Dear Mr Farrante
I appreciate your positive comments about my defence of Kipling. However, as I have read quite a lot of American ‘Libertarian’ material, I must give you a bit of good-humoured Yorkshire bluntness. For the reason why you do not attract more people to your ‘political camp’ is that your politics speak with forked-tongue. On the surface, Libertarians support individual freedom. In reality, they accept leftist definitions of individuals and groups.
Let’s take an issue that is controversial in both our countries - the status of homosexual men. A genuine libertarian, such as myself, upholds the right of a man to engage in consensual sexual relations in private. My starting point is the individual, whose sexual orientation is but one facet of his personality. American Libertarians, by contrast, regard the homosexual as a member of the ‘gay community’, whether he wants to be or not, and represented by gay activists, whether he agrees with them or not. It sees that ‘community’ as a quasi-ethnic group, to be given ‘rights’, and of which the majority population should be forced to approve. In other words, American Libertarians take the group, rather than the individual as their starting point. They seek to use the state to change the attitudes of the population towards a wide range of social questions.
In your message, you show a clear acceptance of the leftist historical narrative. Jefferson is a ‘slave owner’, Heidegger a ‘Nazi apologist’, Aristotle a ‘misogynist’, etc. Some comments: first, it is true that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. But many African leaders of that period sold their own people into slavery, or offered up prisoners of war. For some reason, that is conveniently overlooked by ‘politically correct’ people, who also fail to mention the Arab slave trade. And so Jefferson should be seen in that context. Yes, he owned slaves, but he also made a great contribution to mankind and civilisation.
Heidegger is also criticised by the left (who fear his ideas) because he stayed in Nazi Germany. Yet no such condemnation is levelled at Soviet writers and artists who stayed in the USSR, or the myriad ‘intellectuals’ who acted as apologists for that regime. How odd, given that Stalin murdered at least as many people as Hitler, and was nearly as anti-Semitic. Has it not occurred to you that Heidegger might have stayed simply because he loved his country, irrespective of its government.
Your comment about Aristotle makes the least sense of all. It is clear that he valued women, particularly as wives and mothers, but as a force for the general good and the upholding of civilised values. He is far less ‘misogynist’ than feminists who want to turn women into imitation men. I think that Aristotle’s belief that the two sexes were complementary rather than interchangeable is vindicated by the chaos of recent social policy. Family breakdown and single parenthood have harmed men, women and children alike. They have created a generation that is dependent on the state. A bit of Aristotelian balance is long overdue.
All your remarks are based on an absolute confidence that the assumptions of modern ‘liberalism’ (and ‘libertarianism’, it seems) are absolutely correct and cannot be challenged. However it is likely that future generations will regard the idea that group ‘rights’ are more important than individual freedom, that men and women should play identical roles, that the breakdown of family and community are ‘progress’, as a series of primitive superstitions. The pendulum is swinging that way already. Your belief that every culture, every epoch should be measured against the ‘politically correct’ notions of a tiny minority is itself a form of ‘imperialism’.
To return the debate to Kipling. My point is that, as a writer, he is concerned about individuals and their complex, often contradictory attitudes. He is concerned about the interplay between the individual and society, but is not concerned with changing society. And there is no reason why he should be. Again using leftist language, you speak of ‘imperialism’, as if it were an article of faith that this was evil. Yet the British Empire compares favourably with any other Empire I can call to mind, including - perhaps especially - the American Empire. And I do not say this lightly, as I have Irish blood, and so can hear the reproaches of some of my father’s family!
There were, of course, abuses of power, but many colonial officials were humane, learned men who studied the cultures amongst which they settled. I know this, because I have several books on Hinduism and African traditional religion by Political Officers, and they are much better than most (‘PC’ influenced) anthropology texts today. Britain abolished slavery in 1833 and the Royal Navy policed the Indian and Atlantic Oceans to eliminate the slave trade.
There is no reason to be ashamed of our ‘colonial’ past. We were a force for good in many areas of the world and defended freedom against the ultimate evil - both from 1939-45 and (with the US) during the Cold War.
We should, however, be ashamed of the process of decolonisation, after Kipling’s time. It was handled with careless haste, paving the way for despots worse than the worst colonial overlords. We should also be ashamed ourselves today, for allowing ourselves to become a province of Greater Europe. It would be worth bringing Kipling back from the dead so that he could write about the EU Empire- and the destructiveness of ‘liberal’ intellectuals, which Orwell pinpoints so accurately (not least in his essay on Kipling).
Shouldn’t you look to the flaws in American Libertarianism, so as to make it genuinely about individual freedom, rather than a ‘political correctness’ of the right?
From: Ferrante, Andrew <[log in to unmask]>
To: 'Dr Aidan Rankin' <[log in to unmask]>
Cc: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Monday, July 10, 2000 12:20
I find your defense of Kipling very inspiring. As an American Libertarian, I only wish that there were more intellectuals like you in my political camp. However, there is something genuinely disappointing about your defense of Kipling's Imperialist attitude toward the 'lesser breeds.'
A society member--I believe it was Judith Flanders--commented that, "to understand (racism) is one thing; to pretend it didn't exist is surely another." I couldn't agree more. We all love Kipling. However, even those whom we love have faults. I would argue that we must accept those faults rather than rationalize them. I have many examples of personal disappointments. For instance, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves...Martin Heidegger stayed in Nazi Germany...Aristotle was a misogynist. For me, these are all very painful facts about people whom I greatly treasure, and though I am tempted to dismiss these faults as a matter of "cultural subjectivity", my intuition forbids me. I've accepted their faults just as I've accepted Kipling's. You say of Kipling that, "He was a highly individual writer who wrote about individuals, human and animal, confronting an imperfect world." I would simply emphasize that he was very much a part of that imperfection.