy with governments that clearly had to do something. It is rarely, however, that governments relinquish powers willingly that they have taken in emergencies. Therefore, the return to the status quo ante will be difficult – and it wasn’t so very splendid to begin with.

BH: Do you see what I have called a ‘Sovietisation’ of the UK?

AD: I definitely see a Sovietisation of Britain – but not only of Britain. People are now afraid not only to voice opinions in public but (what is worse) not to subscribe publicly to opinions that they do not hold. They thereby lose their probity and therefore their locus standi to oppose the grossest absurdity and violation of common sense. As for Soviet-style langue de bois, it is everywhere: you can hear it uttered even in private. 

BH: I gather that you spend most if not all of your time in France. Do you ever feel a prophet without honour in your own land?

AD: I do not feel a prophet without honour because I do not feel a prophet. I often wonder whether I’m exaggerating things, whether I am too gloomy because of my personal experience, because gloom is easier to write about, at least interestingly, than success. I often ask myself how seriously people should take me, and I have no definitive answer, and certainly no tablets of stone to bring down from any mountain.

Spirits of the Jazz Age – the Spiritualist craze of the Twenties

CHRISTOPHER SANDFORD evokes an age of desperate belief

On 7 September 1919, the 60-year-old Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, GP, lecturer, seafarer, sportsman, indefatigable social campaigner – and globally-renowned author of the Sherlock Holmes tales – shared the platform of a Spiritualist rally at the seafront Grand Hotel in Portsmouth with a 38-year-old medium named Evan Powell. The Great War had ended just ten months earlier, and it had taken a fearful toll on Conan Doyle’s family. He lost no fewer than 11 relatives either to combat or disease, among them his 25-year-old son Kingsley, who had been invalided out of the front line in France but then succumbed to the Spanish Flu epidemic. It was a blow from which many felt his father never quite recovered.

After several departed souls had apparently materialised on the stage of the hotel ballroom, Conan Doyle, his wife Jean, and five colleagues repaired to a private upstairs room where they searched Powell, tied him semi-naked to a chair, and turned off the lights.

“We had strong phenomena from the start”, Doyle later wrote to his friend the physicist Oliver Lodge.

The medium was always groaning, muttering, or talking, so that there was never a doubt where he was. Suddenly I heard a voice.

‘Jean, it is I.’

 My wife cried, It is Kingsley’.

I said, ‘Is that you boy?’

He said in a very intense whisper and a tone all his own, ‘Father!’ and then, after a pause, ‘Forgive me!’

Conan Doyle, who assumed Kingsley was referring to his earthly doubts about the paranormal, concluded his account by saying that he had then felt a strong hand pressing down on him, followed by a kiss on his forehead. “I am so happy”, his late son assured him.

This encounter would have a profound effect on Conan Doyle, hitherto best known as the creator of English literature’s most formidably rational human calculating machine. Soon the author turned away from detective stories and towards a steady stream of papers and speeches on the subject of what he called collectively the “new revelation”. It was now clear to him, he wrote, that this insight into the ultimate meaning of life was not for his benefit alone, “but that God has placed me in a very special position for conveying it to that world which needs it so badly.”

Of course, Conan Doyle wasn’t the first celebrity, or even the first literary giant, to apparently commune with the dead. In 1849, Charles Dickens had begun to attempt ‘mesmeric cures’ of his young sister-in-law, who was said to be suffering from ‘intestinal evil.’ The great novelist reported that his performances of ‘animal magnetism’, as hypnotism was then called, afforded him clairvoyant power. Personalities as diverse as Queen Victoria, W.B. Yeats, and Edvard Munch all later engaged in Spiritualistic efforts to reach a departed loved one. There was a dramatic surge of interest in the paranormal both during and in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War, with its 620,000 military casualties and undetermined number of civilian deaths. In the White House, Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary held a series of candlelit séances following the loss of their 11-year-old son William to typhoid fever, by no means the last time a US president would dabble in the occult.

But it wasn’t until the early 1920s that the Spiritualist message really gripped the imagination of the Western public. It did so as a consequence both of the Great War, and of the period of unrivalled national prosperity that followed. It sometimes seemed that the concept lying deepest at the heart of American life, in particular, as that country embarked on its extended period of 20th-century world dominance was that of illusion. The nation had bread, but it wanted circuses – and now it got them, in an explosion of music halls and other places of entertainment offering a rich variety of fare whose most common artistic theme was the idea of mystification, legerdemain, or some other form of deception. In 1909, there were 427 officially licensed “Mentalists, visual deluders, and [other such] artistes” active in the seven core eastern seaboard states; a decade later, the figure had jumped to 6,390, quite apart from the profusion of “street fakirs, jongleurs, bunco merchants, miracle workers, healers and seers” one New York newspaper found at work in the city.

“The times hungered for something”, remarked Harry Houdini, a sceptic who knew something about escapism, in every sense of the term. “A war memorial had appeared in every town, and many people naturally sought some divine solace for their grief.” Unfettered by an established Church, America was particularly rich in alternatives, among them such sects as the Holy Rollers, the Holy Jumpers, and the estimated three million followers of the evangelist Frank Buchman, whose core gospel of ‘inclusiveness’ eventually led him to try to convert Adolf Hitler.

But none of those groups, however well-patronised or devoted to their various causes, compared in size or intensity to the worldwide Spiritualist crusade with Conan Doyle as its de facto head. By early 1923, there were reported to be some 14,000,000 ‘occasionally or frequently’ practicing occultists, served by a network of 6,200 individual churches or lodges, in North America alone. Barely a week passed without some sensational paranormal claim appearing in the newspapers or over the radio. ‘“MY FRIENDLY CONTACT WITH DEPARTED SOULS: MESSAGE RECEIVED FROM MURDERED CZAR”, by Grand Duke Alexander of Russia’ ran one such headline in the New York Times. A few weeks later, Doyle explored this same historical turf when he and some friends sat down in a darkened room of a London home and apparently made contact with the recently deceased Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. The revolutionary hero left the sitters with the cryptic advice: “Artists must rouse selfish nations”.

In Edwardian Britain, the fashion for Spiritualism often came with a feminist subtext. Women were thought to be uniquely qualified to communicate with spirits of the dead, and in the séance room, at least, a medium could enjoy a degree of independence and authority not readily available to her elsewhere. There are no reliable figures on actual attendance at séances or services, although it was widely believed at the time that an increasing number of the nominally respectable were dabbling in psychic affairs. When reviewing the history of Spiritualism in the UK, Houdini would remark that

…by the turn of the new [20th] century an invitation to tea amongst London’s gentility would often conclude with a candlelit course in which the spirits would be asked to reveal themselves by rotating or lifting the table, among other manifestations, to the delight of the audience.

As early as 1882, the British movement as a whole was sufficiently widespread to bring about the creation of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), with a committee of largely Cambridge-based academics promising

…to approach [Spiritualist] issues without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned enquiry which has enabled Science to solve so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated

One can almost hear a foreshadowing of the ‘Follow the data’ mantra that distinguishes the great Covid debate of our own day. The SPR initially set up five subcommittees, to variously investigate Mesmerism, Mediumship, Reichenbach Phenomena (electromagnetic forces), Apparitions and Haunted Houses, and Séances, as well as a Literary Panel to study psychic history and conduct surveys. In one early census, the SPR asked 17,000 British adults whether they had ever experienced a “spiritual hallucination” while fully awake and in good health. Of the 1,684 who said they had, there were those who insisted that they had been psychically ‘embraced’ or ‘kissed’ by an unseen force, among several other less conventional liaisons.

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There were several reasons other than the shock of war and the extended economic boom that followed for the early-20th century loss of momentum in the traditional religious dynamic. For one thing, science again. Who needed the Church, the theory went, when the answers to day-to-day life could be found in the laboratory? Presented at every turn with new labour-saving devices that owed their existence to breakthroughs in automation (this was the era of the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine and the refrigerator), the Western man – and, increasingly, woman – in the street was ready to believe that technology could accomplish almost anything. On the loftier philosophical level, people were now reading daily about scientific developments that seemed to lend respectability to psychic beliefs.

Among the newly evolving doctrines that purported to question man’s role in the universe was Quantum Field Theory – on one hand, a structure designed to analyse the creation and annihilation of minute particles, and on another, a contemplation on the ‘non-observable’ material world. It was one of several such “seismic jolts”, as the lapsed Catholic Conan Doyle called them, of an era that also saw the belated confirmation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, as well as the invention and rapid availability of the household radio, which Oliver Lodge, one of its pioneering figures, insisted was itself a medium that allowed the spirit world to communicate with the living one over the ether. Many people shed their traditional religious beliefs in the face of rational scrutiny, while, to others, science diluted religion to a watery sort of social work.

By the spring of 1921, the Spiritualism debate was sufficiently ingrained in all walks of life for it to be the theme of several prominent Easter Day church services on either side of the Atlantic. In fact, opposition to the occultist message seems to have united the ordained ministry of New York, in particular, to a degree not seen since their similarly stout defense of Prohibition in 1918-19. At the city’s Seventh Day Adventist Temple, for instance, an overflow audience of 672 heard Revd. Carlyle Haynes speak on the topic of “Can the Dead Come Back? An Answer to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”. The minister of the Community Church of New York was compelled to hurriedly move proceedings to the nearby 800-seat Lyric Theater in order to accommodate a congregation reportedly “seething” for his own views on the subject. Rabbi Lewis Newman, preaching at the Temple Israel on Central Park West, roundly mocked the idea that “the departed ever bring tidings from the grave”, a notion that “could surely only be visualised by a writer of fiction”.

Meanwhile, what might be called the more enlightened, or charitable, Roman Catholic attitude was expressed by the British Jesuit priest Herbert Thurston, when he wrote:

If Spiritualism has the merit of upholding the belief that man is not purely material and that a future life awaits him, the conditions of which are in some measure dependent upon his conduct here on earth, it must be confessed that there is very little else to set to its credit. Catholic teaching recognises one divine revelation which it is the appointed office of the Church, in dependence upon the living voice of the Supreme Pontiff, to maintain inviolate. For this, Spiritualism substitutes as many revelations as there are mediums … all these communications being open to suspicion and, as the briefest examination shows, abounding in contradictions about matters most vital.

Many contemporaneous Roman Catholic views on the spirit world were not as benign as that. The Catholic author J. Godfrey Raupert, a psychic investigator who abandoned his initial sympathy on the subject, wrote in the 1921 edition of his book The Dangers of Spiritualism:

The root of Spiritism … is the diseased moral condition of the age … Too powerfully dominated by intellectual pride to submit to the law of Christ, men seek another world capable of demonstrative proofs … That they should build a system upon phenomena which elude rational examination, that they should stake their hopes for time and eternity upon manifestations which have so much in common with the juggleries of the magician, while at the same time they shut their eyes to the proofs of supernatural life and supernatural power which living Christianity offer them, is a melancholy example of that fatuous superstition which is so often the punishment of unbelief.

Even this was mild compared to the likes of Fr. Arnold Pinchard, who in July 1921 wrote to enlighten Arthur Conan Doyle about his views on the “deplorable tendency” of Spiritualists to put curiosity-seeking before the cardinal requirement of seeking God. “You probably do not realise that I speak as a Catholic,” he wrote, “and that Catholics have certain knowledge upon such matters which others like yourself, more in an atmosphere of doubtful empiricism, lack.” Some of Conan Doyle’s critics took a more robust tone even than that. The author was to remark of one telephone conversation with the perhaps well-named Lord Dunraven, a self-appointed ‘Catholic authority’ on a wide range of spiritual matters, that “he was so furious that I felt it best to hold the instrument away from my ear.”

Arthur Conan Doyle and “the little chap”, Harry Houdini

Perhaps the greatest, and certainly most theatrical, showdown between the two foremost public performers of their day, respectively representing the pro- and anti-Spiritualist camp, came when Conan Doyle and Houdini met in the author’s suite at the Ambassador Hotel in New Jersey’s Atlantic City one sunny afternoon in June 1922. Even the occult can have produced no stranger sight than that of the birthright Catholic, then a stout, mustachioed 63-year-old figure of military gait, seated alongside his equally substantial wife and the “little chap”, as Doyle affectionately called their guest, the latter dressed in an ill-fitting white tropical suit, with their heads bowed over a table in their candlelit room. They were there in an attempt to bring Houdini news from his sainted mother Cecilia, who had died nine years earlier. In time the three sitters joined hands, and said a prayer. For some moments after that, Lady Doyle, who had recently begun to show a gift for channelling the spirits, sat motionless, poised over the blank writing pad before her. Then, with a jolt, the pencil in her hand began to move.

“It was a singular scene” Conan Doyle later wrote,

…my wife with her hand flying wildly, beating the table while she scribbled at a furious rate, I sitting opposite and tearing sheet after sheet from the block as it was filled up, and tossing each across to Houdini, while he sat silent, looking grimmer and paler every moment.

Lady Doyle was eventually to produce 15 pages seemingly full of the late Mrs. Houdini’s expressions of love for her son, including the statements “I am so happy in this life”, and “It is so different over here, so much larger and bigger and more beautiful”, and concluding, “God bless you, Sir Arthur, for what you are doing”. It was “profoundly moving” for all parties, Doyle later wrote, and a “striking affirmation of the soul’s immortality”.

When they met in New York two days later, Houdini gave Conan Doyle the impression that he believed “my mother really ‘came through’ … I have been walking on air ever since”. Over the next few weeks, Doyle spoke effusively of the event in public meetings, and in a full-length book he called Our American Adventure, while the ‘little chap’ apparently did nothing to contradict him. But perhaps it was all another case of artifice by a master of the craft, because Houdini later marked a newspaper report of the event with a satirical “Ha! Ha! Ha!”, while coming to wonder why it was that his dear mother should have chosen to communicate with him in fluent English, a language she had never spoken.

Of course a man can imagine what it’s like to be a woman!

GUY WALKER says we must be allowed to imagine opposites

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mr. Knightley, Dr. Lydgate, Edward Casaubon, Will Ladislaw, and Daniel Deronda are excellent examples of well-rounded and believable male literary inventions, with a variety of qualities of character.

Portia, Beatrice, Miranda, and Viola are excellent examples of brave, intelligent, and virtuous women, while Lady Macbeth, Regan, and Goneril are equally good examples of wicked women with the added factor, in the case of Lady Macbeth, that she is even regarded with a degree of human sympathy in her wickedness. Shakespeare also wrote a poem treating the story of the rape of Lucretia, the wife of a Roman aristocrat, by the King’s son. Rembrandt, an artist famous for his paintings of marital intimacy, especially with his own wives, produced two paintings of the victim. Seldom (especially in the second version, painted in 1666) have the anguish and shame of a rape victim been more tenderly evoked or better understood.

The remarkable thing about these very well-known creations is that they were all created by writers, a playwright, and an artist of the opposite sex. To take it further, Deronda and Shylock are created by writers who were not Jewish, and Othello is created by a writer who was neither black nor a convert to Christianity from Islam.

Modern orthodoxies might, however, insist that they shouldn’t exist. In Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race, the thesis is that it is futile to speak to white people about what it is like to be black in Western democracies because the simple fact of not being black disqualifies one from the possibility of understanding black experience and, therefore, from having a worthwhile opinion. A similar logic is often applied to the proposition of men being able to understand or hold opinions about female experience.

This being the case, how did Rembrandt, Jane Austen, George Eliot, and William Shakespeare, along with a host of other successful writers, manage to pull off the trick of evoking or inventing such believable characters, thus giving the lie to such thinking? Surely it is a combination of two things.

The first thing is the intense familiarity with the opposite sex that being social and sexual animals affords us. For example, most women have one or many of the following – a father, a brother, a male sexual partner, a son, a male friend. Secondly, we have the human aptitude for imagination afforded by the unique quality of self-awareness. This means that, although not all humans do it, it is relatively easy for us to think ourselves into the skins of those with a different skin colour, religion, status, or sex. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but space travel is hugely advanced and regular shuttles have been running for a long time. It is impossible to conceive (pun intended) us without our being constantly in each other’s orbit and being the very opposite to estranged aliens or alienated strangers.

I’m all in favour of the celebratory French dictum “Vive la différence!” For the heterosexual majority, the ever-renewed joy of sexual relation resides in the mystery of the otherness of their partners and mates and the fact that the two sexes complement each other to make the complete human wholeness.

However, this can be taken too far. Men and women are from the same sexually reproducing species, and therefore, in sexual relations with each other biological imperatives often encourage lifelong pair-bonds. As a result, sexual relation is the extant bedrock of most of our society. All of this, in fact, leads to an astonishing intimacy. Our other-gendered partners could not be less alien to us as, in a sense, they are us, being part of our wholeness. One can play here with the various meanings of the verb to know. If a couple know each other in the supremely intimate biblical sense, it is pretty likely that they will also know what makes each other tick. That being the case, how could we not have a very close acquaintance with each other? By definition of what sex is, what in the world do we study, whether we like it or not, more than our sexual partners? We may say different things but, for the most part, we speak the same human languages.

Given such intense and inevitable familiarity, a small effort of imaginative sympathy is bound to give intelligent and sensitive people a very good understanding of what motivates the opposite sex. To return to race or religion, that same imaginative sympathy can be applied in exactly the same way. Before we are black or white we are human – hopefully a statement that is the very opposite of racist. When Shakespeare created Othello or wrote Shylock’s “If you prick us do we not bleed” speech, he accessed a black man’s and a Jew’s consciousness by means of a humanity he held in common with them and perfectly understood their plight. Imagination triumphed and our human sameness, rather than demographic characteristics and differences, was insisted and focused on.

You could argue that such imaginative versatility is one of the very sophisticated qualities that distinguish our civilization, one of the jewels in its crown that lead to our ability to embrace considerable diversity within its aegis. So why is it that that very excellent quality is so under attack? What is to be gained from insisting so vehemently and so angrily that there are impassable obstacles in the way at the borders leading to the foreign lands of the other sex or of other races and religions, or that common humanity is trumped by demographic differences?

Who profits and what is driving those who prefer to propagate the myths of antagonism and alienation over the obvious truths of familiarity and commonality? The attempt to drive a wedge between the sexes, on whose happy relations we literally depend for our lives, might seem like an assassination attempt on the human race.

There is a clue in the very particular way chosen to describe human history here:

The history of all past society has consisted in the development of class antagonisms, antagonisms that assumed different forms at different epochs 

That, of course, is from the Communist Manifesto. Some people, then and now, profit from sowing discord and division (then it was class; now it is class, gender, race, and religion) because such false accounts of reality, configured entirely in terms of antagonism, exploitation, grievance, and alienation, afford opportunities and excuses to live out angry dramas and gain power based on the unjustified assumption that they are true. So habituated are we now to preferring to see things in terms of such antagonisms that we are almost dependent on the hits of outrage endorphins they give us and find it difficult to imagine weaning ourselves off them and seeing things in any other way. To see if this is true you have only to watch news programmes where virtually every item is routinely and unthinkingly configured in terms of who has been aggrieved by whom and who owes apology and compensation to whom. Division triumphs, and this is why we are no longer allowed to know each other and be friends.

The rights of the human heart: essays by Camus

via Wikimedia Commons

Personal Writings

Albert Camus, Penguin, 2020, 224 pages, £7.07

Committed Writings

Albert Camus, Penguin, 2020, 160 pages, £7.21

ALEXANDER ADAMS revisits the rich oeuvre of one of 20th century France’s finest thinkers

Albert Camus (1913-1960) confessed that he had one wellspring of inspiration: his Algerian childhood. His silent unlettered mother, his absent father (killed in the Great War) and the ever-present warmth of the sun and the presence of the sea: all these were the foundations for his insights into the world:

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened. This is why, perhaps, after working and producing for twenty years, I still live with the idea that my work has not even begun.

Ironically, Camus would be dead less than two years later, not even 50, killed in a car accident.

This idea of a return to an immutable emotional locus is something Camus reprises in the 1958 introduction to The Wrong Side and the Right Side, some of his earliest writings. This is the first part of Personal Writings, which also includes the 1939 collection Nuptials (Noces) and Summer (L’Été) of 1954. The essays of The Wrong Side and the Right Side (L’Envers et l’Endroit, previously translated as Betwixt and Between) were written 1935-6 and published in 1937 in Algeria. The book was initially little known – partly due to the low edition size – but Camus’s receipt of the Nobel Prize in 1957 turned French acclaim into international demand. The increase in attention led to Camus agreeing to a reissue of the book in 1958. Writing the introduction and re-reading the texts of The Wrong Side and the Right Side also inspired Camus’ last novel The First Man, published posthumously in 1994.

Camus held to his youthful arguments but found their forms “clumsy”. “I can confess that for me this little book has considerable value as testimony.” He also thought that in that roughness, he revealed too much of himself:

Clumsiness and disorder reveal too much of the secrets closest to our hearts; we also betray them through too careful a disguise.

The pieces are partly essay, partly story, partly memoir, each with the air of a parable.

Suddenly he realizes that tomorrow will be the same, and, after tomorrow, all the other days. And he is crushed by this irreparable discovery. It’s ideas like this that kill one, men kill themselves because they them – or, if they are young, they turn them into epigrams.

Thus, the youthful Camus is able to ironise his insight. The author dips into his familiarity with the legends of the Greeks, mentioning stories well known and obscure.  

There are prose sketches of his native Algiers. The biographical element is ever present. He describes his mother’s silence and simplicity, which held talismanic significance for him of the good person who resists the buffets of fortune. He mentions the fate of his father:

Probably he was very ordinary. Besides, he had been very keen to go to war. His head was split open in the battle of the Marne. Blinded, it took him a week to die; his name is listed on the local war memorial.

‘Death in the Soul’ describes a formative experience. Camus toured Prague, speaking only a little German – which many inhabitants did not speak – and felt ill, wandering around the landmark churches and museums. In the room next to his was a dead body. A male guest had died (Camus supposed due to suicide) and Camus saw the body when it was discovered. Banality, suffering and mortality co-exist, lacking inherent meaning. Only in retrospect did their proximity did the experiences mean anything consequential.

Nuptials contains four lyrical essays set in North Africa and Italy. It contains some beautiful description of the landscape and buildings of the coast.

The violent bath of sun and wind drained me of all strength. I scarcely felt the quivering of wings inside me, life’s complaint, the weak rebellion of the mind. Soon, scattered to the four corners of the earth, self-forgetful and self-forgotten, I am the wind and within it, the columns and the archway, the flagstones warm to the touch, the pale mountains around the deserted city. And never have I felt so deeply and at one and the same time so detached from myself and so present in the world.

Camus dwells on what he understands of life, ideas that will inform his Existentialist ideas of the 1940s and 1950s:

I tell myself: I am going to die, but this means nothing, since I cannot manage to believe it and can only experience other people’s death. I have seen people die. Above all, I have seen dogs die.

Not a profound thought, but a true one. He takes the insight as a call to live well every day. Sometimes he finds more unexpected truths –

Everyone wants the man who is still searching to have already reached his conclusions.

Camus took his morals from the working-class district of Belcourt, Algiers.

They have their code of morality, which is very well defined. You “don’t let you mother down”. You see to it that your wife is respected in the street. You show consideration to pregnant women. You don’t attack an enemy two to one, because “that’s dirty”. If anyone fails to observe these elementary rules “He’s not a man”, and that’s all there is to it. This seems to me just and strong.

A 1939 travelogue lauds Oran as ready to become a hub of international culture – “Oran, a happy and realistic city, no longer needs writers. It is waiting for tourists.” It is a sad hope that failed. The nightmare of civil war, exodus of the colonists, mismanagement under independence and further civil strife has obliterated Algeria from the world’s consciousness. Oran still awaits its tourists. Camus had odd criteria for a holiday destination. “All the bad taste of Europe and the Orient meets in Oran.” The cafés are dirty but cheap; amenities are crude; the youth follow fashions picked up from American movies.

Camus is not being only satirical – although he is; he is suggesting one gains as much understanding of the world by observing the streets of this ordinary town as the glories of Italy or Greece. As Camus later admits,

Sometimes, in Paris, when people I respect ask me about Algeria, I feel like crying out: “Don’t go there.” Such joking has some truth in it. For I can see what they are expecting and know they will not find it. And, at the same time, I know the attractions and subtle power of this country, its insinuating hold on those who linger, how it immobilizes them first by ridding them of questions and finally by lulling them to sleep with everyday life.

The companion volume, Committed Writings, is very different in tone and content. It is a collection of more polemical pieces: Letters to a German Friend, ‘Reflections on the Guillotine’ and ‘The Nobel Speeches’. The former is four articles published clandestinely in occupied France in the journal Combat. They critique Nazi ideology and the treatment by German occupying forces of the French. Although they address the recipient as “you”, Camus explains,

When the author of these letters says “you”, he means not “you Germans” but “you Nazis”. When he says “we”, this signifies not always “we Frenchmen” but sometimes “we free Europeans”

He analyses how the Nazis might see the French:

I know, you think that heroism is alien to us. You are wrong. It’s just that we profess heroism and we distrust it at the same time. We profess it because ten centuries of history have given us knowledge of all that is noble. We distrust it because ten centuries of intelligence have taught us the art and blessings of being natural.

Camus seems to set up a false dichotomy between the value of heroism and the value of peace. Peace comes from a willingness to defend one’s land and people with adequate controlled savagery and endure suffering.

As these texts are intended as moral arguments, they function quite differently from the lyrical discourses of The Wrong Side and the Right Side. They are argumentative, yet no response from the supposed recipients, the German occupiers, would have been expected. Camus is arguing his points without expectation of counterpoint. His generalisations are rather grand; instances given could be actual, inaccurate or invented. While one sympathises with the position of the author and the occupied French, these arguments are not especially strong as arguments, whatever their merits as utterances of moral superiority and personal resolution. These are the weakest pieces in the two books.   

The experience of national doubt and being detached from the certainties of tradition inculcated a suspicion of the given standards of French society after the Great War. The rapid defeat of the Second World War and the sight of many compatriots collaborating with the occupying army was the immediate spur for Existentialism and Absurdism. For Camus, the absurdity came from man without God, country, king or tradition, forced to find meaning in a universe both inhospitable and without objective morals. Camus’s humanism came – paradoxically – from the barbarity and cowardice of war and occupation. When God and the generals turned their backs upon France, it was the ordinary man (at great risk to himself) who found meaning in sacrificing his life so that his compatriots might go free. Camus’s experience of the war, during which he put his life at risk in the resistance movement, and his reading of Kafka’s The Trial, that shaped his Absurdism. The Trial is a parable of an everyman caught in a system that judges and sentences without transparency. It is, of course, a reflection upon life.

‘Reflections on the Guillotine’ (1957) is an essay on capital punishment, which accompanied a text by Arthur Koestler. Camus’s father apparently witnessed a public guillotining, which he found distressing. The account of his father’s reaction fascinated Camus his whole life. Camus’s argument against capital punishment in France and her colonies is interesting and well-argued. One argument against state killing, which was no longer public in France after a 1939 execution (quite a late date for a public execution), is that the very concealment of the horror of killing sustained support for the act because supporters did not have the opportunity to confront the reality. He adds the remarkable fact that a vast majority of the executed had, before committing their crimes, attended a public execution. (James Boswell had confessed his fascination with attending executions, whilst finding the compulsion degrading.) This tends to undermine the argument that the death penalty – and its spectacle – provides a deterrent against crime.  

‘The Nobel Speeches’ covers Camus thoughts on the role of art during the Cold War and the responsibilities of writers –

All artists must find the solution to this problem according to their sensitivities and abilities. The greater an artist’s revolt against the reality against the reality of the world, the greater the weight of that reality needed to counterbalance it. But that weight can never overpower the unique requirements of the artist.

He was positive about the importance of art.

Tyrants know that great works embody a force for emancipation that is only mysterious to those who do not worship art. Every great work of art makes humanity richer and more admirable, and that is its only secret.

The speeches feature his political outlook –

What characterizes our times, in fact, is the tension between contemporary sensitivities and the rise of the impoverished masses. We know they exist, whereas before, we tended to ignore them. And if we are aware of them, it is not because the elites, artistic elites or others, have become better.

This awareness also leaves artists prey to the desire to display false class solidarity and to mouth expected political pieties, in contradiction from their experience and insight. The explicit social function of art can conflict with honesty and integrity, both of the artwork and the creator.

All considered, on the evidence here, it is baffling that a writer of Camus’s intellect and unvarnished insight could have believed that anarchism and non-centralised socialism to be anything other than unrealistic responses to the truth of human head and human heart. It could be that Camus’s optimism regarding the human spirit outstripped his judicious consideration and one might fault him for not his Absurdism but his overestimation of the power of rationalism, in the face of all the evidence Camus himself marshalled in these essays. Readers of these excellent new editions will be able to assess that point themselves.

American piety: meet the new Boss

SHUTTERSTOCK
MARK GULLICK sees wrinkles on the Free World’s senior stuffed-shirt

“I confess that in America I saw more than America; I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or to hope from its progress”1          

President Biden is already being granted the status of a deity. Roman Emperors nominated themselves as gods. Biden outsources that troublesome administrative business to the media. The New York Times has claimed the incoming administration is “the return of the adults”. One can only, as Bertie Wooster said, shake one’s head and pass on.

Joe Biden shares one political attribute with Donald Trump; his own party neither like him nor do they want him as president.

Just as many Republicans held their noses when Trump attained the presidency in 2016, so too Biden is not wanted by his own supposed fellow partisans, and he may well be a Trojan horse containing Kamala Harris and her people. Biden looks mentally and, frankly, morally frail, a man both bereft of any real intelligence save that of the rat-like, push-button, food-pellet cunning on which the political class rely, and the possible onset of a condition causing him to stumble through sentences in a way that makes George W. Bush look like Stephen Fry.

After yet another dirty and disputed election (they actually go back to JFK), a question really has to be asked of the USA. In a country acknowledged as the world’s superpower, and containing well over 300 million people, if the best of the best are a pugnacious boor and an old man clearly in the early stages of dementia, what does this say about that country? As the psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men asks of a man he is about to kill: if the rule you followed led you to this, of what use was the rule?

Biden’s appeal, of course, is that he is not Donald Trump, in much the same way that Trump’s USP was that he was not Hillary Clinton. Trump appalled the political and media class with his 2016 victory, coming as he did from outside the ideological training camps of the establishment, or ‘the swamp’ as Trump’s (few genuine) people dubbed it. The legacy of Trump’s presidency will be more or less meaningless on the ground in 2021, as Biden’s people will have the incoming president repeal anything of worth Trump might have done. Trump has, however, distilled a strain of conservatism from a good many Americans, and his next political move will be watched with interest. The formation of the ‘Patriot Party’ is being more than whispered in the corridors of power, although he may end up just throwing rocks over the perimeter wall of Fortress Biden.

This is no mere metaphor. The implication of Biden’s absurd inauguration, which saw more troops in Washington DC than were at that time serving in Iraq and Afghanistan (and who later had to bed down in a car park) was that some redneck army was about to storm Capitol Hill, and this because – to give the media’s supposedly unbiased tone – a gaggle of trailer-trash, tornado-bait, white supremacist wastrels pranced about in the Senate House and sat in Nancy Pelosi’s chair. The Soviet-style optics of Biden’s swearing-in show what the next four years will be like for America. This could well be the power grab, and all under the false flag of healing division and the supposed social unrest ‘caused’ by Trump and his non-existent far-Right Wehrmacht. Watch for the politicisation of the American military. A lot hangs on it. Biden has already ordered that troops serving in Washington DC have their social media backgrounds checked.

As much of a failure as it seems to genuine conservatives, however, The Trump presidency did have its uses. It served to bring the deep state out of the shadows and into the light. The citizenry, the real people, are aware now that there is something going on backstage, and that something is rotten in the state of Washington DC. And, following from this revelation, it finally became obvious that the political divisions in America are genuinely partisan, although not along party lines. These are a mere mummer’s play, to distract and entertain. The significant divide is between the deep state and its operatives – from Nancy Pelosi through CNN Thunderbirds-puppet Anderson Cooper right down to the most raggle-taggle Antifa street-fighter – and ordinary people who want no part in what is taking shape.

One of the marked effects of Trump’s reign was that one part of the USA got to see just how much the other part hates them. It is axiomatic now that while creatures of the political Right may not agree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it, the Left will defend their right to be hurt by it and to do their utmost to see that you go to jail for saying it. Biden will do nothing to discourage this Leninist cultural mood music during his regime.

The hippies were fond of saying that whoever you vote for, the government always gets in. So, meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Hardly. Obama quietly advised Trump to go easy on the executive orders in 2016 but, it goes without saying, no such restriction applies to the incoming President, at least one of whose strings Obama may be pulling, and Biden had his pen out and was signing executive orders on Day 1 (I wonder which of the White House’s many rooms has a few suits of Obama’s in the wardrobe for advisory stopovers).

Obama had set a record for recent presidents – a president precedent, if you will ­– with five executive orders in his first week, trumping Trump’s four, Clinton’s one, and Bush’s zero although, in all fairness, Bush may not have worked out the click function on his biro. Well before the end of Biden’s first week in the Oval Office, he had signed 21 executive orders, with 12 subsidiaries having more or less the same effect. At the time of writing, like a cricketer enjoying his innings, he has passed the half-century mark to 52. America, welcome to Papal governance, by bull and edict, circa the Middle Ages. My apologies for the lapse into Latin, but if you don’t know what a statement ex cathedra is, you had better learn.

This snow-flurry of immediate legislation has seen Biden lead with race and its subsidiary industries, and the course of his term can be seen with clarity right from what Americans call the ‘get-go.’ Like an expert bridge player, Biden (by which I will always mean those who prop him up politically) has led with the only suit guaranteed to win any game just at the moment: immigration.

Immigrants and their corporate and moralistic lobbyists will see many things to please them in the new White House team, such as including illegal immigrants in the census, protecting the same from deportation, whatever they might do, and, notably, the possibility of a much-touted amnesty. This remains to be seen as it is a bigger ask than the usual tinkering with green cards, and the potential for problems for the regime lie in wait in the form of a possible crime wave. Always remember, it is far easier for an MS-13 gang member to move to America than it is for you to move to Japan. On a related subject, Biden will be ending what the Regime Media called the ‘Muslim ban’. It was no such thing, of course, and again this is not the best time for a wave of immigrants whose COVID status it will cost you money you don’t have to ascertain.

Now, it would seem obvious that in a time of a pandemic governments across the world have been accused of over-reacting to, accelerated immigration would not be a priority. But that axiom would assume a guiding logic, with the result being favourable for the host country. Biden – and the Democrat Party as a whole – has made it clear that the opposite is the intention. Crippling and wounding America has been the ulterior motive of every move that party has made since Obama (very much America’s Tony Blair) came to power and proceeded to double the national debt, champion Islam, play more race card aces than a saloon-bar card-cheat, and target his enemies (like the Tea Party) with a weaponised tax-auditing system.

Along with an influx of Muslim immigrants – which cannot reduce a country’s chance of terrorist attacks – there are already new ‘refugee caravans’ forming from Honduras and elsewhere. If they make it to the promised land, they will drain that land of resources by virtue of being negative social capital. Trump was right, for all his boorishness, when he pointed out that Latin American countries do not always dispatch their best and brightest to America, and also that some of the countries they are understandably escaping from are indeed, as Trump so eloquently portrayed them, “shitholes”.

Culturally, one of the most meaningful things Trump did was cut out the rot of critical race theory – a non-subject invented for political and cultural power and control – from America’s public sector. Despite occasional muttering to placate the UK’s few remaining Conservatives, Boris Johnson would never do that in the UK because it would spook the horses at The Guardian which, for reasons unknown, Johnson believes most British people read rather than an ever-dwindling number of snub-nosed readers who eat artisan bread and have children called Pandora and Oberon. If Russia carpet-bombed the London boroughs of Islington, Hampstead and Crouch End, it would halve the readership of The Guardian. I digress.

Biden will, of course, reinstate the chippy, joke-woke curriculum that has become the fad, because it does him no harm to do so. It must always be remembered that the credo of every modern politician is almost the same as the first line of the Hippocratic Oath. First do no harm. To myself.

To his credit, Biden (or rather that of his people; he is a stuffed shirt) has distanced himself from the ‘defund the police’ crazies, and would do well to steer clear of Black Lives Matter, who will demand more and more in terms of reparations, affirmative action, lighter sentencing for blacks and so on. I don’t imagine Biden can pronounce ‘anarcho-tyranny’, but I hope his team know what it is, and are against it rather than for it.

Biden has an immediate problem here, or his optics people do. The list of pressure groups and plain-old fashioned ‘political activists’ (aka ‘community organisers’. Obama was one) who will be queuing at the White House door for their quid pro quo in return for their bloc vote will be a long one. Biden had better hope that the media sides with him and not with the crazies and zanies of the hard American Left.

In terms of infrastructure, some of the Biden moves will be yawn-inducingly obvious. He has already started by pulling the plug on the K1 pipeline, and halting fracking. This will make America’s spurious ally Saudi Arabia happy as they had no desire to see an energy-independent North America. Biden will set about dismantling Trump’s wall immediately, shedding American jobs but pleasing the open borders brigade. America has just announced it will return to the jamboree of the Paris Climate Accord, which is bound to cost the taxpayer money. Trump’s tax cuts for the middle class will, it goes without saying, be annulled.

Money. As The O’Jays memorably sang, you can do bad, do bad, do bad things with it. Inflation will be the next problem for the new administration, although the media will be working with all hands on deck to claim that any financial problems encountered by the Biden White House was because of the scoundrel, Hitler-tribute-act Trump, memory-holing the fact that the pre-COVID economy was buoyant under the 45th President. No matter how confident the technocrats are, economics continues to elude them. I have never found a definitive provenance for this gemlike phrase, although noted Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis has been suggested:

Astrology became astronomy. Alchemy became chemistry. I wonder what economics will become

America is playing a dangerous game. ‘Quantitative easing’ may sound technocratically efficient and soothing, but it just effectively means printing money, which tends to mean inflation blooming into hyperinflation, as with Weimar Germany, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. In three months in 2020, ostensibly to ease the economy through the somewhat exaggerated melodrama of COVID-19, the Federal Reserve ‘created’ $3 trillion. It does not, of course, literally print money (ordinary people might be able to get hold of actual cash, and that would never do) but buys what are essentially junk bonds and creates an artificial financial ecosystem in a fiscal hothouse many believe is unsustainable.

Add to this the fact that Biden has already effectively signed off another household stimulus check, and that he has a pack of rabid socialists – such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an extraordinary fudge-brained bimbo who inexplicably has slunk in to the corridors of power – baying at him to shake the magic money tree even harder and increase the amount – and even make it a regular, monthly payment, sounding very close to the universal basic income which is in the minds of many on the Left – and the full nature of history’s biggest-ever financial gamble begins to become worryingly clear.

And it won’t just be the money supply that is at issue. It is what happens to the money that already ‘exists’. Cronyism certainly won’t be going anywhere. There is already evidence that Biden wants to reintroduce the so-called ‘Settlement Slush Funds’, an Obama monstrosity whereby corporate offenders pay not the victims of their misdemeanours, nor even the government, but a coterie of Left-wing pressure groups, including as just one example La Raza – ‘the race’ (imagine a Caucasian equivalent!) – the openly racist Latin American hybrid pressure-group of lobbyists and thugs currently attempting a reconquista. This reverses the dedicated and specific – and surely morally upstanding – work against this extraordinary funding hack by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of several Trump hires currently pulling a knife out of his back.

A priority of the Biden administration will be control of the media, particularly online. They don’t need to bother with the MSM who, if they acted any more like cheerleaders for Uncle Joe (where have I heard that name before?), would have ra-ra skirts and pom-poms and a college song. One of the most alarming events of 2020 – an alarming year all round – was the way in which government avoided accusations of censorship, de-platforming and banning various conservative voices by effectively outsourcing the dirty work at the crossroads to big tech in the same way a British bank has its call centre in Delhi. Biden won’t touch any of that. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. (With the economy, on the other hand, it will be more a case of, if it ain’t broke, fix it till it is.)

The Biden administration will be a disaster to everyone save the media, who will be campaigning as though they were the captain of the Titanic saying that the ship hadn’t sunk at all, he was just inventing the submarine. To say that America is becoming a banana republic that can’t even run a free and fair election may be to be unfair to banana republics. After all, they at least have cheap bananas, and what happens next to America is anybody’s guess. May you live in interesting times, said the Chinese sage.

  1. Alexander de Tocqueville, Democracy in America []

Learning from History – Herbart, Hayward and the Celebration Movement

ROSALIND RAWNSLEY recalls a visionary educationist

For centuries, a child’s mind was considered a tabula rasa on which the teacher would do his best to imprint a series of facts which with a bit of luck would give the pupil all the basic tools needed for him to make his future way in life – as the 19th/20th century English educationalist Professor Sir John Adams put it, dividing the ordinary consciousness from ‘mind within and the great world of facts outside’, 

…the teacher’s work is regarded as the shovelling in of as many of those outside facts as the mind can contain. The great shovel for this purpose is known as Observation; a word dear to the hearts of, ‘Teachers; Inspectors, School Superintendents; School Boards, Parents and Others interested.’1

In most cases, a basic grounding in the ‘3 Rs’, with, if they were lucky, a working knowledge of the Classics, was for centuries considered a sufficient education for those few boys who were fortunate enough to benefit from schooling of any kind. The vast majority of the population remained illiterate. 

Village School, by Jan Steen , circa 1670

As early as the early 17th century, there had been a few far-sighted philosophers with more advanced ideas on education. The best-known among them was the Czech, John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), who advocated among other innovations, pictorial textbooks written in native languages rather than only in Latin, teaching based on the introduction of gradual development from the simplest to more comprehensive concepts, lifelong-learning, focussing on logical thinking rather than rote learning, equal opportunities for poor children and education for women. 

With evident justification, Comenius is considered the father of modern education, but his was an exceptional voice crying in the wilderness.  It was not until the 18th century, with the dawn of the science of psychology, that educational innovation really began to gather pace in Europe, with the German States leading the way. But the child-centred, leisurely pace of education, first advocated by Pestalozzi and Froebel in the 18th century, and built upon by J.F. Herbart and his followers a century later, by which the child was guided by the teacher to uncover and develop his own innate understanding of the world and his place in it, could not last. With the exponential expansion of educational opportunities in the 21st century, with the invention of the microchip and the internet, space exploration and the vertiginous pace of advance in information technology in particular, this ‘Herbartian’ model has on the face of it had to be laid aside in favour of increasing specialisation. But Herbartianism, as applied through the work of the English educationalist, Frank Herbert Hayward has not been entirely superseded, and may still have a future.

J. F. Herbart, 1776-1841

Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) the German philosopher and early psychologist, is less well-known in the English-speaking world than Auguste Comte, his near contemporary, with whom he is sometimes compared. It is difficult to comprehend the reason for this neglect, given that for at least half a century after his death, as the founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline, Herbart’s philosophy of education was extremely influential.  It was widely studied and applied by prominent educationists not only in his native Germany, but also in England and in America where, as in Germany, Herbart Societies still flourish. 

Herbartianism, with all its faults, is a system; apparently the only educational system in existence which has at the same time a definite psychology; a vast and fairly coherent mass of literature, a considerable number of journals devoted to its cause; a series of great names – above all, the power of raising enthusiasm!2

Herbart’s philosophy of education can be perhaps labelled simplistically as idealist.  He begins with the concept of the mind or soul as a single, inert and homogeneous entity which becomes the battleground for the one set of forces which can have any effect upon it – the ideas. Ideas, once introduced to the soul, compete with each other for a place. 

John Adams, in his magisterial volume of essays The Herbartian Psychology Applied to Education, describes the Herbartian model of the soul as a dome, “the summit of which is the goal of the ambition of every self-respecting idea”3. The base of the dome marks the threshold between the conscious and the unconscious mind. Once an idea rises above that threshold, its first task, in order to consolidate its position in the dome, is to make useful acquaintances or connections, which together form what Herbart describes as an apperception mass. According to the Herbartian model, the whole of our intellectual life is spent in forming new apperception masses and in expanding old ones. Ideas which do not succeed in attracting others to form apperception masses, having for the time being lost the battle, will sink once again below the threshold of consciousness, where they will nonetheless remain until or unless called forth once again.

Herbart was born in Oldenburg in northern Germany in 1776.  Little is known about his early life, except that as a fragile child he was taught at home until the age of 12. Afterwards, he attended the local Gymnasium for six years, before going on to study under Fichte, who taught him to think logically, at the University of Jena. After Jena, Herbart moved to Switzerland as tutor to the children of the Governor of Interlaken.  Here he made the acquaintance of the Swiss educator Pestalozzi4 and through him became interested in educational reform.

This meeting, and his own experiences as a teacher, led Herbart during the following years to develop his own philosophy of education – first at the university of Göttingen, where he eventually became a lecturer, and later in Königsberg, where he moved in 1809 to take up the Chair of Philosophy earlier occupied by Kant. Here he established, and conducted for the next 24 years, an influential seminary of pedagogy. In 1833 he returned to Göttingen as Professor of Philosophy, where he remained in post until his death eight years later.

Herbart’s theories of education were taken up and developed in different ways by his followers, who likewise reinterpreted the philosophy of Herbart to suit their respective interpretations. ‘Herbartianism’ thus eventually became synonymous with a system of education, rather than with the original philosophy of Herbart himself. By the second half of the 19th century, Herbart’s doctrines had been so much changed that they would probably have been unrecognisable by their original author.

While Herbartianism had considerably less influence in England than in Germany and in America, it did nonetheless attract a following among influential English educationists following the 1870 Elementary Education Act. This established a framework for the compulsory education of children between the ages of five and twelve.  The direct result of this enactment was the construction and establishment countrywide of hundreds of new Elementary schools5 and it was not until the Education Act of 1891, the latest in a flurry of Education Acts passed during the twenty years after 1870,  that education was made free of charge to all pupils in Board and Church schools alike).

Among those educationists who took up the Herbartian torch were John Joseph Findlay6, John Adams7, and Catherine Dodd8 and Frank Herbert Hayward, all of whom were household names in the field of pedagogy well into the 1930s.

While students of the history of education would certainly be familiar with the first three, Hayward sank into obscurity very soon after his retirement and by the time of his death in 1954 he had more-or-less been forgotten. A pessimist by temperament, Hayward may not have forwarded his own cause as well as he might, had his personality been different; the title of his autobiography, An Educational Failure, published in 1938, encapsulated his self-doubt, and as is so often the case, he was taken at his own estimation. This neglect was nothing short of a tragedy in the field of moral education.

Frank Herbert Hayward was born in 1872 into a poor but industrious Nonconformist family in Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire. Highly motivated and of a studious disposition, he was to become in early adulthood a man of formidable energy and mental ability, rising to become a prolific writer and a highly respected (though controversial) educationist.

He attended various schools, mainly in Bristol, becoming a Pupil Teacher at Barton Hill in 1887, where he seems to have remained on the staff until 1895, when he gained a scholarship to University College, Bristol. From Bristol he gained by private study a B.A. from London University and went on to study for a Teacher’s Diploma at the College of Preceptors, where he gained a Special Certificate of Ability to Teach in 1899. During his studies for this diploma, he appears simultaneously to have studied privately for a B.Sc. in chemistry and geology, and for an M.A. in philosophy and economics.

In 1900 he was admitted as an Advanced Student at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, whence the following year (at some point evidently having acquired a working knowledge of German) he was given a grant by his College to study education at the University of Jena. Here he wrote The Critics of Herbartianism (1903) in which he gives a detailed critique of some 14 German commentaries on Herbart.    

That same year, he gained a D.Litt. from London University, his thesis being entitled The Ethics and Philosophy of Sidgwick ((Henry Sidgwick,1838-1900) English utilitarian philosopher and economist.  Knightbridge Professor of Moral PhilosophyUniversity of Cambridge 1883-1900. Author of The Methods of Ethics. Co-founder (1875) of Newnham College, University of Cambridge for women)) published in book form as The Ethical Philosophy of Sidgwick (1901). Meanwhile, he gained the Moral Science prize and a B.A. from Cambridge. These studies in Germany and at Cambridge seem to have awakened his interest in moral education and the precepts of Herbartianism in this field, which was thereafter to remain the principal focus of his working life. 

In 1902 he became Organising Teacher for Mid-Devon, published lectures on Herbartianism in Cambridge, while that year and the years immediately following, he gave lectures in Marburg in Germany. Later, he was appointed Assistant Inspector of Schools for the London County Council, where, rising to become Chief Inspector, he remained until his retirement in 1937. 

During the next 35 years he gave lectures on moral education in various parts of the country, published innumerable pamphlets and some 30 books, not only on educational topics, but also on matters as diverse as ‘Temperance’ and the ‘Power of the Press’. Biographies of Oliver Cromwell, Marcus Aurelius and Alfred the Great were well received by the press. Perhaps his greatest and most original contribution to moral education, however, was the Celebration Movement.

In his biography of Marcus Aurelius (1935) Hayward wrote:

I have been hunting during thirty years for a solution of what has notoriously been regarded as a certain “difficulty” in schools, as well as of certain cultural and civic “difficulties” allied to it… In the spirit of Comte, and indeed under his direct influence, I am an advocate; in schools and out of schools of Celebrations of Great Men as well as of Great Ideas and Great Institutions, in the hope that such Assembly Methods, with their mass emotion and broad impressions and an occasional touch of splendour, will be of help in these times of spiritual unsettlement and distress…9

Hayward’s period of greatest activity was likewise a period of flux in educational thinking.  Moral education and education for citizenship became more important than ever during this time of profound upheaval in all aspects of life following the conclusion of the Great War. Education had already been high on the government agenda during the closing years of the 19th century, and, following the flurry of major Education Acts in the years following 187610 by the outbreak of war in 1914 Britain did already have a basic educational system.  Nonetheless, for most of the population this did not extend beyond the Elementary age limit of 12.  By the end of the war, it had become all too apparent that education was more important than ever, not just for the children, but for the improvement of national morale as the country attempted to rebuild the structure of society and to create a ‘land fit for heroes’ from the ashes of conflict.

Hayward did not claim originality for the idea of the Celebration, tracing it back to Plato in The Laws, but the worked-out development and application to educational purposes was entirely his own.

The notion of celebrating ‘Empire Day’, inaugurated in 1907, had set Hayward thinking. He considered it “scrappy, faddy and narrowly propagandist”.  However, he thought, if it were to be celebrated as one of a group of five annual festivities (the others being ‘Home’, ‘City’, ‘Nation’, and ‘League of Nations’), it could be an excellent idea. Alone, there was a danger of Empire Day being nothing but a display of jingoism. On the other hand, under intelligent guidance, the school celebration of Empire Day might include, “impressive references to the ancient empires of the world as well as to those of later times”. The significance of the modern (British) Empire would be enhanced by being set in context. Taken alone, Hayward thought, there was also the danger that children who associated the word ‘Empire’ with a local music hall or cinema, would completely miss the point:

No adult can conceive of the mix-up in many children’s minds as they gather at the annual event and are given a flag to wave about.

The Empire Day concept, he considered, was too good and too original to be lost, but the way in which it was marked was very unsatisfactory. As he thought of it, it required an entirely “new spiritual start”. If the notion of a Celebration of Empire or Commonwealth was legitimate and attractive, Celebrations of the other four concepts, he considered, should be given equal weight. Looking back over his life in An Educational Failure, he regretted that this logic had not appealed to others in authority. Before the First World War, Herbartianism had risen from almost complete obscurity to a position of some prestige, with astonishing rapidity, particularly in England. Yet in the wake of the 1918 Education Act it went, at least nominally, swiftly into decline.

During the War, Hayward, like many others, had been giving considerable thought to ways in which education might be advanced once hostilities were over. Towards the end of the War, he circulated to educational journals and influential individuals a 10,000-word pamphlet, The Religious Difficulty in Schools – A Solution of an ‘Insoluble’ Problem.  However, like an earlier, more academic pamphlet directed to various members of the clergy; supporters of the controversial Education Bill and others; this received a lukewarm response.

A few encouraging letters came, indeed; from teachers (mainly women) and one or two from people of the literary and artistic type; attracted by the idea of a National School Liturgy. Hardly any came from the champions of “religious education”, “freedom of the teachers from religious tests” and other catch phrases of the last decade or two.11

It may be, he continued sarcastically,

…that the majestic brains of these gentlemen are still silently absorbing my suggestions and preparing a scheme of incomparable grandeur.  Great minds need time… 

It was therefore useless to bandy reproaches.  Hayward evidently had grandiose hopes for his proposals: “I undertake”, he wrote:

…to make the British nation fundamentally cultured on matters of Bible, literature, and music if I can get a few collaborators and the moderate use of official notepaper and stamps of any responsible educational body such as the Board of Education or the National Union of Teachers”12

Evidently not lacking in self-assurance, Hayward had, he continued, indicated the way to a solution of,

…the very honest problem of religious, civic, and aesthetic education that has been raised during the past half century…  

As if this were not enough, a further problem, which to his mind educationists had not considered at all, and one which would equally be addressed by his scheme, was that of the didactic approach to the Bible, literature and even music. There was a need to rescue, he felt, “the ear from its bondage to the eye”; educationists imagining that the Bible and Shakespeare and music should be taught through the medium of print, rather than being heard in live reading or performance.13

While these pamphlets may have received a disappointing response, the second document led Hayward to make the acquaintance of Arnold Freeman. Freeman was a Fabian, a philosopher, an educationist, a playwright, an Anthroposophist and founder of the Rudolf Steiner Sheffield Settlement for adult education. Freeman was, according to Hayward,

…one of the few men actively on the look-out for an educational contribution to the very threatening contemporary situation

This meeting proved to be momentous: it led to the joint production of a much-reviewed ‘manifesto’, published in The Spiritual Foundations of Reconstruction (1919) in which was set out for the first time the concept of the Celebration as a means of moral and civic instruction. Hayward had evidently had the idea at the back of his mind for some time before meeting Arnold Freeman, and it now became a fully worked-out tool for teaching moral values.

Hayward considered that as a disinterested educational practitioner who was not susceptible to political whims, he could bring an independent mind to bear on the solution of great problems. His earlier idea for an Empire Day Celebration had been suspected of partisanship. But nobody, he maintained could discover partisanship in the Celebration itself.  “What we can discover”, he wrote,

…is sound pedagogy; and the only criticism that can be proffered is that it is a solitary Celebration instead of being, as it should be; one among fifty others, each designed to impress the child with the greatness and the weakness of man, and to convey to his mind the social heritage of the race.14

Education was seen as a key element in the creation of ‘a land fit for heroes’, to compensate for the horrors of war and the terrible wastage of life lost in the fields of Flanders, while at the same time acting as a means of offering some reparation to those who had given their lives, and even more, to those who had survived.  Education for peace, and social and spiritual reconstruction were high on the agenda before, and in the years following, the Armistice.

How was this to be achieved became a burning question for educationists. Hayward and Freeman had written in the opening words of The Spiritual Foundations of Reconstruction:

The people of Great Britain desire fervently that the coming peace may bring a League of Nations and an Industrial and Social Order based upon Co-operation… If we are to reconstruct with understanding and imagination, we must have an electorate possessed of an intelligent grasp of the truth of things – of the workings of nature; of man’s history upon this planet; of social evolution…  There must be developed for the appreciation of this environment a widely-diffused reverence for Beauty.  Year upon year, and perhaps decade upon decade of after-war disorder and conflict can be avoided only if the minds of the people are filled with such ideals of national and international Citizenship as will assure unity and co-operation.15

This was to be achieved, they thought, through the schools. The very fact that it had been thought necessary to institute a national celebration of Empire Day, was in their opinion a tacit admission by the authorities that the concept of patriotism had not adequately been conveyed to pupils in either denominational or non-denominational schools, on the pretext that religious instruction included moral and civic education. This notion had been proved in practice to be erroneous since,

…if patriotism had been adequately and impressively taught in scriptural or theological lessons, there would have been no need of these celebrations! 

Following the first Empire Day celebration in 1907, the Feast of St. David had been marked since 1915 and the birthday of William Shakespeare since 1916. What for Hayward and Freeman had been “the most pregnant feature” of these celebrations had been the entirely new conception of educational method to which they bore witness.

Whether or not their originators realized the principle underlying them does not concern us.  It is none the less revolutionary. In its bleakest and most absolute form the principle is that:  THE CLASS TEACHING OF THE BIBLE, LITERATURE, MUSIC, HISTORY, AND CERTAIN OTHER SUBJECTS SHOULD BE LARGELY ABOLISHED IN FAVOUR OF A LITURGICAL CEREMONIAL. OR CELEBRATIONAL TREATMENT.  THESE SUBJECTS ARE NOT SO MUCH LEARNED AS ‘IMBIBED’16

Here the Herbartian principle of ‘apperception’ is invoked. Herbart believed that the mind was the sum-total of all ideas which entered into one’s conscious life, which grouped themselves into “apperceptive masses”. By assimilation (or apperception) new ideas could enter the mind through association with ideas already present. This principle could be applied to almost any arts subject – History, Morals and Religion could better be taught through Celebrations than by formal didactic methods.

The ‘revolutionary Scheme’ which Hayward and Freeman now proposed had already in part been formulated by Hayward himself. Writing in 1912, in his controversial book on educational administration (The Psychology of Educational Administration and Criticism) which he had written as a rebuttal of Edmond Holmes’ notorious Circular attacking elementary school education17 Hayward argued that what was lacking from moral and religious lessons in particular was an understanding of the necessity for appreciation.

The formulary for this new approach consisted of four Proposals, which Hayward had earlier outlined in a jointly-written letter to The Times Educational Supplement, the first of which, based on his earlier ideas, was eventually to form the nucleus of the Celebration Movement under his sole aegis18.

PROPOSAL I [all capitals in original]

THERE SHOULD BE PREPARED A SYSTEM OF SCHOOL CELEBRATIONS, INTENDED AS IMPROVEMENTS ON THE EXISTENT EMPIRE DAY SHAKESPEARE DAY, AND ST. DAVID’S DAY CELEBRATIONS, AND AS VAST EXTENSIONS OF THE PRINCIPLE THEY EMBODY; THAT IS TO SAY, THERE SHOULD BE A NATIONAL SCHOOL LITURGY OF THE BIBLE, LITERATURE, MUSIC, AND CEREMONIAL.

Day after day, the child would hear the best portions of the Bible read impressively, as well as other splendid passages of poetry and prose. He would be familiarized with several hundred of the choicest pieces of music; once a week (say) he would witness or take part in a Celebration, ceremonial, or piece of pageantry in honour of a great personage (St. Paul, Alfred the Great, Joan of Arc, St. Francis, George Washington) or a great idea (The League of Nations, France, Agriculture, Science, Freedom).

PROPOSAL II

THE HUMDRUM DUTIES OF LIFE SHOULD BE EXPOUNDED BY THE TEACHER IN SPECIFIC MORAL AND CIVIC LESSONS, APART FROM THE LITURGY, BUT CONSTANTLY DRAWING ILLUSTRATION AND SUPPORT FROM THE LITURGY. DURING THESE LESSONS THE MAIN STRESS SHOULD BE ON THE REASON, WHEREAS IN THE LITURGY, REASON WOULD BE SUBORDINATE TO FEELING – TO “ADMIRATION, HOPE AND LOVE”.  Pro AND Con MATERIAL SHOULD BE OFFICIALLY SUPPLIED TO THE TEACHER FOR LESSON PURPOSES AND ALSO THE MOST UP-TO-DATE AND COMPLETE INFORMATION ON QUESTIONS OF HYGIENE, CIVICS, ETC. 

The teacher would be free to express personal opinions, but if they were controversial he would be expected to refer his pupils (particularly as they grew older) to pro and con documents provided for the purpose. These documents would be drawn up by a board of responsible educationists, every sect and party sending from time to time statements of its views.

PROPOSAL III

SCIENTIFIC CHARTS OF TIME, SPACE, AND HISTORY SHOULD BE STATUTORILY HUNG ON THE WALLS OF EVERY SCHOOL so that false views about the age of the earth, the existence of a material and spatial heaven “above the skies,” etc., could not obtain a fixed lodgement in children’s minds, and so that a definite and true time and space scheme could, on the other hand, receive a very fixed lodgement indeed.

PROPOSAL IV

REPRESENTATIVES OF ALL SECTS, PARTIES, PROFESSIONS, MOVEMENTS, ETC., AS WELL AS TEACHERS, SHOULD BE URGED TO GIVE ADDRESSES TO THE WHOLE SCHOOL AT THE TIMES SET APART FOR THIS IN THE LITURGICAL ARRANGEMENTS. Parents and “the public” should be specially invited to attend.”

During the recent war, the sinister influence of propaganda had been acutely recognised as a danger to democracy. It was therefore of vital importance that children should be educated to recognise that few issues are clear-cut. Future citizens trained to see both sides of every important hygienic, ethical and political question would thereafter be able to think for themselves and know how to get at the facts. The time charts advocated would give children a framework of space-and-time relationships which would familiarise them with the general scheme of things.

The rationale of the proposal, that children should listen daily to the finest music and literature and take part regularly in some sort of pageantry or ceremonial, would, it was felt, go a long way to rendering every child aesthetically sensitive – a more effective way of appealing to a child’s appreciation of Beauty than the lessons, dealing primarily and laboriously with technique, currently given.

The grandiose plan for a national liturgy of Celebrations – a sort of precursor of the National Curriculum – through which every child in the land would be offered the same experiences, would, the authors hoped, create a network of common culture-memories. Such a network would in turn help to bind the members of the population together, thus in turn combating the loneliness and isolation of a nation of individuals, a feeling exacerbated by the effects of the recent conflict. If adopted by schools of all classes, Hayward and Freeman’s proposals would, they averred, “bind the nation together by a thousand bonds of sympathy”, while at the same not destroying but intensifying whatever is valuable in sectional and individual effort”19

Although The Spiritual Foundations of Reconstruction was very well received by the press, the response from the teaching profession to the invitation to contribute their own suggestions was distinctly tepid. Hayward was understandably disappointed. In a letter to F.J. Gould, a secular humanist, follower of Comte and prominent educationist, who had reviewed the book with enthusiasm, he expressed his disappointment, but said that nonetheless he hoped to publish a first Book of Celebrations in the course of the year.

This volume duly appeared in 1920. It was reviewed in Nature as “a sound idea”, the writer considering that the suggestions made were wise and well thought out, and he was convinced that the methods suggested, “would grip in a way that nothing except the teacher’s personal influence has hitherto done”.20 He noted that the subjects dealt with were Shakespeare, the League of Nations, Democracy and St. Paul. Celebrations which had already appeared in The Spiritual Foundations of Reconstruction; to which were added Celebrations of,

…bards and seers; world conquerors, Samson, eugenics, temperance, commerce, summer, flying, Chaucer and Spenser.21

By the time the book was published the Celebration movement was beginning to gather momentum, but mainly through Hayward’s own promotional efforts through the London County Council Education Committee.

A second book of Celebrations, published the same year, expanded on the themes of the first, with the virtues of Work and Toleration, individual great men from history and from the recent past: Alfred the Great, Pasteur and Lister, Sir Philip Sidney, the artists Turner and Watts, The Musician, national Celebrations of Poland and Ireland (the latter in an attempt to alleviate the crisis following the 1918 uprising), Military Conflicts in Palestine, a revised Celebration for Empire Day, and finally, Political Parties, and School Leaving Day

No indication is given as to whether any of these Celebrations had actually been performed. However, The Journal of Education, reporting on a Summer School of Civics at High Wycombe noted that,

Dr. Hayward organised two of his school Ceremonials, one in honour of the city and the other to commemorate the League of Nations. These were carried out by the staff of the Summer School and proved impressive Celebrations  ((Journal of Education; September 1920, p.586))

In an interview with the present writer, Dr. Hayward’s son Frank observed that although the whole gamut of Celebrations eventually covered a great variety of topics, many of the early Celebrations were of a biographical nature, celebrating the lives of great men.  This he saw not just as a reflection of his father’s Herbartianism, but also because he was a Victorian projected into the 20th century, carrying with him the very Victorian characteristic of admiration for the great figures of history.

In a bid further to disseminate the concept, in 1926 Dr. Hayward launched a new quarterly journal, The Celebration Bulletin, which ran to 16 issues. Each contained several fully worked-out complete Celebrations, which could be staged by subscribers. In 1928, despite the rather discouraging response, Hayward published A New Book of Celebrations, reviewed in the Journal of Education:

On former occasions we have directed attention to Dr. Hayward’s idea of Celebrations, and to his very suggestive helps towards carrying the idea into practice… It is not difficult to detect the note of disillusionment and disappointment in Dr. Hayward’s preface. He has worked hard, and has received messages of approval from men so far apart in some ways as H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Dr. R.J. Campbell and Prof. J. Arthur Thomson. Yet his efforts, marked though they are by ability and sincerity, have so far not commanded wide success.22

Hayward had many other eminent admirers within the profession, including Sir John Adams.23 Yet Sir Michael Sadler24 who must have known of Hayward even if they were not personally acquainted, did not find it necessary to include his name in his 1927 encyclopaedic list of British educationists, pioneering teachers, educational philosophers and administrators, whose talents had made Great Britain the greatest exporter of educational ideas of the time25.

A fourth and final book of Celebrations was published in 1932, in which details were given of those which actually had been performed. Of the 28 listed, ranging from Old Testament figures, classical writers, Shakespeare, Schubert, Purcell, various European countries, and India; to The Nation (England), The Home and the virtues of Temperance and Work and Saving.  Of these, nine or ten had been performed once, Schubert twice and Virgil three times. 

Altogether, F.H. Hayward compiled around 100 Celebrations on different topics, putting a lifetime’s knowledge and expertise into their creation. It was extremely discouraging therefore for him that his radical ideas were never enthusiastically embraced by the teaching profession, or the world’s educational authorities and governments. The Celebration as a means of moral and spiritual education seemed to be ‘dead in the water’.

Or was it?

Hayward had unfortunately become obsessed with the Celebration as the most effective means of combining religious instruction, moral education, and the teaching of citizenship, and this may have been his ultimate undoing.  Teachers, war-weary, conservative in outlook and no doubt discouraged when the first post-Armistice euphoria gave way all too soon to the Great Depression, were perhaps not ready to embrace this revolutionary inter-disciplinary concept.

The claims of science, not least as advocated by Bertrand Russell26 to be pre-eminent in any educational system at the expense of the humanities, may have been a contributory factor in the decline of interest in overt Herbartianism and, in parallel, in F.H. Hayward. Pedagogy, largely under the influence of the advances in educational psychology, also moved on, gaining its own momentum.

Yet Herbartian ideas did not expire with the 1918 Education Act, but continued to permeate educational thinking, even perhaps to the present day. The sinking of overt Herbartianism below the level of consciousness in educational theory does not imply its extinction. In 1929, Cyril Norwood, Headmaster of Harrow School, though not specifically acknowledging the influence of Herbart, wrote that an education on which the cause of international peace could be most firmly based was “founded on practical Christianity, culture, and character”. 27.  Norwood was advocating, in other words, the cultivation of the Herbartian ‘circle of thought’ as the foundation of a moral education. 

Child-centred education has not been abandoned.  It was a key to teaching practices, particularly in the 1970s – developing children’s understanding of the world by investigating the outdoor environment through a cross-curricular approach28. It was only with the introduction of a more rigid structure through the ‘National Curriculum’ proposed by the 1988 Education Act that this Herbartian’ approach to curriculum planning had, at least nominally, to be laid aside.  Every Government, of whatever political affiliation, has ever since the introduction of a National Curriculum if not from 1870 onwards, felt it incumbent upon them to tinker with the methods and content of education, in a manner which would no doubt have been anathema to Hayward.

Nonetheless, Herbart’s ideas and Hayward’s practical suggestions and theories continue to underpin educational praxis to this day, even if no longer in formal curriculum planning. The present writer, in collaboration with the Head Teacher and staff of a Shropshire primary school, during the late 1980s and early 1990s directed a series of major thematic interactive Festivals of the Arts and Sciences for young people, outside school hours, which could be considered as natural developments of Hayward’s ‘Celebrations’, and there were other examples elsewhere.

There are few comparable events today in schools, and certain aspects of Hayward’s theories feel outdated – which is rather ironic, considering that he conceived them as liberating and modernising. In 2021, history is more often contested than celebrated, morals, sociology and even the hard sciences are in a state of flux, while the concept of ‘Great Men’ is at odds with modern ‘diversity’ and egalitarian preoccupations. Yet still there must be a place for a model of education that uplifts even as it informs, and at the same time provides all-round thematic understanding rather than partisanship or uninspiring specialisation. Hayward, like Comenius in his day, seems for the moment to have been a voice crying in the wilderness, but perhaps his time too is yet to come.

  1. John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology Applied to Education, 1897, p. 135 []
  2. F.H.Hayward, The Critics of Herbartianism, p.52 []
  3. John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology Applied to Education, 1897, p.50 []
  4. Johan Heinrich Pestalozzi, 1746-1827. Founded several educational institutions, in Germany and in the Francophone cantons of Switzerland, publishing several works on his principles, revolutionary at the time. Educational motto: ‘Learning by head, hand and heart.’ Through his work, illiteracy in 18th century Switzerland was almost completely overcome by 1830 []
  5. Education did not become compulsory for all children until 1880 []
  6. John Joseph Findlay 1860-1940 Scottish educationist, Sarah Fielden Professor of Education, Owens College, Manchester []
  7. Sir John Adams 1857-1934, First Principal of UCL Institute of Education; Professor of Education at University of Glasgow, knighted 1925 for services to education. Author of The Herbartian Psychology Applied to Education []
  8. Catherine Isabella Dodd 1860-1932 First woman on academic staff of Victoria University, Manchester as lecturer in Education. Principal of Cherwell Hall Teacher Training College, Oxford 1906. Author of several titles on education including Introduction to the Herbartian Principles of Teaching (1898) in England in the last years of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th []
  9. Preface to Marcus Aurelius – A Saviour of Men, (1935) p.9 []
  10. 1876 – Compulsory for all children to receive an education; 1880 – Attendance made compulsory from 5 – 10; 1891 – Elementary Education Act made primary education for all intents and purposes free, since the State would pay school fees up to 10s per head; 1893 – School leaving age raised to 11; 1899 – School leaving age raised to 12 and later to 13; 1902 – Balfour Act []
  11. The Religious Difficulty in Schools, A Solution of an Insoluble Problem, The Literary Guide, 1917, also a pamphlet,  p.1 []
  12. The Religious Difficulty in Schools, p.3 []
  13. Ibid. p.4 []
  14. The Psychology of Educational Administration and Criticism, p.504f. []
  15. The Spiritual Foundations of Reconstruction, p.3f. []
  16. Capitals in original []
  17. E.G.A. Holmes, Chief Inspector of Elementary Schools in England , had in 1910 circulated a memorandum, not intended for publication, in which in the light of reports received from H.M. Inspectors of Schools, he is highly critical of elementary school teachers and local elementary school inspectors.  The majority of these, including F.H. Hayward, came from a working-class elementary school background and were ex-elementary school teachers.  The only local Inspectors who were really able to bring ‘freshness and originality” to their work, Holmes maintained, came from a public school and Oxbridge background.  The memorandum was leaked, and not surprisingly caused a furore. []
  18. The Times Educational Supplement, August 1st 1916, p.104 []
  19. The Spiritual Foundations of Reconstruction, p.15 []
  20. Nature, Vol.CV No;2649, 5th August 1920, p.707 []
  21. Ibid. []
  22. Journal of Education & School World, May 1928, p.361 []
  23. “The more I consider you and your educational work the more I regard you as a figure in the history of education rubbing shoulders with and rousing the writer’s wonder at the inability of your contemporaries to appreciate the value of your contribution…  The time will come when light will break… and you will be raised to the pedestal which is being silently prepared for you”, Sir John Adams, letter to Frank Herbert Hayward, 18th May 1933, quoted in An Educational Failure, p.152 []
  24. Sir Michael Ernest Sadler, KCSI, CB, 1861 – 1943) English historian, educationalist and university administrator (Manchester) and Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds []
  25. J.H. Higginson (ed.) ‘The Educational Outlook’ in Selections from Michael Sadler, Studies in World Citizenship, p.150 ff. M.E. Sadler’s Presidential Address to the 16th Conference of Educational Associations, 1927 []
  26. Vide B. Russell, On Education, p.27 ff. []
  27. C. Norwood, The English Tradition of Education, p.187 []
  28. Vide Colin Brown & John Turnock, Curriculum Design in the Two/Three Teacher School.  Curriculum, Vol.2 No.2 Autumn 1981 []

Something rotten in the state of education

Temple of Concordia and statue of Icarus, Agrigento, Sicily – SHUTTERSTOCK
ALLEGRA BYRON witnesses the winnowing of the Western curriculum

In the final scene of Hamlet, the Danish kingdom lays in ruins: a corrupt leader bleeds to death; a poisoned First Lady takes her last breath; a young nobleman dies by his own treachery; and a fatally wounded prince, desperately seeking Truth and Justice, urges his close friend to report the true nature of things. This outward carnage and chaos mirror the deep rot within.

As dramatic as this may sound, the crumbling Danish world metaphorically parallels the disappearing, Western kingdom. In particular, our education system, fundamental to the prosperity and progress of any society, lays bleeding on all sides. The dismantling and decay (and ‘decolonising’) of education directly affects the core participants – the pupils, the teachers, the parents – most of whom have become victims of the Conqueror Worm1. Often, they are too manipulated or confused or exhausted to see that the few hoarse voices protesting against the destruction of school curricula are not “mere madness” but urgently attempting to restore order from chaos, to weed out the cankers.

In most schools, two significant learning areas embedded in the curricula are English (language and literature) and history. Whilst each country offers various colours and flavours of these subjects, dependent evidently upon cultural contexts, governments, educational bodies and the public, would agree that our young people need to demonstrate competency and confidence in communicating; they need to read and write and speak and spell well. Admittedly, line-ups for ‘meet the history teacher’ cannot compete with the mad dash for the maths and English teachers’ tables at parent-teacher nights, yet most do place value on pupils knowing about their past and how that past affects their present and future. Australia, like other nations, has sought to standardise its education nationally, believing that this decision ensures equal access for all Australian children. Indeed, students deserve quality, academically rigorous, twenty-first century schools to shape them into life-long learners, allowing them to be active citizens. Noble aims. Important aims. Tragically, however, this hopeful national curriculum with all its virtuous pursuits is an “unweeded garden / That grows to seed”2

“Alas, poor Yorick – I knew him, Horatio”: the disappearing texts

One value in immersing young minds in classical literature, a luminous tapestry of novels, plays, short stories and poetry, is that these works present, as Mortimer Adler once suggested, the great enduring truths of the human experience3. Between the pages of ‘old books’ a reader discovers love, goodness, despair, forgiveness, longing, graciousness, evilness, beauty, honour, truth and justice. These discourses are offered through the windows of sophisticated, varied vocabulary, clever phrasing and fresh, figurative diction and mature syntax. C S Lewis believed strongly that

…the only palliative [to the blindness of our own century] is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books  ((Lewis, C S The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Others’ Eyes, edited by David C Downing. William Collins Books, p.47)).

Given his ability to read just about everything and then remember everything he read, Lewis had something of value to say about reading choices. Shakespeare’s country grammar school days at King’s New School also valorised the classics. The schoolmasters instructed in spoken and written Latin. During the mornings and afternoons, the diligent pupils translated biblical texts from Greek into Latin and English. They were skilled in Butler’s Rhetorik, andthe boys also studied authors such as Terence, Virgil and Horace. At breaks, mucking about in the schoolyard, the lads were encouraged to speak in Latin (a space, perhaps, to craft his witty insults?). While the drudgery of Elizabethan schoolwork is self-evident in the well-known Romeo and Juliet simile, “Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their books, / But love from love, toward school with heavy looks”, 400 years later, contemporary audiences benefit from Shakespeare’s liberal education, clearly evident in his writings. Closer to our time, a Queensland school reader, given to 12 and 13-year olds, dating from the 1960s, aimed “to instil into the minds of pupils such a love of literature as will last beyond school-days and be an unfailing source of profit and delight”  ((The Department of Education. Queensland School Reader – Grade 7, Queensland Government Printer, 1967, p. iii)). The collections of accomplished visual artists, poets and short story writers selected for young Australian girls and boys were “compend[ia] of useful knowledge as well as a treasury of beautiful thoughts”  ((Ibid.)).

Today’s modern reading lists in many schools, au contraire, shy away from classical works. They are dropping off and disappearing. Instead, the-powers-that-be scramble to introduce newly published texts into the Australian classroom, replacing the tried and tested. English teachers’ organisations across the country will openly acknowledge the deliberate decision to highlight texts that reflect the myriad of (current) voices in Australia. These ‘new’ texts have morphed into supposed ‘tools of reconciliation’ for the silenced Australian voices. Books (and the odd poem) appear as vehicles of change: to dismantle the white or male (or both) cultural norms. Now, classical literature, part of the ‘best that has been thought and said’, when evident in teachers’ unit plans, is often reduced to a gender warfare or a platform to disrupt the ‘settler myth’ or colonial injustices. Teachers are repackaged as social engineers. For example, on the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) website, viewers are offered Year 9 sample student responses to an analytical essay on the ‘role of women’ in Macbeth ((https://australiancurriculum.edu.au/resources/work-samples/english-work-samples-portfolios/. Accessed 31 December 2020)). Thus, 14 and 15-year old students, still emerging writers, still wrestling with accurate written expression, are requested to uncover the alleged gender imbalance in an Elizabethan text. Rather than discover the beauty and craft of masterful language and storytelling, the teenagers must interrogate the play for its perpetuation or subversion of dominant power dynamics and ideologies. At Eton College – a school that dismissed a teacher for ‘gross misconduct’, that is, for daring to promote masculinity – the headmaster promised that

…the teaching of history, geography, religious studies, politics and English will change and that decolonisation will be incorporated into assemblies, religious services, tutorials and societies also”4.

Across the Atlantic, a recently formed American organisation called #DisruptTexts, “whose mission [is] to aid and develop teachers committed to anti-racist/anti-bias teaching pedagogy and practices”, claims that “white supremacy” in classrooms is real, and that teachers’ roles are to collapse the deeply embedded racism and “to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum that … students deserve”5. White supremacy is evident, so goes the tall tale, in our ‘worship’ of the word (rather than pictures). This angry mob of anti-Western canon protesters challenge their new comrades with the question: “Who determined that long words were the only words that could be considered complex?”6 Apparently, their placards proclaim, when we criticise these new ideologically-approved texts then we criticise the young people that read them.

Back on Australian soil,English teachers are trained how to present ‘culturally sensitive texts’, ones that could contain “community and/or family violence and abuse (sexual or other), alcohol and drug use, crime, explicit sex scenes” for their “literary merit”  ((Page, Phil and Shipp, Cara. “Teaching Culturally Sensitive Texts” AATE/IFTE ‘If’ 2020 Conference, 6 -10 July 2020, Sydney Grammar School. https://readingaustralia.com.au/2020/09/workshop-teaching-culturally-sensitive-texts/. Accessed 16 December 2020)). Wide reading lists in some schools for pubescent students will privilege homosexual and/or transgender ideology. If teachers contest the use of these texts, then these questions reveal teachers’ intolerance or ‘their lack of understanding’. Often any logical reasons offered against the use of these texts are considered right wing, fascism. Do Australian educators need to fear the Eton teacher’s fate? Some parents also are too afraid to make noise. One American writer and cultural critic has identified parents as ‘tyrants’. He moans, “parents’ [sic] is an oppressive class, like rich people or white people”7. It’s no wonder mums and dads feel silenced and disempowered.

Clearly, not all Australian voices are welcome in the carefully constructed, ‘progressive’ classrooms. And not all silenced, marginalised voices are being heard. Where has the treasury of beautiful thoughts disappeared? Will these new books become ‘sources of profit and delight’?

Yesterday’s battles, today

History in Australian schools has not been inoculated against the disease of rapid disruption. The outspoken Scottish history academic, Jill Stephenson, opened a recent article with these words: “No school subject lends itself more readily to political manipulation and propaganda than history”8.  The 2014 review of the Australian Curriculum identified an “undue emphasis” on the three cross-curriculum priorities: sustainability, the histories and cultures of Indigenous Australians and Australia’s engagement with Asia9. The post-modern pendulum swings heavily in favour of this three-pronged priority at the expense of a balanced presentation of Western civilisation and its Judeo-Christian heritage. Stephanie Forrest of the Sydney think-tank, Institute of Public Affairs, found that current, Australian Curriculum-approved, history textbooks were “factually incorrect”, made “outrageous statements” and in some places presented “an environmentalist, socialist and sometimes almost Marxist agenda”10. For the most part, however, the 21st century history class has textbook-styled lessons buried, and they now re-emerge as pseudo-scholarly fora, where eras and movements appear via primary sources. Teenaged students, still embryonic in seeing the broad sweep of history from its beginning, now must become historiographers, articulating academic, historical hypotheses and debating the usefulness and reliability of sources before they understand their world and its timeline. Instead of deep learning and time to ruminate, the students, too soon, must learn how to evaluate, analyse and assess the credibility of published authors. They become lost in piles of primary and secondary sources, pouring over visual and written artefacts constructed for an adult audience. In some cases, given that the standard for senior history subjects is so unattainable, the criteria just too difficult, these high school ‘scholars’ will be locked out of taking history courses in upper secondary if their grades are only ‘satisfactory’.

Further, the history units gallop at top speed. Some have one lesson on the Renaissance. The Reformation didn’t happen (apparently, as it’s not referenced in some schools). World War I can be taught in nine lessons. Capitalism is critiqued. Socialism is privileged. Teachers collide, breathlessly, in breeze-ways and hallways, quizzing their colleagues, “Have you finished — unit yet?”. They mark, meet and moderate (papers). And then they do it all again. And again.

But we need history. Despite the pundits arguing that history yawns with ‘drill-and-kill’, so many students continue to love the human stories that arise along the historical timeline. Young people lean in to hear about the ‘boy soldiers’, Trooper Harold Thomas Bell, for example, from the Australian Light Horse Regiment. He was a farmer lad from country Victoria. Although so long ago in a land far, far away, the students feel empathy upon hearing that Harry, like so many others, died from gunshot wounds after the charge against Beersheba on 31 October 1917. He was only 16. Pools of pupils will linger to talk to Teacher after class, bursting to tell her anecdotes about their Pop’s Pop or their Nan’s dad: the medals, the marches, the military. During a lesson (sacrificing the heavily prescribed curriculum requirements), the questions roll around the room, questions breed questions: why didn’t they care for the children in the factories? Did those soldiers really stop fighting on that Christmas Eve? Did Elizabeth the First have kids? Will there be another world war? How tall d’you reckon Alexander the Great was? The late NYU professor Neil Postman sighed knowing that children enter school as question marks and leave as periods. The reality? Quite simply, there isn’t the time for student-led curiosity.

Education today is a tragedy. Limping into a new year, the educational system lags with poisonous political ideologies; left-wing agendas purposefully massacre traditional values once treasured in good books and in a rich, balanced history curriculum. Recent research into educational trends confirmed that half of Australian educators believed that literacy and numeracy (and student behaviour) had declined in the last ten years11. Our schools, the children and the dedicated teachers and leaders that fill them, have been betrayed by those in positions of political and academic power, those granted the privilege to lead with wisdom and discernment. We wring our hands and hearts in dismay.

And yet …

If we circle back to the beginning, where we met a disorderly Danish kingdom, like all Shakespearean tragedies, there is always a quest for divine order after a catastrophe. A godly design for all matter (from rocks to celestial beings) governed the Renaissance world: everything had its rightful place. While the noble-hearted Hamlet dies in his desperate attempt to avenge the wrongs of his world, Horatio courageously tells the Prince of Norway, Fortinbras, of the “casual slaughters” and the “cunning and forced deaths” that took place in this pursuit. We too have Hamlet-types of our time. There have been (and are) brave men and women – brilliant professors, deeply committed school teachers and leaders, excellent medical doctors, just politicians, outspoken writers and journalists and many others from all walks of life – suffering the fatal blows of our nihilistic, culture wars. The casualties include a researcher from a tropical, north Queensland university fired for telling the truth; a New York Times writer finished for critiquing critical theory; a social commentator on gender issues lynched for advocating for young men’s rights on university campuses; and a Melbourne medical doctor, practicing for 15 years, ‘cancelled’ for having opinions. Each year, the casualty list multiplies.

Of course, in Shakespeare’s story, Fortinbras claims rights to the broken kingdom. Likewise, we identify a groundswell of opposition, a collective Fortinbras of sorts, all across our nations, some in secret and hidden spaces and places, now gaining momentum and traction to battle against the disruption and destruction of education and other. They claim their right to a better education. They seek a better way for the children. While the UK has academies like the Emmanuel Schools Foundation, an academically excellent group of schools established in economically depressed northern England and London’s ‘strictest’ school, Michaela College, led by Headmistress, Katharine Birbalsingh, America has pockets of charter and independent schools, some of which produce their own classically-based curriculum sold globally. In Australia, tucked away out the back of Brisbane, Queensland, is the newly established Charlotte Mason College, offering families respite from the turbulent curriculum wars; a place where children meet “a feast of living books, cultural artworks and ideas”12. This new Classical Liberal Arts school gently provides “an abundant life [for the boys and girls] that is good, true and beautiful”6  Travelling south, into Victoria, home to the controversial “Safe Schools” program, the Australian Classical Education Society, an organic collection of teachers, students, home schooling families and academics, commit to establishing Classical Education schools across the country. Thus, we have hope. We must look towards a bright future, believing that a restoration of rightful order to a disorderly Western kingdom will take place.

  1. Poe, Edgar Allan, “The Conqueror Worm”, 1843. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48633/the-conqueror-worm. Accessed 31 December 2020 []
  2. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet: with Related Readings. The Global Shakespeare Series, edited by Dom Saliani et al., International Thomson Publishing, 1997, p.19 []
  3. Adler, Mortimer. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, Simon and Schuster, 1967 []
  4. Coke, Hope.“Eton to decolonise its curriculum following appeal from pupils and parents. Tatler, 26 June 2020, https://www.tatler.com/article/eton-school-decolonise-curriculum-parents-pupils-appeal. Accessed 20 December, 2020 []
  5. Erbavia, Tricia et. al. “#Disrupttexts Guides”. #Disrupttexts. https://disrupttexts.org/disrupttexts-guides/. Accessed 20 December, 2020 []
  6. Ibid. [] []
  7. @berlat (Noah Berlatsky). “parents are tyrants. “parent” is an oppressive class, like rich people or white people.” Twitter, Dec 15 2020, 6:49am., https://twitter.com/nberlat/status/1338586940157927427. Accessed 17 December, 2020 []
  8. Stephenson, Jill. “The subversion of history education in Scotland.” The Spectator (UK). 21 December, 2020. https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-subversion-of-history-education-in-scotland. Accessed 23 December, 2020 []
  9. Australian Government Department of Education. Review of the Australian Curriculum Final Report . Australian Government: Canberra, 2014. https://www.dese.gov.au/nci/resources/review-australian-curriculum-final-report-2014. Accessed 30 December, 2020 []
  10. Forrest, Stephanie. “National Curriculum’s Bogus History”. Quadrant. 2 May 2014 []
  11. McCrindle “Education Future 2018.” https://2qean3b1jjd1s87812ool5ji-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/infographics/Education-Future-Infographic-2018.pdf. Accessed 31 December, 2020 []
  12. http://cmc.qld.edu.au/about-us/#vision Accessed 6 January, 2021 []

Campus tragedy

MICHAEL WILDING surveys the sorry state of Australia’s universities

The systematic degradation of the universities has now been continuing for 40 years.

It began at the end of the 1970s, with the election of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the USA. Australia dutifully followed suit. The policies were a mixture of reprisals for the radical political activism of the 1960s and 70s, and the systematic replacement of public and state ownership by privatisation. Funding for the Arts – History, English, Philosophy, etc – was drastically reduced since it was perceived that the protests had developed from those areas. Vocational courses were introduced in keeping with the new market economy business model. Staff were pressured to take early retirement. Those who remained found that the safeguards of the traditional concept of academic freedom were being removed. Tenure was steadily abolished. New appointments and promotions began to be made for a fixed term contract. If you said or wrote something deemed to be unacceptable – and the list of the unacceptable has grown rapidly – you were likely to find yourself out of a job at the end of your contract.

Then it was decided that too few students went to university. In the 1950s and 1960s, 5% of the eligible population went to university. The new aim was to exceed 50%. This was easily achieved by deciding that colleges of advanced education, institutes of technology, teachers’ colleges, art schools, nursing colleges should all become universities, either by changing their name or by merging with existing universities. These institutions had been primarily vocational. Their staff were often drawn from people who had had experience in industry, marketing, media and so on, and could impart practical experience. They had a higher teaching load than university staff, but they were not expected to undertake research. These institutions had generally functioned well, and their students were engaged with the practical and vocational orientation of their courses.

But the more abstract and theoretical nature of university courses was not something that has engaged today’s vastly increased number of students – especially as most of them are struggling to hold down jobs, and to fit their courses into spaces in their employment schedule. As a result, the traditional university courses have been dumbed down and reoriented. Foreign language courses withered away and in many cases perished. The classics of ancient Greece and Rome were taught in translation, insofar as they were taught at all. The number of characters a student of Chinese was expected to learn was halved. Indian studies shifted from historical and cultural studies to a business studies orientation. English courses withered away; exposure to works of literature was drastically reduced, as critical theory, creative writing and other developments occupied the syllabus space, while communications and media studies, despite having little credibility in media industries, further drew away traditional students.

Other factors came into play. During the 1960s, there had been two federal funding bodies for academic research in Australia, one for the arts and one for sciences. The marked difference between them was that grants for the arts were modest. The arts researcher typically asked for no more than Aus$10,000 for some research assistance, for typing, for travel. The science grants were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to support equipment and teams of research assistants. It was a system that functioned well. Then the two funding bodies were merged and funding became pretty well entirely on the scientific scale. Grants of hundreds of thousands of dollars were available for the arts; small grants were no longer the model. This was wasteful enough but worse was to follow. A new concept of ‘teaching relief’ was introduced, allowing grant recipients to use research funds to hire someone to do their teaching for them.

One justification for research funding in the arts was that the discoveries made during research fed back into teaching, ensuring teaching was of a high quality and at the cutting edge of knowledge. Now, to adapt the old saying, as for teaching, our servants shall do that for us. And these servants hired to do the teaching were all employed as part time, casual staff. They were paid around Aus$50 an hour during teaching term; during vacations they had to apply for welfare. While the grant recipients swanned around and never saw a student, let alone imparted any knowledge. The university administrators saw these research funds as a source of finance. They appointed further administrators, on high salaries, who coached academics in how to apply for research grants. People who had acquired funding were made into ‘distinguished research professors’ on five year contracts. They moved from campus to campus and grant to grant, doing no teaching.

And much of the time no research conclusions were ever published. The scandal of this has never been exposed, but thousands upon thousands of tax-payers’ dollars were handed out with nothing to show for it in return. The universities took their cut of the funds, the distinguished professors took their salaries, but all too often nothing was published. When a senior academic I knew tried to research into how the Australian Research Council awarded grants, he found it was impossible. All records of unsuccessful applications had been destroyed. There was no way of assessing the assessors and of examining the so-called peer-reviewing process. Nonetheless, the process continues. Publication used to be a mark of academic achievement. Now success in receiving funding is deemed more important. The emphasis has shifted from evidence of work produced to evidence of money received.

The universities have spent millions of dollars hiring management consultants to restructure them from their original religious and cultural foundations to corporatized machines for making money

This is part of the shift to a business model. The universities have spent millions of dollars hiring management consultants to restructure them from their original religious and cultural foundations to corporatized machines for making money. Vice-chancellors now call themselves CEOs and are given grotesquely large salaries –  Aus$1,800,00 a year plus bonuses at the University of Sydney. Bonuses! Gratifyingly, quite a few of them have been dismissed for plagiarism and other corrupt behaviour. And the number of administrators, paid far more than teaching staff, has proliferated absurdly. One of the consequences of the merger of universities with art schools, nursing colleges, agricultural colleges and the rest, was that the heads of those institutions were all given highly paid administrative titles in the expanded university. Where there used to be a vice-chancellor and a deputy, now there are a dozen or more deputy vice-chancellors. They all seem to get sabbatical leave, though rarely have any of them done any significant academic work. But this is just part of the insane growth of the administrative bureaucracies in the universities. When I first taught at the university of Sydney there used to be one administrator for every 12 members of the teaching staff. Now fewer than 50% of university staff are actually involved in teaching.

And now over 40% of students in Australia are foreign students. The universities have made themselves dependent on foreign students. They are now the economic base of the operation. Forget providing a cultural context and education for Australian students. The universities have become part of an immigration racket. Student visas allow residency, the opportunity to provide cut-price work, and the chance of citizenship. Some of the recruitment agencies that find overseas students not only receive a large finding fee but are also involved in the construction industry, building, renting and selling student apartments. This has nothing to do with education. And with the travel restrictions and health issues arising from Covid-19, this has proved a disastrous model, with Australian universities suffering a massive reduction in fees and consequent massive job cuts, as overseas students no longer enrol.

Indeed, it has been the antithesis of education. In order to cater for the influx of foreign students, standards have been dropped, indeed abandoned. Most of the top rank of foreign students go to the United States, United Kingdom or Europe. Australia caters for the generally less able ones – and caters for them by lowering, or abandoning, standards. There are endless, authenticated stories of academics being instructed not to fail foreign students: they have paid their fees, they must be passed. Academics who attempt to maintain standards are overruled and disciplined.

Back at the beginning of the century when I published my novel Academia Nuts, I felt I had recorded the university in decline. In a comic way, of course. Campus farce. “Unmistakeably the last waltz”, the Times Higher Educational Supplement called it. But “’tis not the end when we can say, this is the end”. The decline had a lot further to go. Now my portrait of an institution in decline looks quite idyllic compared with the current state of the universities.

Is there a future for ‘Trumpism’?

PETER B. GEMMA says ‘Trumpism’ was always more about attitude than ideas

The future of “Trumpism,” (geez, I hate that term on so many levels as you will find out), is really a two-part question: American politics with or without Donald Trump. The quick answer is of course, President Donald Trump (he still is as I write; and, no, after January I will not be saying “Biden? He’s not my President”, as the Clintonites have done for four years) will long have an impact on politics.

This writer has never had a legitimate job; political campaigns and issue advocacy is all I know. I read every word of political junk mail, hold my breath when campaign commercials come on, and I ingest the writings of commentators, no matter what the axe they may be grinding. One of my favorites is Andrew Sullivan, the British-born American author, blogger, and former editor of The New Republic. He is a left-wing pundit full of common sense. In his essay, “Trump Is Gone. Trumpism Just Arrived,”[1] Sullivan says it best:

His impact, however, is undeniable. Neoconservatism is over; globalization as some kind of conservative principle is over; a conservatism that allows for or looks away from unrestrained mass immigration is over. What was cemented in place this week is a new GOP, not unlike the new Tories in the UK. They’re nationalist, culturally conservative, geared toward the losers of capitalism as well as its winners, and mildly protectionist and isolationist. It is a natural response to the unintended consequences of neoliberalism’s success under a conservative banner. And it speaks in a language that working class Americans understand, devoid of the woke neologisms of the educated elite. It seems to me that this formula is a far more settled and electorally potent coalition than what we now see among the deeply divided Democrats.

Barry Goldwater on the campaign trail

A quick glance back: I do not have time to tell the story of 1964, when the conservative icon Barry Goldwater was defeated by Lyndon Johnson in a landslide, and whose most ardent supporters rallied to the cry, “26,000,000 Americans can’t be wrong!” They went on to create the Reagan era. Goldwater’s movement ain’t got nothin’ on what the Trump loyalists could do if they believe 74,000,000 Americans can’t be wrong.

Of course, it’s not that easy an equation, given the political/philosophical/social mish-mash of followers Trump attracted and the current wailing and gnashing of teeth about a ‘stolen’ election, but you get the drift: if we take our loses, learn some lessons, we can lurch forward.

Before we look at what might be next in politics, it’s time to address the what the current election fuss is all about. Did Trump really lose? After all, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to call into question Biden’s winning margin in swing states. In the final months of the campaign, the ground rules of the election changed in a way that helped Democrats and stymied Republicans. In Pennsylvania, where ballots received after the election were counted (not kosher in any previous election), 63% of the mail-in ballot requests came from Democrats, and 25% from Republicans. In North Carolina, 46 % of mail-in ballots were from Democrats, and just 20% were from Republicans. In a contest with an historic turnout, President-elect Joe Biden apparently topped President Donald Trump by nearly seven million votes, and 74 votes in the Electoral College, but his victory really was stitched together with narrow margins in a handful of states with . As National Public Radio pointed out,

just 44,000 votes in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin separated Biden and Trump from a tie in the Electoral College. Of course, Trump is no stranger to narrow victories. He won the 2016 election thanks to just under 80,000 combined votes in three of six key states [2]

Does the American democratic election process work? Yes. Is there a factor of fraud and honest mistakes in every count? Yes. Is a stolen election easy to prove? Not very often, and most likely in local races. Will the entire 2020 election results be overthrown? Nope.

The election-was-stolen-and-all-is-lost hysteria among some conservatives reminds this writer of the Obama birth certificate hoopla. Sure, there may have been some reasons to doubt Barack Hussein Obama was born in the United States, thus making him ineligible to serve, but time marched on. There certainly wasn’t enough solid legal evidence, so reality had to be faced. Once conservatives got out of the mode of ‘he’s not my President’ and hunkered down for guerilla warfare against the Democrats, Donald Trump sensed there was a movement to lead and he triumphed.

“Donald Trump sensed there was a movement to lead…”

What the hell happened?

Again, I turn to Andrew Sullivan:

This was far from the Biden landslide I had been dreaming about a few weeks back. It was rather the moment that the American people surgically removed an unhinged leader and re-endorsed the gist of his politics. It was the moment that Trump’s core message was seared into one of our major political parties for the foreseeable future, and realigned American politics.

Trump was deliberately bellicose and belligerent, eliciting cheers from his supporters for his chutzpah and gasps from everyone else, including swing voters.

NBC political analysts described the election happened this way:

Heading into the election, Democrats dreamed it would go something like Star Wars, with rebel forces blowing up the Death Star and celebrating in the streets as a blue wave swept them into power in Washington and state capitals across the country, but President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory ended up looking more like the horror movie Alien, with the last bedraggled survivor kicking the monster out the airlock and then drifting off to an uncertain fate in deep dark space. And wherever they ended up, there would probably be another alien…the results were brutal down the ballot for Democrats in ways that could haunt them for years [3]

So, what really happened? Trump lost. He pushed the envelope of civility and consistency off the edge. As conservative commentator Tucker Carlson tells it,

Donald Trump is a talker, a boaster, a booster, a compulsive self-promoter. At times, he’s a full-blown BS artist

The appearance of boldness and defiance was a two-edged sword, with one side, explainable as a self-made New York tough guy, but the other was a bit sharper: inconsistent, incompetent, and uncaring.

Trump did instigate a (nascent) movement, which is hard to assess this early, but something is shaking the ground. In an amazing showing, Trump supporters squared off against powerful special interests, from the media to Wall Street moguls, and they are still standing. About 98% of political contributions from internet companies this cycle went to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The CEOs of Asana, Twilio, and Netflix were among the biggest contributors, and they all targeted Democratic groups and candidates.

One interesting sidebar: the media’s censorship of negative stories about Joe Biden may have cost Trump the election, according to a poll published by the Media Research Center (MRC). Among those surveyed, one in six Biden voters said they would not have voted for the president-elect if they had been aware of one or more of negative news stories presented to them, the poll found. MRC’s poll, conducted by The Polling Company, asked voters about eight news stories that “the liberal news media had failed to cover properly,” a press release from MRC stated. “A shift of this magnitude would have changed the outcome in all six of the swing states won by Joe Biden,” the MRC determined.[4]

New York Post columnist Karol Marcowicz noted,

The big takeaway from the Trump years for conservatives should be that the era of politeness when dealing with an impossibly biased, and agenda-driven, legacy media has ended and should never return. Republicans in general, and conservatives in particular, had come to expect that they would never be treated fairly by the news media. To the legacy media, Republicans fell into two categories: Hitler or worse than Hitler. Republicans considered avoidance better than confrontation. Donald Trump didn’t. Supporters made Trump’s willingness to fight a key refrain. He does not take things in stride. He punches back. Even for conservatives who opposed him, such as me, it was fun to watch. He called out everything and everyone [5]

The Democrats were caught by surprise in November. After four long years of demonizing Donald Trump (and he made it soooo easy), they reached deep into their pockets to fund a blue wave: states were targeted to flip local legislatures; overturning the Republican majority in the Senate was a glorious crusade, and strengthening the edge Democrats held in the Congress was an easy win. Democrats ran the first billion-dollar presidential campaign, outraising Trump by about 60%. However …

  • In key U.S. Senate races, Democrats outspent Republicans: in Maine, it was $70 million to $24 million, but they lost by nine points; Republican majority leader Senator Mitch McConnell was re-elected in a landslide despite falling $40 million short of what his opponent raised; Republicans won the Alaska Senate seat although the Democrats spent twice as much money; and in North Carolina, the Democrat vs. Republican spending ratio was nearly three-to-one but they were defeated. The two Senate seats in Georgia are still in play in a run-off, however, historically Republicans are favored there.
  • Democrats now have the narrowest margin in the House of Representatives since World War II – not a single Republican incumbent, all tightly tied by their opponents to President Trump, was defeated. With their dramatic gains this year, the House is, by historical political measure, headed for a party flip in 2022.
  • The blue wave of 2018 left Democrats just a few seats away from a majority in a dozen state chambers. They lost across the board, with Republicans actually flipping control of two state legislatures in states that Biden won. Republicans will have control next year of 20 state governments that will collectively draw 188 new congressional districts, while the Democrats will control 73 districts; the number of Republican governors increased to a 27-23 margin.

The governing implications for Joe Biden and the Democrats are stark: getting any sort of partisan measure through the House will require near-unanimity inside their party, forcing negotiations with various factions of lawmakers resulting in fewer aspirational “messaging” bills and radical legislation. Meanwhile, an emboldened Republican minority will look to wreak havoc and magnify internal disputes ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Trump lost, but did Trumpism win?

I don’t really know, but some people think so. Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s take:

This mass secret vote revealed that the New York Times’ woke narrative of America – the centuries-long suffocating oppression of minorities and women by cis white straight men – is simply a niche elite belief, invented in a bubble academy, and imposed by bullying, shaming and if possible, firing dissenters. Some of us who refused to cower can gain real satisfaction from knowing we were not mad, not evil, not bigots, and that a huge swathe of our fellow citizens agrees

J.D. Scholten, a promising but losing Democratic congressional candidate in Iowa, put it this way: “There’s something culturally that is working for Republicans and it’s definitely not for Democrats,” noting that his campaign message faulting Trump’s handling of the coronavirus didn’t resonate with voters. He called the election a “Trump tidal wave” in rural areas, places where Democrats had made some progress in the state in the 2018 midterm election: “We got smoked. There’s no sugarcoating it.”[6]

A Democrat campaign manager for a local candidate in Pennsylvania said,

There’s a significant difference between a referendum on a clown show, which is what we had at the top of the ticket, and embracing the values of the Democratic ticket…People bought into Joe Biden to stop the insanity in the White House. They did not suddenly become Democrats

So, the Democrats lost, Republicans did far better than expected, but did Trumpism as a movement win?

Peering through the smoke that follows the 2020 election battle, there seems to be a new coalition forging so perhaps it is true that there is a Trump movement, but it looks like people, not an “ism.”

Biden and Trump represent starkly different Americas, according to the Associated Press VoteCast survey of more than 110,000 voters in all 50 states. Trump voters in the survey were overwhelmingly white—about 86% nationally—compared with 62% of Biden voters. Only a fourth of Biden supporters come from small towns or rural areas. Nearly half of Trump voters live in those areas. More white women voted for President Donald Trump in 2020 (55%) compared to the 52% who voted for him in 2016, according to a New York Times exit poll. Trump solidified his base; he even pulled out more voters in New York City, where he cut his home ties and moved to Florida, than he did four years ago.

Biden was the beneficiary of a anyone-but-Trump constituency. Among Trump voters, 90% say they voted for the president, while just eight percent said they were voting against Biden. Among Democrats, only 56% said they were voting for Biden. Twenty-nine percent revealed they were voting against Trump, while a surprisingly high 15% were not sure.[7]

Andrew Sullivan dug into other statistics:

For the past five years, Democrats have been telling us that Trump and his supporters were white supremacists, that he was indeed the “First White President,” that all minorities were under assault by the modern day equivalent of the KKK. And yet, the GOP got the highest proportion of the minority vote since 1960!

Sullivan goes on to use another exclamation point:

Twenty-eight percent of the gay, lesbian and transgender population also went for Trump. The gay vote for Trump may have doubled! White women still voted for Trump by 55%. Among white women with no college education, arguably those most vulnerable to the predations of men [like Trump] gave him 60% support.

Sullivan could use another exclamation point: Trump increased support from Black voters by 50%, the largest share of that constituency any Republican has garnered in a half century! (He also carried a majority of the Native American vote.) The Democrats’ rejection among white, working-class voters (not poor people), particularly in rural areas and small towns, helped lead to their disappointments and a demographic description of a Trump movement.

Democrats have largely abandoned the working and middle class. Trump won three-quarters of the white working-class vote, down only slightly from 2016. He did best with those who work with their hands, in factories, the logistics industry and energy, notes a recent study by CityLab. Some 10,000 small businesses have closed because of Draconian edicts overwhelmingly put in place by Democrats. The residual effect, politically, has just begun.

Let me be clear at this point: Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump. The Democrats identified, motivated, and got out a record-breaking number of supporters, albeit on what seems to be an anti-Trump message. Indeed, Biden (according to exit polls) still won nearly three-quarters of nonwhite voters, a majority of union members, and a majority of those making under $100,000.

In politics and public policy debates, change happens mainly on the margin. Small riders – issue ornaments – to big bills, can make or break whole legislative agendas. Slight shifts in demographics and small inroads into key constituencies can change the outcome of an election and help define a movement. 

A postcard from the Spanish-American War, when Americans helped Cubans throw off Spanish rule

Currently, the face of Trumpism is not quite in focus. Donald Trump lost the presidency but showed Republicans a way to win the culture wars with working-class Hispanics by not talking to them as Hispanics. Trump earned 28% of Latino votes in 2016 and approximately 32% in 2020. Despite four years of being defined as a racist for his rhetoric and immigration policies, Trump improved his margins in 78 of the nation’s 100 majority-Hispanic counties.

“We can’t even fathom that there are a lot of Mexicans who love Donald Trump,” said Chuck Rocha, a Texas-raised Democratic strategist who runs Nuestro PAC, a super PAC focused on Latino outreach. “Biden won, and that’s great, but everything underneath Biden was a huge catastrophe.” Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) explained the phenomenon this way: “What Trump did is understand the basic values of Hispanics.”

As Biden forces ran the usual Spanish-language ads, Donald Trump, Jr. visited a Hispanic Pentecostal church to campaign for his father – far more visible. A 2017 Pew Research study concluded,

Most Latinos see religion as a moral compass to guide their own political thinking, and they expect the same of their political leader [and] most Latinos view the pulpit as an appropriate place to address social and political issues. Latinos who are evangelicals are twice as likely as those who are Catholics to identify with the Republican Party [8]

The President launched “Evangelicals for Trump” in January by visiting El Rey Jesús Global, a megachurch in Miami led by Pastor Guillermo Maldonado.

Miami-Dade is Florida’s largest county with the largest Latino population. Trump lost there by almost 30 %age points in 2016. He lost it by just seven points in November. Florida Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who was defeated in her re-election bid, said the Democratic Party “thinks racial identity is how we vote.”

For years, Democrats expressed confidence that the country’s increasingly diverse, less-white electorate would give them an edge long-term over Republicans. Identity politics of the Democrats, “what’s in it for us,” lost. Trump’s version “it’s us versus them,” won.

“What’s in it for us” even took a beating in California where there is a majority-minority population: voters defeated an attempt to revoke a 1996 binding referendum that banned the use of race, national origin, or sex by state universities and other agencies. The left has spent almost a quarter-century trying to reverse that policy, but its latest attempt lost handily despite a 14-to-one margin in campaign spending.

There was a discernible (even remarkable) shift on the margins according to election results data, and the media elite are noticing. Axios CEO Jim VandeHei conceded,

The media remains fairly clueless about the America that exists outside of the big cities, where most political writers and editors live. The coverage missed badly the surge in Trump voters in places obvious (rural America) and less obvious (Hispanic-heavy border towns in Texas)

He chides his fellow elites too:

Let’s be honest: Many of us under-appreciated the appeal of Trump’s anti-socialism message and the backlash against the defund-the-police rhetoric on the left. The media (and many Democrats) are clueless about the needs, wants and trends of Hispanic voters. Top Latinos warned about overlooking and misreading the fastest-growing population in America, but most didn’t listen. Hispanics will shape huge chunks of America’s political future

The future of something called Trumpism is in the hands of grass roots Trump supporters, and they may have momentum as fissures between traditional liberal Democrats and far-left progressives are cracking. Writer and left-wing activist Lauren Martinchek notes,

There is no Donald Trump the boogeyman for them [mainstream Democrats] to hide behind anymore. Whether they like it or not, especially with Trump out of the way, the left is not through with the Democratic party. While the liberals go back to brunch, we’ll gladly be getting ready for primaries. We don’t have the time, nor the patience to sit here and listen while loyal liberal voters inevitably tell us to pipe down because midterms are on the way. You had 2020. We’ll take it from here [9]

The Democrats seem likely to give Trump (as a shadow President who doesn’t know how to whisper) the opportunity to represent a large portion of the American middle and working classes over the next four years. He will embolden his supporters to be active and, frankly, a pain in the ass for Democrats and Republicans. The Biden agenda will be tweaked, stymied, compromised, and come under fire by the left and right in Congress.[10] David Shor, a Democratic polling and data expert who advised liberal political action committees this cycle, observed,

It is mathematically almost impossible for our current coalition to wield electoral power…There’s a lot of people in the party who are uncomfortable with the implications of the idea that we really have to adopt a maximalist attempt to appeal to (white) working-class voters

These conditions look very promising for a Trumpism movement. Save for one thing: Donald Trump.

The real question is, what is Trumpism?

If you string together all the data and observations above, the answer looks like there is a movement afoot, a new coalition of voters that have the political elites worried. However, movements, especially those led by charismatic leaders, come and go.

Congressman Ron Paul’s Republican presidential crusades of 1992 and 1996 raised buckets of money, attracted thousands to rallies, and scored far better than pollsters predicted. Without Ron Paul as the active figurehead, they have become one influence within the Republican Party (I was a paid consultant for the Paul campaign in those races). Senator Bernie Sanders, Paul’s mirror image in the Democrat Party, started a movement via his campaigns of 2016 and 2020 which is having great impact on the political process – that movement may last beyond Sanders himself as new socialist firebrands arise, namely Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

It’s hard to define Trump’s following as a movement because there is no ideological definition of “Trumpism.” Trump wrote red-ink annual budgets. He’s no fiscal conservative but he converted the formerly tightwad Republicans into supporting more national debt. He is a progressive when it comes to gay rights and inclusion, something that doesn’t mix well with his ardent pro-life and Evangelical base. Trump tends to shy away from international military excursions, angst for the heart and soul of traditional Republican war hawks and their moneyed arms industry friends. What unites the wide variety of constituencies that was hammered together over the past four years is Donald Trump himself. His machismo attitude, anti-establishment rhetoric, and something for everyone agenda (ill-defined populism) added up to a remarkable political statement in 2020, albeit he lost the presidency. At any given time, Trump was a moderate, conservative, populist, nationalist, or almost any combination thereof.

The famous ‘King-Emperor’ meme

Donald Trump is Donald Trump. Unlike Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, whose names one can associate with a particular world vision, the thought of Donald Trump brings his style to mind: authoritarian, pugnacious, and contrarian, which in turn can be applied to positions on guns, immigration, foreign trade, etc. In fact, the Trump style, can at any time give emphasis to look nationalist, populist, or traditionally Republican in appearance. That inconsistency actually turned into a magnet because of Donald Trump playing Donald Trump; the glue to his particular coalition is in his blood.

Joel Kotkin, Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University: noted,

Trump’s challenge to the establishmentarian worldview will resonate, even after the election. His willingness to stand up to China’s trade policies violated the interests of the corporate elite, tech, Hollywood, and the mainstream media, all of whom almost without exception backed his opponent

Donald Trump is an anti-establishment personality, but does not represent a philosophy or an ideology, the why of Trumpism. It isn’t even about the how Trumpism works, since Donald Trump’s way of business and government is chaotic.

I’m afraid the essence of Trumpism is Donald Trump. Most of his issues have been on the agenda of conservatives and Republicans for generations: a robust economy via low taxes, minimal government regulation; very shy of international entanglements, always uphold law and order. Those platforms made political conservatives moderately successful in recent years, with some emphasis or exemptions. Different shades of traditional issues, often itself shaded by political figureheads, actually define populist, nationalist, socialist, etc. What brought Republicans into the White House was the very personality of Donald Trump. His narrow loss in 2020 was remarkable in that the issues he originally campaigned on – seasoned by the way he actually served as President (and as perceived by the media) – resulted in 12 million more supporters (significant considering a small segment of Republicans had walked away.) They didn’t flock to the polls because we needed a strong China policy, or easier/cheaper ways to produce oil, or even the promise of a wall between Mexico and America, it was because Donald Trump was promising those things which brought out 74,000,000 voters.

As Pat Buchanan observed,

The American electorate failed to perform its designated role in the establishment’s morality play. Nor was it repudiated by the people if, by Trumpism, one means ‘America First’ nationalism, securing our borders, using tariffs to bring back our manufacturing base, bidding goodbye to globalism, staying out of unnecessary wars and swearing off ideological crusades [11] 

For better or worse, because of Donald Trump, there will have to be a personality attached to a platform so it can be interpreted as populist, nationalist, conservative, and moderate as needed (Joe Biden was the anti-personality personality attached to a neo-socialist platform doing the same thing). If not Donald Trump, then it will have to be a candidate whose technique and can give a shine of vibrant hues to the party platform. Trumpism without Trump will have to be a different “ism,” because the real legacy of Donald Trump isn’t a movement but a style.


[1] https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/p/trump-is-gone-trumpism-just-arrived-886?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjoxMjY1MzM1NiwicG9zdF9pZCI6MTgwNzU2MjQsIl8iOiJLcHZ5KyIsImlhdCI6MTYwNDY5MjkwOSwiZXhwIjoxNjA0Njk2NTA5LCJpc3MiOiJwdWItNjEzNzEiLCJzdWIiOiJwb3N0LXJlYWN0aW9uIn0.Q9Bk8TA9gYzVDURfGispo_RJS3fHe0dk8ARC08pX8kI&fbclid=IwAR2SFU–uwMdcWQKDT3uQr4HA9Noi-Mxo56IQ8XdZ0jfGWfliEAk0lEjqiE

[2] https://www.npr.org/2020/12/02/940689086/narrow-wins-in-these-key-states-powered-biden-to-the-presidency

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/huge-catastrophe-democrats-grapple-congressional-state-election-losses-n1248529

[4] https://dailycaller.com/2020/11/24/media-censoring-negative-joe-biden-news-cost-donald-trump-election-mrc-poll/?utm_source=piano&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2360&pnespid=1OUzr.1EDAuNq3C.fd.dXHaG2bV_2iQ16vVkjhkM&fbclid=IwAR05JlsCqb2S7Z9cxo9MtJWevzOu9g67gmpWqycREqOH_32y8A–7DPqRn8

[5] www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/trumpisms-next-act

[6] “2020 Election Lesson: Trump’s Coalition Proved Durable,” byJoshua Jamerson, Julie Bykowicz, andChad Day, Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2020 

[7] www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/elections/election_2020/only_56_of_biden_voters_say_they_were_voting_for_biden

[8] https://www.pewforum.org/2007/04/25/changing-faiths-latinos-and-the-transformation-of-american-religion-2/

[9] https://medium.com/discourse/november-3rd-was-a-rejection-of-the-democratic-party-abcf543624bf

[10] Politically, what’s ahead does not frighten this writer. The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in a short statement to Congress, explained why a divided American government, with the three branches split among differing parties and ideologies, works best for the Republic: things move slowly, ensuring no radical transformation, alteration, or reversal that ultimately will not change the basic framework set out by the Founding Fathers (www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/antoninscaliaamericanexceptionalism.htm)

[11] https://buchanan.org/blog/trumpism-lives-on-142330