Tag Archives: Nietzsche

The Timely Decline of Britain*

When I started at university I was told by my professors to ignore the writings of Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee and Teilhard de Chardin. The fault with these writers as that tried to impose a false narrative on history. The first two prophesied the decline of the West and in the prosperous 1960’s this seemed obviously false. The latter imposed a Catholic narrative on history. History according to my professors should be the study or recording of historical events, nothing more. Interpreting those events in order to according to some grand schema is to create an incorrect reading of the past – Brexit! (Michael Oakeshott – Experience and its Modes). Perhaps given the mess which is contemporary society, the work of these two historians is deserved of revaluation.

These two historians were not the only writers concerned for the fragility of Western civilisation. In 1920 after the conclusion of the Versailles Peace Treaty, J.M.Keynes wrote the following:

“Very few of us realise with conviction the intensely unusual, unstable, complicated, unreliable, temporary nature of the economic organisation by which Western Europe has lived for the last half century. We assume some of the most peculiar and temporary of our late advantages as natural, permanent, and to be depended on, and we lay our plans accordingly. On this sandy and false foundation we scheme for social improvement and dress our political platforms, pursue our animosities and particular ambitions, and feel ourselves with enough margin in hand to foster, not assuage, civil conflict in the European family.” John Maynard Keynes, “The Economic Consequences of the Peace,” New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Howe, 1920,

Oswald Spengler’s schema of decline can be used to demonstrate that the U.K. is in a downward spiral of decline.

Firstly he dismisses the notion of progress, human history he believes is not one of a linear upward trend, but cyclical. In the 1960s with the rapid recovery from the war, the war of 1939-1945 could be dismissed as a blip in history of human progress. Now after the financial crisis of 2008/9 and the climate crisis, the optimism of the 1960s seems misplaced.

These quotations from the Decline of the West seem ominously prescient.

“I see, in place of that empty figment of one linear history which can be kept up only by shutting one’s eyes to the overwhelming multitude of facts, the drama of a number of mighty Cultures, each springing with primitive strength from the soil of a mother-region to which it remains firmly bound throughout it’s whole life-cycle; each stamping its material, its mankind, in its own image; each having its own idea, its own passions, its own life, will and feelings, its own death. Here indeed are colours, lights, movements, that no intellectual eye has yet discovered.

Here the Cultures, peoples, languages, truths, gods, landscapes bloom and age as the oaks and the pines, the blossoms, twigs and leaves – but there is no ageing “Mankind.” Each Culture has its own new possibilities of self-expression which arise, ripen, decay and never return. There is not one sculpture, one painting, one mathematics, one physics, but many, each in the deepest essence different from the others, each limited in duration and self-contained, just as each species of plant has its peculiar blossom or fruit, its special type of growth and decline.”

― Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West

“You are dying. I see in you all the characteristic stigma of decay. I can prove to you that your great wealth and your great poverty, your capitalism and your socialism, your wars and your revolutions, your atheism and your ­pessimism and your cynicism, your immorality, your broken-down marriages, your birth-control, that is bleeding you from the bottom and killing you off at the top in your brains—I can prove to you that those were characteristic marks of the dying ages of ancient States—Alexandria and Greece and neurotic Rome.” ― Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West

Oswald Spengler was criticised for stating the obvious, that at some stage all civilisations go through the cycle of rise and fall. However what he does is that he tells a story worth repeating, and that is that the complacency and optimism of our leaders is not justified. He reminds as that Western Civilisation is not uniquely privileged, it cannot avoid the fate common to all civilisations that of decline and fall. When our politicians fail to heed reality and continue to act as if the prosperity and wealth of the West is a historical given, and that the progress is inevitable they are ignoring the lessons of history. Gordon Brown’s infamous statement that we have ‘abolished boom and bust’, which was shown to be fallacious by the financial crash of 2008/9, is typical of the misplaced optimism of all political leaders. More recent are the over optimistic claims of national regeneration made by Brexit favouring politicians.

Politicians assume our industrial civilisation will go on for ever and that progress is inevitable. What Spengler reminds us is that all civilisations eventually run out of rope. They plough just one furrow, exploit one idea and just as a field that is constantly ploughed becomes exhausted, so does a civilisation. Unavoidable climate change suggests that Western industrial civilisation is reaching its end game.

Spengler was greatly influenced by Nietzsche and the concept of the will to power. For him Western Europe had lost its dynamism. The idea that drove Western civilisation forward was being lost. Benedetto Croce saw liberalism as the great idea that drove Western civilisation forward. Liberalism was the zeitgeist of Hegel’s history. Those regimes that resisted liberalism, the German Empire had fallen, swept aside by the liberal democracies. If liberalism is the great idea of Western civilisation it is certainly dying. Britain as one of the bastions of liberal democracy is failing, and falling to a would be authoritarian populist. Nothing better demonstrates the decline of the liberal idea, than the Liberal Democrat party in coalition with the Conservatives voting for the most illiberal of policy measures. The restriction or denial of justice, through changes to the legal system that either restricted or denied access to the courts for millions.

Today’s political culture has as Spengler predicted lost its dynamism, the will to power has been extinguished. Rather than face today’s harsh realities or speak of future promise, leaders of the major parties wallow in nostalgic myths. On the right they wish for a return to the days of the 1950s, a time of monochrome culture and the false certainties f that time. The left desires a return to a romanticised past, a time when they part of a movement that encompassed that sturdy band of brothers the industrial working classes.

When he declares ‘optimism is cowardice’ , he describes all to accurately the reality of today’s political progress. Politicians always prefer to put an optimistic gloss of policies, but today’s politicians not only put a gloss on there policy, but garnish it with the most outrageous lies. When deception and deceit rather than hard truths are medium of political debate, a country is heading for the precipice as failing to acknowledge unpleasant reality are incapable of taking action to avoid the most catastrophic of futures.

There is one further quote that is of relevance to the decline of the U.K.“Through money, democracy becomes its own destroyer, after money has destroyed intellect.” Everybody knows that the catastrophic crisis of 2008/9 was caused by the collapse of the financial markets in Western Europe and the USA. What few realise is that the West is threatened by a new financial crisis, one due to the over indebtedness of our business corporations.

Cost benefit analysis has replaced reasoned policy making, every policy is claimed to deliver a cash advantage. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde politicians know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

This is my selective reading of Spengler and it is open to objection. Have I cherry picked stories from the national narrative to prove my point? In my defence I would argue that the evidence of national decline is so overwhelming that it was necessary to be selective.

All my examples are British does my ethnocentric reasoning make my conclusions about Spengler invalid.

If we are in decline is it necessary such a bad thing? Vienna of 1900 was the capital of an empire in decline, yet it had a flourishing artistic culture – Mahler, Klimt.

Britain has been in relative decline since the 1850s, now there is evidence that the decline may be becoming absolute. Increasing numbers are employed in low cost, low productive industries, as the British economy is increasingly unable to provide well paid highly skilled jobs for its people. Also Britain is a trading nation whose prosperity depends on international trade, now we have a government determined for wrong headed reasons to restrict British businesses access to international markets. If decline is absolute how should we respond?

Robert Skidelsky suggested economic history provides the best guide for current economic policy making, so should politicians look to history to provide a guide to policy making. Certainly politicians and journalists seem ignorant of history as demonstrated in The Spectator article that stated that Joe Biden would be a friend to Britain became his ancestors were Irish – Irish emigrants forced to leave Ireland because of the great famine of the 1840s!

When today I read that the government is considering the purchase of an £190 million royal yacht HMY The Duke of Edinburgh, I felt that I now lived in a Ruritanian European offshore island.

There is a BBC Radio 4 broadcast on Oswald Spengler and ‘The Decline of the West’, which I can recommend.

*Timely decline- as the British people have been complicit in the nation’s decline by voting for politicians and policies that hasten that decline.


Reflections on the education system from a retired teacher (or more accurately its failings)

One of the occupational hazards of being a teacher is disillusionment. The disillusionment that I experienced was something dating from the last years of my teaching career, I began to question the value of what I was doing. Teaching A level sociology was increasingly about cramming as much of the course content as possible into two short years. At best I was giving them an insight into the society in which they lived, but at worst to my teaching threatened to turn into a recitation of the facts, as were required by the exam system. Neglect of the latter would have meant, I and they would be judged failures.

English education as I experienced it can be described as ‘throwing as much information as possible at the student hoping that some of it sticks’. Quantity is confused with quality. I am a committed supporter of slow education. There has to be another way of delivering education, a way of teaching that ensures the student develops an understanding of the subject. Not that this is something new and revolutionary. When I was undertaking teacher training in the early 1970’s ‘patch teaching’ of history was in vogue. Rather than a liner course that was literally a run through of world history. Focus would be instead on particular patches of history in depth. In that way they would develop an in depth understanding of the subject. Michael Gove disliked this method of teaching and returned to subject to a history of great Britons. What I am advocating is not new, this is the discovery approach to learning advocated in the Plowden Report 1967 and Rousseau’s ‘Emile’ 1763 and Plato’s ‘Meno’ 4BCE. Education that takes the child as it’s starting point, rather than the subject, as is now the favoured approach.

I can cite Conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott as part of my evidence to demonstrate the superiority of slow over quick education. Education he said should be the initiation of the student into new areas of experience. What he meant was that students should be inducted into a new of thinking or understanding. He believed subjects such as history had a distinct identity or essence. Only through an i immersion into a subject area would enable the student to grasp its essence. Although he did not state it as such, he was an advocate of a liberal education. A good education would involve the student being initiated into a number of distinct but overlapping educational experiences. Quick fire education of the type so popular in England will not give students the experience of education that Michael Oakshott wanted for them.

Recent changes to the national education curriculum have put limits on what is taught or certain subjects off limits. Universities have been discouraged from offering modern languages on the dubious basis that they are not self financing. Not the approach to education envisaged by this most conservative of philosophers.

Nietzsche’s criticisms of German grammar schools in the 19th century are worth considering as they add to the understanding of what bad education might be. These schools all taught the same set of facts or understandings with which there teachers had been rehearsed in at institutes of higher learning. Nothing too challenging for the students or teachers was taught in these schools. German education was focused on teaching conformity. Round pegs for round holes, no difficult square pegs. They produced generation after generation of unthinking intellectual sheep, the untermensch.

Contemporary English education would earn Nietszche’s strictures. It is a system that seeks to discourage intellectual curiosity and the love of learning. The real villain of the piece is the English exam system. A system that values mediocrity. When doing supply teaching I taught Macbeth through the use of a comic book. Macbeth can be reduced to an exciting story, but was taught is not Shakespeare’s Macbeth. English Standard Attainment Tests required that all English students demonstrated a knowledge of Shakespeare, the greatest of all English playwrights. Given that it was a test to be undertaken by all fourteen year olds it had to be rendered in a form all could understand. The comic book had the advantage of providing students a number of simple facts that could be easily learnt and memorised for an exam in which students demonstrated there knowledge of Shakespeare. Whatever was being taught was not Shakespeare. Not only facts but the demonstration of government preferred writing formats were required to pass the SAT’s. Government diktat is stifling in students in any love they may have for this most creative of subjects. It is not surprising that having done their best to destroy a love of the English language and literature, there has been a marked fall in the number of students studying this subject at university.

The real villain of the piece is the exam system, it forces the education curriculum into a learning straight jacket. Creativity or going beyond the limits as specified by the minister earns no points from the education ministry and as it was not in their curriculum it can lead to a downgrading of a school. Too much creativity or pupil enlightenment can lead to the imposition of sanctions by the ministry.

When teaching economics in the 1970s, I used to teach my students about the command economy in the Soviet Union. It was not on the curriculum, but I then had the freedom to go off course with my teaching. The interesting thing is that then the government in Moscow tried to set the direction in which the economy moved, it did so through setting out global or quantitive targets for each sector of the economy. To ensure that central directives were met they had the KGB who would sanction those politicians managers who failed to fulfil their quotas. Sanction being a spell in a labour camp. Consequently local politicians and factory managers conspired together to give the appearance of meeting their targets. If the target for shoe production could only be met by producing left handed shoes (productivity increased if all workers made exactly the same product) that is what had to be done. All politicians up to the level of the capital city were in on the act, as failure to comply with centrally set targets meant a spell in the labour camp.

I feel the current education system in the way it is administered threatens to produce the equivalent of left handed shoes in education. Nick Gibbs the education minister insisted that a rigorous grammar component was added to primary school curriculum. He was little more qualified to write a course in grammar, that the Moscow politician was to direct the production of shoes in the distant Urals. Educationalists have accused this man of making up principles of grammar to teach students. One such make up grammar was the adverbial. A term unknown to grammar specialists at university and certainly to teachers.

Ministers of education have found setting of quantitive targets, such as demanding that a certain percentage of students to get a particular level in the SATs, is the ideal way to control the how and what of teaching in schools. From my reading of educational practice and philosophy, never did I ever come across ease of central control of schools as an objective.

The dead hand of exams is choking the life out of the education system. Politicians boast of the rigour of the English exam system. Every year steps are taken by ministers to ensure that only a small intellectual elite are awarded the best grades. A levels are the gold standard of education. What they never admit is that public exams are designed to make the majority fail. Only an A grade qualifies you for entry to the elite universities. Despite being called passes, grade B or less are in reality fail grades. I cannot see any merit in an education system that is designed to make the majority fail. This is the moral rottenness at the heart of the English educational system.

Grading students from A to E, 8 to 1 or from a First to a pass degree is not part of education. It’s a sorting system for employment or higher education. It’s main purpose is to make life easier for admissions tutors at university or employers. Unfortunately contemporary society insists on school and universities sorting students into various categories of person, so schools and universities cannot escape there sorting role. The only solution is to relegate this sorting function to a minor role in the curriculum, so ensuring that education takes the central place in the school or university curriculum.

The dogs opinion – letter to my daughters 1

I have reached that time in my life when I find it impossible not the look back on my life and reflect on it. What I don’t intend to do is pass on my wisdom to a younger generation, all too often age is confused with wisdom. There are plenty of foolish seventy year olds around, certainly in sufficient numbers to disabuse me of any notion that age might in some way equate to wisdom. Instead passing on my tenets of wisdom, I make will some observations on life in general.

Kierkegaard is one of the most profound observers of humanity. One of my favourite sayings of his, is that public opinion is the dogs opinion. What is often claimed to be received wisdom is often nothing more than a series of fallacious understanding believed by the majority to represent truth. There are many occasions when society is swept by new and compelling misunderstandings of society and human behaviour. I say swept because even the most intelligent of people feel obliged to subscribe to the current nonsense that will now pass as accepted wisdom. Brexit Britain and Nazi Germany can be used to illustrate how public opinion can be corrupted

National socialism was the passion that gripped Germany in the 1930s. Jews, Jewish thinking and Jewish ways of behaviour were held have corrupted Germany society and to be responsible for the malaise into which Germany had sunk. Germany to recover its national health and natural vitality had to rid itself of this alien virus. A return to the Germany of folkloric heroes, men and women the becoming equals of the heroes Nibelungenleid. Once Germany was freed of the alien virus of Jewish cosmopolitanism this happy result would be achieved.

Brexitism is a nationalism similar to nationalism which swept through Germany in the 1930s, both identify an alien virus as being responsible for national decline and decay. Although in this example the alien virus is Europeanism, our national spirit Brexiteers believe has been sapped and fatally weakened through contact with European cosmopolitanism. Just as with the Nazis the solution is to eradicate this virus from U.K. society. What is proposed is a violent break with the greater Europe or the EU. Britain will be returned to splendid isolation on the of an island situated on the edge of Europe. Geographically European but politically anything but.

Not surprisingly the government’s of both countries adopted similar solutions to this problem. Expel those responsible for spreading the virus. Although the expulsion policy was less brutal in Britain, it is in essence it is similar to that of the Nazi’s. If people are denied to right to work and reside in the country, they will leave. In Britain it has been this has been enforced through the hostile environment which denies Europeans the right to remain in this country, while in Germany it was the violence of the brown shirts.

Brexitism is a nonsense, but a nonsense that is increasingly held by the political elite. A nonsense that is beginning to permeate all levels of society. In the 1960s it was believed that the quality of parliamentary democracy would be improved by the influx of educated graduates as MPs. Yet it is these very people that have become enthusiasts for Brexit. It is as if are governing classes are gripped by a religious fervour, a fervour that prevents them accepting anything contrary to their belief system.

The parliament of local squires and trade unionists of the past so derided by political commentators in the 1960s; was the one that withstood the fascism of Mosley and his blackshirts and resisted Hitler in the dark days of 1940. Today’s parliament of graduates (often educated at the elite universities) have surrendered their integrity to nothing more than a media campaign led by a group of populists.

Nietzsche despite being claimed as one of there own by the Nazis was nothing of the kind. He was a fierce critic of German nationalism seeing it correctly as yet another non thinking belief system of the majority. It was for him the wisdom of sheep, the herd instinct, the wish to fit in and be the same as the others. An unquestioning desire to live like others. This is why he opposed democracy, believing that it would give power to the undistinguished middle classes. As today’s parliament is drawn overwhelmingly from the middle classes, it is worrying to think that Nietzsche might be right. The next Prime Minister is criticised for being a follower of public opinion. In the words of one critic he sees which way public opinion is going, and then rushes to the front saying follow me. If this critic had been brutally honest, he would have said that the same is true of the majority of MPs. Unfortunately we are led by a parliament of sheep that are constantly looking for somebody or something to follow. Prior to the referendum of 2016 the parliamentary sheep believed that public opinion favoured remaining in the EU, now although by a small margin public opinion was demonstrated to be the contrary, these sheep switched sides. Truth they believe resides in majority opinion.

Returning to Kierkegaard he believed that it did not matter, if only one man believed the truth. The truth was the truth no matter how many believed it. Therefore it was of no consequence, if what the majority believed was wrong. He took this belief to extremes, believing that the Danes were insufficiently Christian lived a life contrary to the mainstream, provoking controversy about his person hoping his example would lead Danes into changing their lives. His appearance helped in his task as he looked distinctly physically odd. One leg seemed shorter than the other, his badly fitting trousers gave that impression. He tried to be a Danish Socrates button holing people in the street and engaging them in a conversation through which he demonstrated the unsoundness of their beliefs. As a figure of controversy and mockery, he certainly was a lone speaker of Christian truths. The isolation and mockery made him convinced that he was a martyr for the truth. He found this martyrdom unpleasant, but thought it necessary to bring Danes to a sense of the truth. Although his martyrdom failed to change any minds, his books did for so later generations, who appreciated his unique approach to truth.

What Kierkegaard and Nietzsche shared was a scepticism of the received truth. This isolated them from there fellow men. Truth is often more offensive to people that the accepted lies by which live their lives. A knowledge of the thinking of the sceptic philosophers is the best protection against the fallacious enthusiasms that periodically sweep through society which carry others away. I cannot believe that anybody schooled in scepticism can believe in nonsense, such as that preached by our Brexiteers.

Is it fair to compare today’s Brexiteers with yesterday’s Nazis?

This is my reply to a friend who said I was wrong to see similarities between the rise of the Brexiteers in Britain to the rise of the Nazis in Germany

Almost every day there is an event or a happening that reminds me that I am living in very strange times.  Its almost a feeling of déjà vu, except this sense of déjà vu comes from my knowledge of history. I can understand the feelings of the German citizen of the Weimar Republic who watched in horror as his country was taken over by the party of the ‘crazies’ and ’no-nothings’. Until the late 1920s the Nazi’s existed as a ridiculous but violent fringe group that had little impact on the politics of the country. When the Great Depression left the government looking helpless in face of this crisis, the Nazis were able to capitalise on this and campaign as the party with an answer and the one who understood the pain of the losers. The Leavers or Brexit campaigners were also a small fringe group once called ‘fruit cakes and nut cases’ by a Prime Minister.  Just as with the Nazis they were able to exploit the discontent among the people caused by de-industrialisation in the old manufacturing towns and years of austerity following the financial crash of 2008. Just like the Nazis their support came from those seeing themselves as the ‘left behind’. Now these ‘fruitcakes and nut cases’ have their representatives in the government. The ruling conservative  grouping in parliament has co-opted them into government, hoping to use their popularity to offset their own unpopularity. Now we have our own Von Papen hoping to use these extremists for her own ends, although history suggests she is more likely to be used by them to achieve their extremist agenda.

While most leading political figures of the leave movement would reject any similarities with the Nazi party of the 1930s, there are in fact many similarities. When I write of the ‘crazies’ I mean the right wing zealots and Europhobes who want to take Britain back to a past of their own imagining. Some extremists have even spoken of a British Empire 2.0. The heroic imagined past of the leavers is Britain of the 1950s, an island of heroes that had defeated the Nazis. The heroic past that the Nazis wanted to take Germany back was the age of Siegfried and the Nibelungenlied. This they would achieve by taking the people out of the cities and moving them back to the land. The hard physical life on the land would develop in the Germans the heroic virtues of that characterised the German warrior people of the sagas. Opting out the industrial age was no more a realistic policy, than is opting out of the international trading system. Neither can be achieved, yet that does not deter the zealots.

What the Brexiteers and the Nazis also have in common is the hatred of modernity. The Nazis believed that the cities and cosmopolitan spirit within them sapped the strength of the German culture. Germans were no longer the ‘blond beasts’ of Nietzsche’s writings. Cosmopolitanism was an alien introduction to the German culture, one brought in by an alien race, the Jews. Brexiteers also hate the cosmopolitan spirit which they believe has corrupted the purity of the British national character. Obviously the alien force that is responsible for this is the EU and the associated influx of European immigrants. What both want is the expulsion of these alien forces from their country. The Nazis confiscated Jewish property and created such a hostile climate in for the jews, that many felt that they should leave.  It is no coincidence that there are echoes of this policy in that of the British Home Office, which has been charged with creating a hostile climate for undesirable EU immigrants, so forcing them to leave. (At present it appears to be a policy focused on Eastern Europeans and those EU immigrants that are homeless. Although given the nature of the current political leadership that hostility could be extended to other groups of EU citizens.)

Hitler was very much the social conservative. One of his first actions was to discourage women from working. Women for him were primarily homemakers and bearers of the next generation of German children. Our Brexiteers are also social conservatives, most of whom would wish to return  to women to their traditional role as homemakers. They have been a strong influence on the government, this is a government which is making abortion more and more difficult to achieve. If abortion becomes increasingly difficult it means women will be increasingly forced into child caring roles and will have to leave the workforce. It is no coincidence that this government has announced that it will give a very generous grant to the anti-abortion charity Life.

Initially the Nazis were dismissed as not being a serious political party not just for there fantastical beliefs, but because so many of their leadership were relatively uneducated men. Leading politicians dismissed them as an irrelevance because they could never see such ill educated men ever being serious actors within the political process. The coarseness of their manner and speech made it easy to dismiss them as an irrelevance. Not so long ago the then Prime Minister dismissed the UKIP voters as a group of as fruit cakes. He as an Oxbridge first could not take these relatively uneducated people seriously. Now these people, as did the Nazis when they first entered into a coalition with Von Papen hold the whip hand in government. They despite there seeming ignorance of European affairs are dictating the terms on which Britain negotiates to leave the EU. The Prime Minister who to retain the support of them keeps talking about a no-deal being better than a bad deal. This is in spite all the advice from economists that such a rupture from Europe will have a disastrous impact on the economy. Just like the German conservatives who were willing to accept the nonsensical beliefs about the malign Jewish influence, the Prime Minister has readily adopted the Brexiteers belief that the EU is a malign influence on the UK. She has adopted the worrying practice of the Weimar politicians who willing swamped a realistic world view of for fantastical one, as a means of staying in power.

What makes the comparison between the German conservatives of the 1930s and British conservatives of today, is this last point. There willingness to abandon their realistic world view for the fantastical one of their former enemies. Just recently one of the leading Remain conservatives demonstrated this trend. She said that although Brexit might cause some problems, the British people would rise to the occasion and make a success of Brexit. With no evidence for this, there cannot be a greatest example of foolish wishful thinking. Conservatives of the Weimar Republic and contemporary Britain would rather go along the madness of their own extremists, as they saw that madness as being less damaging to the country that ceding power to the opposition. As further evidence of this adoption of the fantastical world view of the extreme right, they insist of referring to the parliamentary opposition as dangerous radicals. Yet the policy proposals of this party are very mild in comparison with that of the Labour Party of 1945.

While I would not suggest that the Brexiteers are Nazis, there are so many points of similarly that such comparisons are valid. One clinching argument for me is that both are enemies of democracy. This government of leavers has done everything possible to avoid an open debate or real scrutiny of their Brexit policies in Parliament. Their argument is that of authoritarian governments everywhere, which is that secrecy is necessary if they are to make a success of their negotiations; any open discussion of policy options would weaken their hand. Only yesterday the Brexit secretary in reply to questioning from a House of Lords Committee, said in effect trust me. He was not prepared to submit to any democratic scrutiny. of his negotiations with the EU.

Contemporary Britain, a country dominated by Nietzsche’s untermensch (under men)

Nietzsche hated democracy because it makes possible the rule of the common man and the suppression of the superman. A term that Nietzsche uses to describe the common man is untermensch or underman, a term which was open to misunderstanding and abuse. What he meant by the untermensch was a man who lacked the potential to live the life of a ubermensch or superman. What was never understood was that for Nietzsche the distinction was based on intellect and character, not power or physical strength. Originally he named the saint, artist and philosopher as his supermen. Even his dislike of Christianity as the religion of slaves did not stop him admiring Christ as a possible superman. He admired Christ as a founder of a religion but despised Christians for slavishly following the beliefs of another. What I think is most useful is his description of the untermensch as those in thrall to a slavish culture. People incapable of independent thought. When I look at the British parliament and the legislatures of other Western nations it seems obvious that we live in an age of the untermensch.

What the untermensch share is a slavish adherence to a common culture which means that politicians of whatever political stripe, will all give the same replies to questions on policy. These are a few examples which demonstrate this clearly.

In Britain the housing market is broken and many people are forced to live in private rental sector. Properties in which they have no security of tenure and for which they pay ever increasingly exorbitant rents. Whenever it is suggested that these tenants should be given security of tenure or have their rents controlled, the same parrot cry comes from politicians, whether of the parliamentary left or right, that such controls would only make matters worse. They claim that such controls would force landlords to withdraw from the market, reducing the number of properties for rent and so making the situation worse for tenants.

Britain’s railways are the most expensive and some of the least efficient in Europe. When it is suggested that these railways should be taken out of private ownership and returned to the state, it meets with howls of derision from the collective parliamentary body. Everybody in parliament knows that the state is peculiarly unfitted to run business and businesses such as the railways are best left in private hands. The solution to the problem is as every parliamentarian knows is to transfer the railway franchises to more efficient private owners.*

There are many other examples of the politicians collective thought that could be mentioned. What is common to these practitioners of politics is a hatred of those that think independently, they expel or seek to suppress from the collectivity of politicians those who think differently. At present the parliamentary Labour party is seeking to purge itself of a leader who thinks differently. A glance at the politics of contemporary Europe provides evidence that those who think differently have no place in the mainstream political parties, they have to come from insurgent parties such as Podemos in Spain or The Five Star movement in Italy.

One common place truth of contemporary political analysis is that the political elites have lost touch with the people. It is a resentful and sullen people that turn to the populist parties of the right. These parties at leas recognise the pain of the people, something that the political parties of the left fail to do. Durkheim called socialism a cry of pain, the parliamentary socialist parties of today no longer this truth. Rather than ignoring the people, parliamentarians are following a culture that denies the validity of other expressions of the truth other than its own. Truths that might appear obvious to the people are to politicians merely uninformed opinions.

Another demonstration of the untermensch mentality is the slavish following of opinion polls. Rather than leading, politicians prefer to follow, all to often they are prepared to abandon their principles because the people as expressed a different views to theirs in an opinion poll and the peoples will  must be respected. Never do they consider that they are elected to lead the country, they prefer to follow.

The language of politics is so often that of the untermensch. One of our most popular newspapers is said to ensure that all of its content can understood by the average thirteen year. It does not tax its readers with difficult text or content. Similarly our leading politicians prefer the language of the thirteen year old which are  expressed in what are meaningless phrases or slogans. Our current Prime Minister is campaigning for re-election with a series of simple phrases, such as that she will provide ‘strong and stable government’ as opposed to the opposition who represent a ‘coalition of chaos’. She it seems feels no need to present a detailed and reasoned manifesto to the electorate.  A vague and rather meaningless manifesto will suffice and that is all she and her advisors believe is necessary is a few repeated slogans to get out the vote.

Defenders of the present political system will argue that the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians not only went to university, but elite universities and got good degrees. However the very intelligent can be members of the untermensch, as its a mentality or way of thinking and it is as much about  character as intellect. Politicians rarely stray beyond the party line or parliamentary consensus of views, they sacrifice their individuality on the altar of group think. What Nietzsche’s supermen do is to challenge the conventional thinking of the time. When politicians continually speak and think in the language of the average thirteen year old, it cannot but deform their personalities. What at first becomes a means of communicating with the masses through does through constant repetition become incorporated within their personality. They take some of the characteristics of what they affect to despise, the common or under man.

While I think that Nietzsche’s understanding of British democracy is correct today, it has not always been the case that the British parliament promotes the mediocre at the expense of the talented. Today parliament has been overtaken by the culture of the untermensch, whether its expressed in terms of loyalty to the one’s party, obedience to the will of the people or submission to the dominant Westminster belief system. In previous times there has been a much more vigorous culture at Westminster, one in which individualist thinkers could thrive and even achieve the highest office. What is needed is an ending of the stranglehold on Westminster culture of the parties of the consensus, then politicians of an independent mindset will begin to flourish there.

There are those who will have a different understanding of Nietzsche’s concept of the superman. Mine derives from the earlier writings of Nietzsche, as his understanding of the superman did change in his later writings. Obviously those who have read ‘The Will to Power’ a book created by his sister out of his notes will have a very different understanding. Personally I think that this understanding of Nietzsche’s superman is invalid and of little intrinsic merit.

* Any independent minded economist could easily expose the flaws in such thinking.

Societies of no opportunity – reflections on the Anglo-Saxon societies of today

Politicians always have a story that transforms this dull rather ordinary looking individual into something quite different. These people who look rather like your unimpressive neighbour claim to have charisma. They are imbued with special qualities denied to the common man. Usually these stories come from a shared stock of charismatic images. One that is constantly brought up is how hard was the politicians childhood and how they overcame immense difficulties to achieve their current position. Recently a new story has become part of the common stock of images, the politician as revolutionary. However it as a special kind of revolutionary, what they are doing is overthrowing the tyranny of past thinking. They are much like Nietzsche’s iconoclast taking a hammer to those false idols that trap people into a false way of thinking and behaving*. While Nietzsche was taking a hammer to the Gods and idols of the Judaic Christian tradition, the current revolutionaries are taking the hammer to the idols of the Social/Christian democratic state. They as did Nietzsche believe that these idols encouraged the development of a feeble civilisation, one which suppressed the great men. A civilisation that reduced all to the most mundane levels of living, great men were forced to live the life of the mundane middle which prevented from fulfilling their potential. He despised the UK a society which through its democratic system gave ordinary men the power to rule over the great or the supermen. Similarly today’s political revolutionaries believe that the welfare state has given rise to a culture of feebleness which has led to the current political malaise.

One of the most detested aspects of the social democratic state for them is the dependency culture. State benefits created a type of person that rather than be go-getter looking for work and constantly trying to improve themselves, would instead rely upon the state for handouts to support them and their families. These people were a drag on society and in urgent need of change. I think General Kitchener best epitomises this way of thinking when he objected to the introduction of pensions for war widows in the First World War. He thought this would encourage the wrong kind of man to join the army, one who wanted to get killed or wounded so he or his family could benefit from state handouts. This type of thinking is very prevalent today. Politicians constantly talk about families that live from generation to generation on benefit, families in which no one has worked. Their solution is to reduce benefits to a level that are just sufficient for human survival, so the misery of a life on benefit will be the incentive to make people want to work. This one act will change the feeble creature of the dependency culture into a go-getter that is proud to work and prides themselves in supporting their family.

The lack of evidence to support this policy of cruelty does not matter. Whenever research is undertaken into the unemployed it never produces evidence of a work shy population. One estimate suggests that there are only 33 families in which the parents and then the children have never worked. However such evidence can be dismissed when the popular media can always produce stories about inhabitants of the work shy benefit culture. It is for politicians the morality of the hypocrite they can do evil in the cause of a greater good. Misery and suffering become merely the start of a life cycle that propels the individual towards the good life.

There is one fallacy in this revolutionary logic, it assumes that there is a career path out of poverty for the work shy. However in a low wage economy it is impossible for this new generation  of strivers to move out of poverty. This is the culture in which the strivers have to take two or three jobs to survive. There is little scope for such people either amassing the savers to improve their life circumstances or shave the time study to achieve the qualifications to improve their life chances. What is wrong with our society is not the people but its lack of opportunities? The economy is designed or structured to produce few winners and many losers. In an unfair society which denies an increasing majority of the population the opportunity to live a decent and civilised life, what is needed is a story to justify this unfairness, a story that turns moral dross into moral gold.

One is that told by our new generation of revolutionary politicians. They believe that it is the culture of the welfare state that has produced a generation of the feeble minded. People who lack the drive and initiative to improve themselves. Demolishing the welfare will be the shock these people need, it will transform the general population.  There will be a few degenerates that will be mired in poverty, but the rest will the strivers and achievers. The latter group will be the winners who will be rewarded with the material rewards that characterise the good life. This story has the virtue of demonising the poor as deserving their fate, a just return for their lack of drive. It’s a persuasive story but one that has little foundation in reality. In an unfair unjust society even the hardest working of the strivers can be denied a good life.

There is another story circulating about the unfair society and that is that it the natural outcome of a  the meritocratic society as suggested by the writer Toby Young and the sociologist Peter Saunders. Evidence shows that the IQ scores of the middle classes exceed those of the lowest classes. The argument is that higher income is the just reward for possessing the greater intelligence. However there is doubt that can be cast on IQ as a measure of real innate intelligence. If coaching for the IQ test can improve markedly the individuals test core it cannot be a valid test of innate intelligence. Innate intelligence just is there it can’t be taught, if these tests were a real measure of innate and not acquired intelligence, training in these tests should make little difference to the final score.

What unites this new generation of revolutionaries is their high income. These revolutionaries don’t live in garrets or hovels plotting change, they live in big houses and enjoy the lifestyle of the affluent. It is not unusual for these new  revolutionaries to enjoy six figure incomes, profitable second jobs can be as a columnist for a newspaper or lobbyist for a city finance company. Revolutionaries don’t live the comfortable life they are driven by a desire to change the unfairness of society, an unfairness manifested in widespread poverty and misery. These new revolutionaries wish to increase unfairness, inequality and poverty. Rather than accepting the self image of these new revolutionaries they should be seen as the really are stripped of their revolutionary romantic aura, they are merely the spokesmen for the rich and powerful oligarchs. These politicians rather than ushering in a new revolutionary age are the reactionary spokesmen for a new generation of backward looking oligarchs. What they are spokesman for is a hatred of modernity.  The oligarchs associate modernity with all that they hate which can be reduced to taxation and legislation to improve the life chances of the majority, which they see as reducing their opportunity to make money. As one of their spokesman so eloquently put it, its immoral to increase taxation on the well off. Making excessive amounts of cash and not paying taxes is the new approved morality of these new revolutionaries.

*Nietzsche ‘Twilight of the Idols’

Gullibility and the economy of fools

Jeremy Bentham is an almost forgotten philosopher today, yet of all the 19th century philosophers he was the most fascinating. He has an extremely logical turn of thought and it caused him to undertake actions that most would find peculiar.  One such action was his insistence on eating his meals back to front, he always had the desert or sweet dish first to be followed by the savoury dish. He argued that it was as logical to have the sweet first, as having it as the second dish, he could see no rational reason for always having the savoury dish first. Economists were influenced by his thinking and they adopted his ideas in their theories of market behaviour. Jeremy Bentham argued that good actions were those that gave the greatest pleasure to the greatest number. Similarly the free market gave the greatest satisfaction to the people as it was in the free market that people could satisfy their wants by determining what was made and sold. However there is one flaw at the heart of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism and free market economics, both assume that the individual is capable of making a rational decision about being what is in their best interests. Our knowledge of human behaviour teaches us that in fact people often make important decisions for the most stupid of reasons. Economists and Jeremy Bentham cannot account for human gullibility and stupidity which undermines the whole accepted free market arguments. 


taken from aspirant forum.com

What fascinated me was the medieval obsession with collecting Christian relics. The relics would be held in veneration and became the site of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage was a very profitable business for churches and monasteries, where the relics were displayed, as pilgrims made large donations to these churches and monasteries. The more holy the relic, the more profitable a site of pilgrimage it became. In the spirit of money making pirates employed by the city of Calvi in Italy stole the bones of St. Nicholas from the Turkish town of Myrna, to display in the church in Calvi. This was such a profitable business that monks became involved in forgery to create more and more spectacular relics. One such relic was the Veil of St. Veronica. St. Veronica is supposed to have wiped the face of Christ clear of blood and perspiration on his way to crucifixion at Golgotha. The veil then bore the miraculous imprint of Christ’s face.  This obvious forgery was on display in Rome for hundreds of years. Even today the medieval forgery that is the Turin Shroud is still on display and venerated by pilgrims. This very profitable medieval industry founded largely on fraud and human gullibility stands in contrast to the so called rational consumer of economic theory.

Today human gullibility is the foundation for another large and profitable industry, the trade in the relics and artefacts of celebrity. These items are valued for their proximity to the person of the celebrity, much as were the relics of the medieval saints. Recently a wooden spoon signed by John  Lennon and Yoko Ono was sold for between £600 and £800 at auction. Graceland the last home of Elvis Presley is the object of pilgrimage. Visitors often leave speaking in awe of having experienced something of Elvis Presley’s life, an awestruck experience that would have been similar to that of the medieval pilgrims. 


A letter from John Lennon to Phil Spector blaming The Who drummer Keith Moon and singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson for urinating on a console at an LA recording studio is up for auction, with an estimated value of £6,000.
(Read more at http://www.nme.com/photos/the-weirdest-most-expensive-beatles-artifacts-you-can-buy/)

If so many of our acts are a consequence of gullibility or stupidity, the arguments for the primacy of the free market are undermined. If people are capable of spending large sums of money illogically there needs to be a corrective to the free market. Rather than the wisdom of the crowd, it is better to speak of their ‘unwisdom’. Once  their existed that corrective, the government, it was thought that this body had the overview and long term wisdom to make certain decisions better than the individual. Now that belief has disappeared and wherever possible government services are put out to tender in the free market. There is no leading politician that believes that energy supply because of its importance is best supplied by the government. One consequence is that while the former nationalised energy industry was one of the leaders in nuclear energy engineering, the now privatised industry has lost that expertise. The new nuclear power stations will be built by a combination of expertise from French and Chinese engineering firms.

Perhaps it is in public health that the consequences of human gullibility are the most obvious.  The smoking of tobacco was popular when I was a teenager was seen as cool, as exemplified by the advertising phrase the ‘cool taste of menthol tipped cigarettes’.There was complete ignorance of the health risk of smoking, it was only after many years of government action to inform people of the dangers of smoking, that that cigarette consumption dropped. The reverse has happened with alcohol consumption, a market in which all restrictions on its sale and consumption have been dropped. Consumption as a consequence has risen, along with the incidence of cirrhosis of the liver and throat cancers. What is perhaps most distressing is the fact that gullibility has prevented what would have been the elimination of that disease of childhood measles. Many such as myself thought measles as being a minor rate of passage of childhood, not realising that this was an illness that could cause blindness, brain damage and disability. One maverick researcher claimed that he had evidence that the vaccine that prevented measles could  cause autism in children. This research having been published in ‘The Lancet’ caused a moral panic, chiefly through the writings of journalists in nationally read newspapers. Inevitably vaccination rates dropped and measles became yet again a scourge of childhood. Fortunately this panic is largely restricted to the Anglo Saxon world. There have been outbreaks of measles in several British cities bringing disability to an unfortunate minority of children. The same has happened in California, where measles is a threat to the children of the best educated classes, proving gullibility is not the prerogative  of the poor and ill informed. Despite the original research being discredited, the fear of the MMR vaccine remains and children are again threatened by this dangerous illness.

Nietzsche would have enjoyed exposing the naivety of economists and politicians who trust the wisdom of markets. Neither understand the nature of humanity and why their policies for the economy and society are flawed. While this essay may appear misanthropic, that’s not really my aim. What I want is a return to the old belief that there is such a thing as human wisdom and that it should be a guide to public policy making. Instead we have a democracy of fools, one in which only those policies that can be understood by the simplest and most unreasoning of men are adopted. 

Possibly it’s unfair to suggest our politicians are gullible fools, it’s more correct to say that they act as if they are such. The popular press provides an example of this, if you read a tabloid newspaper the impression it gives is that it’s been written by people who left school at the earliest opportunity and with a minimal education. In fact the vast majority of journalists writing in such papers are graduates, often from the elite universities it just that they write as if they were uneducated, as they believe what their readers want are simple uniformed opinions. A training at a tabloid newspaper is highly valued as trainee journalists believe that it teaches them the skills needed to be a good journalist. What is teaches them is how to write a column that appears to have been written by an uneducated person, as that type of column is believed to appeal to the widest readership. Similarly our politics is peopled by graduates from the elite universities who believe that the same patronising approach is required in politics. As one famous film making said money is never lost through underestimating the public taste.


Nietzsche’s nightmare – the rise of the untermensch, a world ruled by mediocrity

History has been unkind to Nietzsche as his writings have been seen as one of the giving a philosophical underpinning to the emerging Nazi movement of the 1930’s. Principally because his sister pillaged his notes to produce ‘The Will to Power’, which appeared to endorse the ideology of National Socialism. Certainly Nietzsche appeared to give some credence to this reading of his work. In one of his last books he refers to the superiority of the ‘blond beast’ of Germany, however this was written at a time of his increasing mental breakdown and cannot be taken as characteristic of his thought.  Even then the phrase ‘blond beast’ cannot be taken as an implicit endorsement of German nationalism. Readers of Nietzsche have forgotten that he was primarily an aesthete and it is in that context that his writings should be understood.  

Throughout the twentieth century there have been constant reinterpretations of the Nietzsche’s philosophy. While his sister was the first there have been countless others. One writer that adopts the Nietzschean theme is Ayn Rand in her text ‘Atlas Shrugged’. A novel that through its endorsement of the now dominant philosophy of Neo-Liberal economics has become one of the books that all aspiring politicians claim to have read. This novel demonstrates a worship of the rich and powerful and  a contempt for the poor. However Ayn Rand’s failure as with all the others, was to misunderstand Nietzsche’s will to power, it was not about power. Nietzsche himself expressed doubts later about the naming of this concept. Personally I think it would have been better phrased as the will to aspire, that is the drive to fulfil human potential. 


When Nietzsche introduced the concept übermensch (super or over man) he was not so much thinking of übermensch as the superman as a man of extreme  physical strength but the man of superior intellect and sensitivity. His first three candidates for the role of übermensch were the artist, philosopher and Saint. Saint Francis would have been one of an übermensch as Nietzsche originally intended the term to be used. He had the vision to seen the failings of Italian society of the 13th century, he rejected the role of chivalrous knight, which was seen as the highest ideal that could be aspired amongst the rich merchant class of Assisi. He saw not knightly chivalrous’ warfare but murderous warfare between city states. St. Francis had the qualities to make him an übermensch; he had superiority and uniqueness of intellect allied and the courage to go against the norms and conventions of his age. The distancing of time negates the radicalism of St. Francis. His preaching was seen by later Pope’s as a threat to the social order. After his death the Pope had two Franciscan friars burnt, because they had condemned too forcibly the wrong doings of the rich and the powerful. 

Nietzsche later dropped the Saint from his typology  of supermen. 

Twentieth and twenty first century writers tend ignore the influence of the thinking of Classical Greek thinkers on Nietzsche. One such Greek was the philosopher Aristotle, who wondered how can you classify ever changing beings such as man. It was obviously wrong to identify man only through his physical characteristics, as these characteristics kept changing. What was it that identified the child and the man as being the same creature? Aristotle’s answer was that it was ‘Being’, that is what they had the potential to become. The child would evolve into the intelligent thinking being that was the mature man. Nietzsche’s insight was that the potential of each man or woman was different, not all,  in fact only a tiny minority were capable of achieving the full human  potential. He despised the common herd of humanity that lacked the potential to achieve this highest level of being. What he saw was a society in which the rules were written to benefit the average of humanity. The poor specimens that made up the mass of humanity needed rules and regulation, as their independent thinking tended on their towards barbarism and animal like behaviours. Behaviours that needed controlling for the social good. Unfortunately for the fate of humanity these rules and regulations constrained the übermensch to such an extent that they were denied the opportunity to fulfil their potential. It is impossible to calculate the loss of society of this unfulfilled potential. How many Michelangelo’s  had been confined to a life of mediocrity because of the oppressive nature of a society of mediocrities?

Nietzsche hated democracy because it enshrined the rule of the mediocre. Some of his fiercest criticisms were directed at the British, as he saw the triumph of the business orientated bourgeois as the triumph of mediocrity. He wanted a society in which the übermensch would thrive, as what could be a better society than one in which the best of humanity thrive, as opposed to one in which the worst prosper. It was his despair that caused him to make the more extreme statements that he made towards the end of his life, when he was nearing mental and emotional breakdown. He  despaired that the rise of industrial civilisation was embedding in society the rule of the mediocre, that is the industrial bourgeoise. 

German nationalism he despised as there could not be a superior people, only a society in which the superior were allowed to thrive. Übermensch could only be individuals not nations. 

Nietzsche’s left many notes, that is notes made for book written and for those yet to be written. It from these notes that Elizabeth Forster Nietzsche could draft a philosophy of German nationalism. A philosophy of power which misused Nietzsche’s concept the will to power. What she changed it into was something akin to Chamberlain’s social Darwinism, a philosophy of competing racial types. A competition in which the Germanic Aryan racial type was best fitted to win. Other philosophies of power  developed in that century, one of which was that of Ayn Rand. A philosophy of the power of wealth, a philosophy in which wealth became the criterion of human worth, or as she described it a philosophy of rational selfishness. This particular one has become extremely influential in the contemporary world. 

This philosophy is clearly explained in her novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’. This  novel starts in a dystopian society of the future, a society in which business enterprise is oppressed through a series of restrictions imposed on it by a dictatorial government. Restrictions that eventually provoked a businessman’s strike. The billionaire owners of business gradually disappear and without them at the helm of their businesses, these businesses begin to fail. The rich have disappeared, so as to avoid the depredations of the  ‘looters’, these looters are the government and labour unions which extort wealth from the non looters (the rich) through the threat of force. Wealth which is squandered on the undeserving poor. The productive entrepreneurs have had enough and can no longer tolerate the leeching of their wealth by the non productive looters and mooches.  Without the beneficent rich directing their companies chaos results and thousands of the poor die, because they lack the ability to provide for themselves. The death of thousands of these non productive leaches, she sees as a great benefit to human society, as they made no contribution to the well being of society. Eventually these self secluded billionaires return and restore prosperity and freedom to society. Freedom for Rand was the removal of restrictions on the rich powerful wealth creators, restrictions such as labour protection laws, that prevented them introducing the most cost efficient methods of production. A society that would cease its persecution of the rich wealth creators. In Rand’s utopia all are free to use their talents to maximise their individual wealth, nobody had the right to expect the society to support them. If there were poor hungry people it was their own fault, either through lack of effort or ability. There was no reason why the members of society should show any concern about the poor, as in this society all had an equal opportunity to become rich, if some ignored that opportunity it was their fault.

Rand did not create the callous Neo-Liberal society of today, but her philosophy of power is one of the more substantial foundations on which it stands. It would be difficult to argue that she was more influential that Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, but her novels through simplifying the tenets of Neo-Liberalism contributed through popularising this philosophy. Her novels give the best explanation of the thinking behind Neo-Liberal thinking, in which people are valued for their worth as wealth creators. Those such as the poor who make meagre contributions to wealth creating are deserving of society’s contempt.

However the people who she elevates to the status of super men, the billionaires are the mediocre men who Nietzsche despises. They are to borrow Marcuse’s phrase the ultimate ‘one dimensional men’. A  simple historical comparison will demonstrate this. Cosimo de Medici, the man who dominated Florence in the late 14th century, was a wealthy banker which would have qualified him as one of  Ayn Rand’s financial supermen. Yet he was more than just that, he was a patron of the arts and artists he was responsible for funding the completion the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore (the “Duomo”, Florence’s cathedral). He had the foresight and wisdom to support the bankrupt architect Brunelleschi in completing this work. He was the patron of great artists such as Fra Angelico and Donatello and of perhaps patron of the greatest philosopher of his time, Ficino. Cosimo committed a great part of his wealth to public works, the magnificence of contemporary Florence is in part due to him. This contrasts with the selfish rationalists of Rand. These people avoid try to making any contribution to the society in which they live. Britain may be host to record numbers of the super rich, but the majority avoid paying tax. While their lack of tax payments show their unwillingness to contribute to the well being of society, they will also leave nothing behind in the form of public works. Any visitor can tour Florence today and marvel at its architectural splendours, whereas future visitors to London will see little to admire in in various shopping malls and office blocks of today.  If there was a negative  prize for the worse architecture in the world, London would regularly win the prize. The mediocrity of the new ruling class of politicians, financiers etc, is reflected in the mediocre buildings they erect. In biblical terms are a little more than the barbarous temples to mammon, in which worship and wonder are replaced by the act of buying and selling.


Cosimo de Medici, Portrait by Jacopo Pontormo; the laurel branch (il Broncone) was a symbol used also by his heirs [4]

The reason for my selecting Cosimo de Medici is that he is typical of the merchant princes of Renaissance Italy. These men used a large part of their wealth to sponsor public works on their cities, they vied with each other to get the best artists to create the greatest works of art of their cities. Cosimo de Medici is perhaps the type of capitalist that could be classed as one of the übermensch.  Today the super rich celebrate their philistinism. One suspects that Renaissance Italy was the one country that was most hospitable to the übermensch, while in contrast contemporary Britain is one of the least hospitable. 

This inhospitable climate can be demonstrated in the attack on the humanities in the universities. Mediocre men, be they politicians, university vice chancellors or businessmen can only see value in education if it  contributes directly to increasing the national income. When applying (unsuccessfully) to do a theology PhD, I was asked to write how my research would benefit society. Since I proposed to research the esoteric language that was used to speak of God, the I could not. The new type of university Vice Chancellors are all committed to make universities more productive in the business sense and of more direct benefit to the economy. These new university managers see no place for a liberal education as it does not translate in cost effective learning. Why study English literature, when the more cost beneficial course would be to study English as business communication?  Today those that want to study English or a modern language are favoured if it’s linked to business studies. Similarly the old tradition of disinterested research is being discarded in favour of that research that can best be demonstrated to show an economic benefit.  The cull of those cost ineffective departments has speeded up with the new coalition government of millionaires. A wrecking ball has been used on British universities in the expectation that from out of the rubble a profitable business enterprise is to be built. 

In the 1930’s great European philosophers came to teach in British universities, philosophers such as Isiah Berlin, Karl Popper, Ernst Gellner and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Either because they were freeing a regime that threatened their liberty and/or British universities with their tradition of disinterested research were congenial places to study.  Now such philosophers would merely use Britain as a transit point on their way to the more welcoming universities of the USA. 

Why I criticise Ayn Rand is not because she helped make Neo-Liberalism possible,  but because her doctrine of rational selfishness elevated selfishness into a virtue. The tax dodging businessman is no longer an immoral individual avoiding his social obligations, he is instead a moral non looter. They are acting morally in that they don’t want to see their hard earned income frittered away on poor ne’er do wells.  By elevating a particular kind of narrow mindedness (one that sees wealth accumulation as the only good), she has given sanction to the rule of mediocrity. A Cosimo de Medici would be regarded with horror by his billionaire contemporaries of today, all they would see is a billionaire frittering away a large part of his wealth on goods that produced no cash return. Perhaps it is in art that the clearest example is shown of the rule of mediocrity, Renaissance Florence produced  Michelangelo’s David, while contemporary Britain has produced Tracey Emin’s unmade bed.  

Rather  than initiating a new era of freedom as its proponents expected, the free market revolution has led to the rise of the new mediocrity, the rule of the untermensch (under man). Untermensch not as used by the Nazi’s to denote subhuman’s but men of dullness of mind, men self satisfied lacking any greater vision. Men and women with a preference for things as they were, wanting a return to an imaginary world of social peace, one unthreatened by change.  It is these men and women that dominate Britain, a Britain where thinking the same as the right people is the most admired trait. As demonstrated in Parliament where all the senior ‘responsible’ leaders all share the same view of Britain. They can see no alternative to austerity, anybody that suggests otherwise is subject to abuse, as witnessed by the demonising of Syriza. Syriza with its threats to end austerity in Greece is a threat to the agreed political consensus, where the fear is not the Syriza will fail, but that it will succeed. Therefore by continuing to insist on the inhumane policies that have impoverished Greece, they make it unlikely to happen. These scared people exclude from power the übermensch as they would threaten their position through change. Wherever you look in Britain the upper layer  of any institution, whether it be in parliament, finance or the universities, they are dominated by the untermensch. Mediocrities  of unbearable dullness who work collectively to ensure that the exciting, the new and the challenging ideas and people remain marginalised. Hayek thought that the social democracies of the 1950’s were drifting into a new serfdom, what he did not foresee was that his alternative society would be one by a ruled by a new class, the untermensch, the ultimate of one dimensional men. 


Friedrich Hayek – the author of ‘The Road to Serfdom’ – one of the leasing advocates of what is termed Neo-Liberalism

Milton Friedman – the leading proponent of Chicago school  of Free Market Economics

Nietzsche and the Economists


Nietzsche made many criticisms of philosophy as taught in Europe. One of his main criticisms was that it was written in ignorance of its real subject matter, that is man. Free will is one of the main tenets of moral philosophy yet Nietzsche cast doubt on its existence. How free he asked was tge criminal when he conducted his crimes? He argued that psychology taught that many actions of the individual are pre determined by their biological drives. Is the criminal freely committing his criminal acts or is he not acting in a predetermined manner. If this true how can the criminal be responsible for his actions? 

While Nietzsche’s  reasoning was founded on a rather crude biological determinism his argument is still valid. Moral philosophy was wrong when it assumed that an individual was responsible for his actions. Therefore all philosophers such as Kant were wrong when he based his moral philosophy on the categorical imperative. Kant’s categorical imperative states  that one’s actions should be capable of serving as the basis of a universal law,a philosopher’s updating of Christ’s injunction, to do onto as others as you would have done onto yourself. Nietzsche would argue that the individual man was incapable of acting rationally as Kant believed, as his actions were driven by a series of biological drives which could be quite irrational. To put it simply the rational man of the philosophers did not exist, so all philosophy was flawed, because of this fundamental error.

Nietzsche’s scepticism applied to economics

As a student of economics I do believe that although many of the insights that economics has developed are invaluable in understanding the economy, too much of the subject matter of economics is based on assumptions about the nature of human behaviour and the workings of the economy which are flawed and therefore much of economics is just plain wrong. What economists never practise is self reflection, they never question the assumptions on which their predictions about economic behaviour are based.

One of these fundamental assumptions of economics is that the economy runs most effectively when consumers are free to choose without constraint between a variety of options. Economists believe that they know best what they want. They don’t want some remote body such as the government making choices for them. If it does it because of its remoteness from the individual citizen will make the wrong decision. This philosophy underpins much of the reform of public services in the UK, which is about giving the user choice. Now when you go to your doctor you are given a variety of options to choose from. Last week when I saw my doctor I was given a choice of health care providers at which to have my chest X-Ray. Politicians and health care economists see this as an unalloyed good. They believe it is preferable that Individual such as myself have a choice about which health care provider to use. Rather than being directed to be health care provider by the government, to a help care provider that I would not have chosen. However there is evidence that this apparently self evident good is not always a good.

What evidence there is suggests that whatever we want as consumers it is not always choice. Two American economists conducted an experiment into choice. They ran two market stalls selling jam, on one stall they had an almost infinitely large selection of jams and on the other a very limited selection of jam types.  The second stall sold the most jam, as it appeared that when  people faced a large range of products from which to choose an almost they found it difficult to decide which one to buy. When choice was limited they found it easy to make a decision. Tesco Britain’s largest supermarket discovered this truth through its falling sales . In its stores there could be up 30 different varieties of one product on display, whereas it’s more successful rival Lidl would have one or occasionally two examples of one product. Customers did not want a large product range, they preferred the Lidl approach. Lidl also by limiting its product range was able to buy in bulk and could negotiate large discount through being a bulk buyer. This fed through to lower store prices which made Lidl a formidable competitor for Tesco. 

Economists by recommending the break up of public sector monopolies its several competing private suppliers to offer the service user more choice may be mistaking the public mood.  Until 1993 railway services were provided by the state owned British Rail. Then the state monopoly was broken up and rail services and divided up among various competing rail companies, so to give the rail traveller a choice of service provider.  After 22 years of privatisation the majority of the people want railways to be renationalised. Rail fares are now some of the highest in the world and the conditions travellers are subjected to are distinctly second class. The term ‘cattle truck’ as a description of how people are transported at peak times is a frequently used term. Also the costs to the government of a privatised rail service are much higher than the costs of running the former nationalised rail service. Private firms require from the state a huge subsidy to run what they claim is an unprofitable public service. They claim that they need subsidies to break even or to make a modest profit. Yet all the companies make a significant profit,a profit that up is massaged downwards for reasons of public relations and tax avoidance. Only a free market economist would find something of value in a rail service which charges some of the highest fares in the world for what are some of the worst of travelling conditions. 


Economists lack the skills of self reflection, they never question the core principles or truths on which the subject is founded.  These founding principles of economics are little more than assumptions about human behaviour which are frequently wrong, which be proved on reflection. Until economists can apply a little Nietzschean scepticism there subject will continually provide the wrong answers to the questions asked of it.

Philosophical scepticism the antidote to Neo-Liberal fantasies


Although I have read economics, philosophy and theology at university, I am not an academic and I want a description that distinguishes me from the professional philosophers and economists. I think I can best be described as a ‘Hedgerow Philosopher or Economist’. It is a steal from Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Return of the Native’, at the end of that novel Clym Yeobright becomes a hedgerow preacher. Lacking the formal qualifications necessary to become a preacher in an established church, he takes to the roads literally preaching to the country people in the fields. The hedgerows being the walls of his church and the place where he sleeps most nights. He is a figure that has always fascinated me and I Identify with Clym. I am a hedgerow philosopher because I speak as an outsider, looking in from outside the academy. This is not a viewpoint soured my malice or envy, but a viewpoint that expresses freedom and my independence, as outsider I am not obliged to follow the disciplines of any school. It is this distancing that gives me a different perspective on the practice of economics.


Country people such as myself believe that our being in constant contact with nature gives us an understanding of the world denied to town folk. It is the experience of witnessing the sunrise or sunset over a country landscape that makes us feel we are closer To those elemental forces that govern nature and the world. Probably this arrogant assumption is totally unjustified, but nevertheless country people do assume a superiority over their townie cousins.

As a philosopher I would suggest that economists are making a similar error to that made by philosophers as described by Nietzsche. One of the assumptions that under pins any moral philosophy is that humans are responsible for their actions, they make choices good or bad. However as Nietzsche write psychology demonstrates so many of actions that an individual makes are predetermined, so how can they be responsible for their actions? He accuses moral philosophers of falsely attributing behaviours to men which are absent in reality. They fall at the first hurdle in constructing their their moral philosophies. Similarly economists fail as they fail to understand the relationship between the economy and the host society of which it is part. One exception to this common misunderstanding is the economist Michael Polyani.

Contemporary economists know the writings of Friedman, Schumpeter, Hayek and Rand, yet never Hayek’s great rival those of Polanyi. Polanyi is absent from the economics curriculum of universities. Probably because he puts the economy back into the society of which it is part, he makes it one social science among many, relegating it from it’s position as the Queen of social sciences. He writes that the market economy is a threat to the social order and must be regulated so as to control its destructive tendencies. The example he use to demonstrate this is the Industrialisation of Britain in the late 18th and the threat that posed to society. The new textile factories produced cheaper and better cloth and in greater quantities than the home workers, That is the hand loom weavers. With the collapse in demand for their cloth these weavers were impoverished and faced the very real threat of starvation. The government responded to their misery by introducing the ‘Speenhamland system’, which as with today’s working tax credits was a supplementary payment made to the weavers to enable them to pay for the necessaries of life. He suggests that it was the system that prevented there being an English revolution to match the French one. Desperate starving weavers would have had no option but to resort to violence to obtain the food for their families. It was a series of bad harvests and hunger that drove the Parisian mob to violence and it was that mob that was one of the driving forces behind the revolution. Any economist that preaches a message contrary to the ‘feel good’ philosophy of Neo-Liberalism is unwelcome in today’s economics departments and Polanyi would not be found on any departmental book shelves.

Fear of the damage an unbridled free market can wreak on society is slowly becoming better understood within the governing classes. Recently the Head of Transport for London spoke of his fears that the high price of transport could provoke social disorder. He feared that what happened in Brazil could happen in London, when the poor took to violent street protest to express their anger at high fares. Neither economic or social history intrudes on the unreal world of Neo-Liberal economics; if it did they would know that the propertied classes of Victorian London lived in constant fear of the mob. A similar fear seems to be developing now with the spread of gated communities in London whose intent is to keep out the violent feral underclass of popular imagining.

If economists were also philosophers they would be familiar with philosophical scepticism, which teaches that all schools of philosophy are flawed and blind faith in one such system is an error. Neo-liberal economics as one such grand theory of everything is flawed. Human knowledge is at best limited, they are unaware of Socrates dictum that he as the cleverest Athenian knew that he knew nothing. The practice of economics would be improved if it’s dictums were subject to a healthy degree of scepticism.

What economics lacks is any understanding of ethics, which is essential for any human science. In the 1960’s, Says Law was discredited because of its very lack of humanity (and because of the existence of better alternatives). Says law states that governments should never control wage rates, as if wages are allowed to fall to their natural level, employers will start to employ this new cheap affordable labour. Employment will pick up and competition between employers will push up wage rates and all will be well. Without openly acknowledging it the British government has been an advocate of this law. By removing all protections from the labour market they have allowed wage rates to fall to such a level that employers can buy lots of this new bargain priced labour. It matters not a jot that many of these new jobs pay less than the living wage and the recipients of the new poverty wages live a life of misery. This is why in the UK there is a recovery that few experience as they are stuck on poverty wages with no chance of increasing them. Rather than the recovery pushing up wages, employers will use agency workers who they can employ at less than minimum wage, by adopting various legal subterfuges. The government and the community of economists are unaware that an economy which fails to work for the majority of people in reality works for no one. Having a childlike or naive faith in Neo-liberalism and lacking the perspective of a philosophical sceptic they will also mistake the fantasies of Neo-Liberalism for reality.