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Britain’s Intellectual Elite

I tend to avoid the Graun’s ironically-titled Comment is Free, but Helen at Your Freedom and Ours linked to this article by Jonathan Freedland about the Left’s eugenicist past and I thought it’d be an interesting read. It was.

But the comments

Oh, my good lord. I’ve never seen so much intellectual arrogance from people so little entitled to display it in my life. That Freedland’s evidence is dismissed without coherent argument goes without saying (Shaw and the Webbs weren’t socialists, apparently), but it doesn’t end there. If you fancy a quiet Sunday afternoon clutching your head in fear of your brains running out of your ears, click the link. A pseudonym (from the Greek ψευδώνυμον, “false name”) isn’t a pseudonym if everyone knows it, associating the Left with authoritarianism is “willfully obtuse” (but Ayn Rand, oh she was authoritarian)… the parade of misinformed claptrap, delivered in that confident, withering, tone so beloved of Leftists, is almost endless. Of course, it goes without saying that eugenics is perfectly fine by a fair number of them.

And people wonder why everything’s fucked.


  1. Bod says:

    It’s obvious that if you have the right kind of eugenicists, there’s be nothing to worry about.

  2. Well, yes, but so what – eugenics was almost universally on the agenda in the early 20th century. You can’t single out the left alone from that period. Of course the fact that these ideas continued into the 1970s in supposed liberal enclaves like Sweden is appalling, and they get far too much of an easy ride on that, but don’t forget the appalling experiments in the US, which also continued I think into the 70s, where syphilis and gonorrhoea were deliberately left untreated in poor black people without their knowledge and consent.

    Can’t remember the exact quote but the past is a different country and we did things differently then. It is stupid to deny what happened , but it is equally stupid to equate support for contraception with being a eugenicist as at least one commenter tried to do. (To be honest I didn’t read past page 1 because I found it all so depressing) It is even more stupid to argue that because middle class socialists like the Webbs were supporters, all people on the left are still supporters or that there are not people on the right who still support eugenics in one form or another.

  3. john in cheshire says:

    I’ve noticed that socialists and/or communists never lead by example. Funny that; it’s the same with their muslim friends the ayatollahs, imams and mullahs.
    And a question : are people with mental problems drawn to socialism/communism? Or does following that cult cause brain damage? I suspect it’s a bit of both.

  4. NickM says:

    Shaw for one was a generalised cunt of the very first water. I’d rate him almost as high up that gum tree as DH Lawrence who was a man of no redeeming moral features whatsoever. I actually saw Freedland on BBC News this morning about this and shocked I was I tells ya! It was almost like someone said it wasn’t the Demmycrats who ended slavery in the USA! I thought I’d entered a parallel Universe. Keynes being called for the jackanapes he was on the Beeb!

    I almost posted and still might.

  5. RAB says:

    You miss Sam’s thrust ian (not that one) b. He is talking of the comments rather than the article, and the flat out denial that a Socialist could EVER have held such views, to the point of stating that George Bernard Shaw, H G Wells and the rest of the Fabians were ever Socialists when in fact they were the Uber-Socialists.

    Shaw agreed with Marx, but not his approach. Shaw and the rest believed in the softly softly catchy monkey method of achieving their ultimate Utopian Socialist society. There was none of your “Power to the people” nonsense about them either. Shaw believed in “Power to WE People” the WE being middle and upper class intellectuals and technocrats like him. He actually despised the so called working class and was very uncomfortable around them. And would have had them humanely exterminated if they disagreed with him as to what he thought was best for them.

    But how precient and clever of Shaw and the Fabians eh? Flat out Marxist revolution murdered hundreds of millions and finally fell to pieces, wheras Shaw’s brand of softly softly has infiltrated every level of Western society, the Media, the Governments, the schools etc etc.

    As to Eugenics, well that continues too. What else is Social engineering “For our own good” and the flat out Statist banstubatory tendencies we Libertarians are trying in vain to stuggle against today?

    The past was indeed a different country where they did things differently, but only some things. Phrenology was very popular once upon a time, and is now totally discredited, but Socialism has become by stealth the unthinking totally acceptable norm. Just as Shaw and his friends hoped it would be.

  6. Sam Duncan says:

    Exactly, RAB. The eugenics stuff is almost incidental;just pick a wrongheaded idea, an unsupported assertion in support of socialism, or clichéd Lefty prejudice, and you’ll probably find it in that thread. Of course, the Left is never wrong; it’s scientific, and its followers abhor prejudgement.

    That’s what pissed me off about it. We all make mistakes*. We all believe things that probably aren’t the case, but are comforting to us. We’re all wary of things – and people – that are unfamiliar to us. But the Left claims to be above all that, and that has become one if the core comforting beliefs that it doesn’t have. The Left is not superior, smarter, cleverer, more virtuous or ethical, than the rest of us. It’s made up of human beings, and human beings are flawed. For all its posturing, it has its own prejudices, its own myths, and its own closeted skeletons. It does its case no good at all by denying them. And spouting garbage while claiming intellectual superiority just makes you look silly.

    But anyway, no, it’s no surprise that authoritarians, centralisers, statists, and socialists find themselves attracted to (or at any rate, not thoroughly repulsed by) eugenics: it’s only the ultimate expression of their driving urge to control people.

    I notice Rick Santorum has been quoted as saying, “I am not a libertarian” recently. Which is, let’s be honest, no great shock, but when someone says something like that, what I hear is “I like ordering people around”. It’s just a matter of degree between fining people for putting glass in the blue bin and shooting them for putting Jews in the boardroom.

    *I may, for example, have said in a previous comment that the Government’s annual defecit is “1.5 shitloads of money”. Of course this is, obviously, not really the case. It’s actually 150 shitloads.

  7. Sam Duncan says:

    “It does its case no good at all by denying them.”

    Actually, that’s a load of rubbish, isn’t it? It’s done spectacularly well out of denying them.

  8. CountingCats says:

    It’s just a matter of degree between fining people for putting glass in the blue bin and shooting them for putting Jews in the boardroom.

    I’m sorry, much as I might dislike both, that claim is absurd. It does our campaign no benefit to conflate the nagging with the murderous.

  9. eb says:

    Well CC… yes and no.

    Yes, as in obviously there is no comparison between the two. But, once the populace have been conditioned to obey authority no matter what it requires, and there are always enough of the populace to enforce the most ridiculous of rules, then the step from plain silly to extreme villainy is not as big as one might suppose.

  10. Apart from the absurd hyperbole already pointed out by CC, some of you should look again at what you’ve written. From here I see exactly the same smug sense of certainty of being right as could be seen in the CiF comments thread.

    Libertarianism in general is a positive philosophy (the appalling Ayn Rand being the exception). You wouldn’t know it though by reading the average comment thread here or at Samizdata.

  11. NickM says:

    I think it’s like this. It is hyperbolic to compare x with death-camps but the ratchet does make the unthinkable law. Wasn’t it Tone himself who shortly before the act said the idea of a blanket smoking ban was unthinkable? No, it is not gas-chambers but you have to admit there is mission-creep and understand why we are scared and annoyed.

    When I first saw Blondie play the Manchester Apollo a few years back there was a mosh pit and I danced in it with a fag and a pint. A couple of years later I had to sit down in a smoke and booze free environment like I was at the bloody Royal Opera House. At a gig seeing a band formed at CBGBs in NYC where anything went. My point is I never imagined just a couple of years earlier that I’d be so circumscribed.

    That level of rapid increase in control leaves a fear. Anyway, whilst we might be hyperbolic i’d rather that than be supine. Surely the history of the last century is enough to understand that whilst bin-sniffers are not the road to Auschwitz they could potentially take us to some other unpleasant place.

  12. RAB says:

    If you are talking to me, you are going to have to be more specific ian my old fruit.

    As for contraception and eugenics. Mary Stopes was a supporter of eugenics, and appears to have been a deeply unpleasant person, as was Bernard Shaw.

    I am a supporter of contraception, but not of eugenics. I don’t see anyone here saying that Eugenics was purely a left wing thing, it had a broad spectrum of support on the left and right because it was thought to be an obvious given, if you can breed horses, dogs etc you can breed supermen, what Sam’s piece was about was the DENIAL of the fact that some of the Left’s most cherished icons were all for it, in the comments thread of the Cif piece.

  13. bloke in spain says:

    Just a tad of the pot & kettle with the ‘withering’ description. Any critique of a Grauniad article or it’s more rabid commentators deserves to be withering & often is. It’s not as if there’s much in the way of reasoned debate welcome over there.

    Unfortunately, Mr Duncan’s “It’s just a matter of degree between fining people for putting glass in the blue bin and shooting them for putting Jews in the boardroom.” is not far off a description of the process that lead to the Holocaust. It’s the sheer banality of all those little German bureaucrats sat in offices interpreting laws, arranging detentions, drawing up guidelines for operating camps, arranging transport schedules. All knowing what was going on but all doing the jobs that made it possible. It’s not the shooting, it’s the requisition for the firing squad, sitting in the in-tray waiting to stamped & initialled, under the “Penalties for incorrect glass disposal” advisory notice.

  14. Lynne says:

    Having sifted through some of the very stupid and inadequate CiF comments I can understand why there are so many Guardianistas in heated denial of socialist eugenics. The ideology threat is too close to home in more ways than one.

  15. NickM says:

    It should also be noted that the NAZIs were pretty much the first to introduce comprehensive anti-smoking laws.

  16. Sam Duncan says:

    I stand by it, Cats. Yes, it’s hyperbolic, I don’t deny that. I was on a roll. And it’s not an assertion I’d start an argument with – there’s no real suggestion that today’s green obsessives are frantically supressing some deep-seated desire for mass anti-semitic slaughter – but it is a matter of degree. A big degree – several big degrees even – but the thinking is the same. So I don’t mean that we must be careful with our present petty rules because they can ultimately lead to genocide (there are plenty of other, better, reasons to oppose them than that); what I’m getting at is that murder for the purpose of improving the “race” and/or humanity as a whole is compatible with that mindset in a way that it simply isn’t with classical liberalism. Therefore it should be no surprise that the forebears of today’s “progressives” saw nothing wrong with it.

    Other Ian, there’s a difference between the belief, possibly misplaced, that you’re in the right and the smug self-satisfaction that comes from knowing you’re always right and your opponents always wrong purely because you’re the good guys. I’ve said often that I see problems with libertarianism that aren’t discussed enough. For example, I still have that nagging fear from my Conservative days that it would lead to the chaos they and others fear, stemming mainly from what I call the getting-there-from-here problem: if people used to governmental authority are told, overnight, that the government will no longer prevent them from taking potentially dangerous drugs or bearing firearms, a great many of them will assume that this means the use of drugs and guns has been deemed good. I totally understand people’s fears about this, and unless the transition to a more free society is handled very carefully, I think they may be justified. I sincerely hope the last thing I could be accused of is smugness.

  17. NickM says:

    I share your concerns. I think I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again now. A UK right to bear arms introduced as an immediate absolute right now would be a fucking disaster. We have no gun culture unlike, say, the USA where people are used to the idea that owning a gun is not something you do entirely to hold-up a TESCO. Some twat would shoot a kid. The tabloids would go mental and back to square one…

  18. Paul Marks says:

    Such things as the comments on the Guardian site (indeed most of the Guardian itself) is one of the few things that makes me proud to be Tory folk (and I am – after all someone remined me the other day that I had been a Constituency Association member longer than he had been alive), for all our utter failure (in just about everything) we are not like this – we really are not.

    These Guardian comment types might as well have glowing red eyes and tenticles.

  19. Paul Marks says:

    By the way – on firearms.

    Northamptonshire is a shooting county (always has been and, statutes or no statutes, still is) – so I tend to see the matter differently from Nick.

    Although, of course, he may be correct.

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