Saturday , June 12 2021

Playing the victim

Summary:
Here are four recent developments:  - The University of Leicester is sacking academics because they are doing research in critical management studies. The Tories, however, are silent on this whilst at the same time condemning a handful of students who are unsuccessfully campaigning to get Eric Kaufman sacked from Birkbeck. They tolerate actual violations of academic freedom whilst deploring attempted ones.  - Laurence Fox calls for the Leicester City players who carried a Palestinian flag after the FA Cup final to be hounded out.  - Matthew Offord MP demands that the BBC not broadcast an edition of Desert Island Discs because of Alexei Sayle’s ant-Zionism.  - Several people complained to the police about a tweet from an SNP councillor about the Eurovision song contest. These are all

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Here are four recent developments:

 - The University of Leicester is sacking academics because they are doing research in critical management studies. The Tories, however, are silent on this whilst at the same time condemning a handful of students who are unsuccessfully campaigning to get Eric Kaufman sacked from Birkbeck. They tolerate actual violations of academic freedom whilst deploring attempted ones.

 - Laurence Fox calls for the Leicester City players who carried a Palestinian flag after the FA Cup final to be hounded out.

 - Matthew Offord MP demands that the BBC not broadcast an edition of Desert Island Discs because of Alexei Sayle’s ant-Zionism.

 - Several people complained to the police about a tweet from an SNP councillor about the Eurovision song contest.

These are all examples of how the right (and bosses) are opposed to free speech. And of course there are countless other examples of Tory hostility to freedom such as their harsh immigration controls, clampdown on protests and erection of trade barriers within the UK.

And yet these attacks upon freedom come from people who claim to be champions of free speech and protectors of academic freedom. They present themselves as victims of repression, beleaguered by “wokesters”, “not allowed to say that these days”, and subject to no-platforming. Oliver Dowden, for example, recently whined about a “cancel culture whereby a small but vocal group of people claim to have the monopoly on virtue, and seek to bully those who dare to disagree.” In this, way, as Will Davies said:

 A reader of the Times or the Daily Mail can convince themselves that they are a marginalised minority.

It’s not just in the context of free speech that the right makes this pretence. They also claim to be victims of “EU bullies”.

This is strange. Traditionally, political movements and politicians have wanted to project power: think of things as otherwise diverse as the Nuremberg rallies; Thatcher rejoicing in the nickname “the iron lady”; the classical Marxian hope that the working class would grow strong enough to overthrow capitalism; Black Power; gay pride; Blair and Brown’s endless talk of “strong leadership”; or leftists boasting of the number of people on large demos. What we have here is the exact opposite – a claim to weakness by those who in fact are in power.  We have Harry Flashmans masquerading as Tom Brown. Flashman

What’s going on here?

In part, it’s that old saying: “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” As Dawn Foster says, the right think free speech means the right not to be criticized. They are perturbed to find previously marginalized people and perspectives challenging their own viewpoint and their historical myths.

More troubling for them is the sense that these challenges are the shape of things to come. The right’s voting base is greying and dying whilst the future will be that of immaterial workers and graduates sympathetic to socialism; Tories are less rooted in statecraft and with the elite than they used to be; and the party has lost serious intellectual foundations (Thatcher had Popper, Hayek and Friedman: who has Johnson got?). Of course, there right are in power now, but this power is brittle.

And its pretence of victimhood serves to shore up such power. It effaces inequalities. Men can pretend they are oppressed by feminism and white people by “critical race studies”, thereby denying the realities of gender and racial inequality. 

And, of course, class inequality. The idea that privileged people are being bullied by wokesters and eurocrats has allowed public schoolboys like Johnson and Farage to pretend to be men of the people – even though the latter is so weird he doesn’t listen to music or watch TV. The revolt against elites has merely facilitated the rise of another elite.

The art of bourgeois politics has of course always been to hide the true nature of inequality. What is remarkable is just how many ways those in power have of performing this trick.

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