Tuesday 12 July 2016

Progressives Astonished Again

I was glad to hear that archaeologists, using a novel scanning technique involving lasers, have discovered that a large area of Sussex downland that is now wooded was farmed 'on an astonishing scale' before the Romans arrived and set about rubbishing the achievements of the people they were conquering.
 What has emerged so far is evidence of a managed farming collective 'on a very large scale' - and really we shouldn't be surprised; we've known for a long time that southern England exported quantities of grain to the Continent. I fancy that similar examination of many other southern English landscapes would yield similar results. And yet it always comes as a surprise: 'The degree of civilisation this implies is completely unexpected in this part of the world at this time - something closer to the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians than the current view of prehistoric Britain.'
 Well, it's unexpected for two reasons, one being that virtually all accounts of pre-Roman civilisations were written by the conquering Romans, who were keen to present the indigenes as primitive savages (which can't have been the case: as Graham Robb points out, Gaul could never have been conquered so fast if it didn't already have a well developed road network). The other, deeper reason that these things continue to surprise is the sheer sticking power of the idea of Progress, of history proceeding inexorably in one direction. By this calculus, the longer ago people were living the more primitive they must have been, and the less 'civilised'. We retroprogressives, of course, don't look at things that way, and are pleased rather than surprised by discoveries  of how 'advanced' supposedly primitive civilisations were.
 We were not surprised either by the result of the recent EU referendum. The progressive idea of the Remainers that they were 'on the side of history' and that there could only be one reasonable outcome was clearly delusional. And yet many Remainers are still reeling, staggering around wild-eyed and wailing 'What happened?' Well, for any who actually want an answer to that question (and many of the wailers, I fear, don't), I'd recommend listening to a talk by the philosopher John Gray that was broadcast on Radio 4 this morning. Here's the link.


  1. That's a good talk by John Gray, which almost exactly matches my view: 'Little Europe' huddling behind it's flimsy walls whilst the world marches on. Little Englanders, indeed!

  2. I like John Gray and especially his criticism of starry-eyed 'meliorism' in history. Thanks for the link. I've listened to Gray and have recently read many articles by him.

    As you have made a political point I will see it as an invitation to respond in kind as the tame remainer in the Nigeness cohorts. Surely I saw Osborne and Cameron in high vis jackets visiting China and India pre-Referendum suggesting that EU membership did not in fact exclude us from world-wide trading? And I've eaten plenty of New Zealand lamb! So making relations harder with our significant back door neighbours might be conceived to have a bad long-term effect? An idea I offer.

    Secondly the 2008 banking crisis "dispossessed" the workers of the UK and caused austerity (wrecking the economies of S Europe into the bargain) not the the EU which admittedly responded badly to it. The worthy longbowmen of Agincourt hit the wrong target. We seem to be exiting the EU almost by accident. Perhaps an example of the "squalid mess called history."

    How does Gray's logic that European dynamic dominance was only a blip compared with earlier Chinese and Indian cultures sit with the Elizabethans enterprises and the founding of the British Empire? Such knowledge about China and India didn't seem to hold Drake or Clive of India or Rhodes back.

    Insularity is surely a danger for island-dwellers
    "Every man is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less."

    He is an able and talented historian etc but his is a point of view as arbitrary as anyone else's. We all explain history to suit our own agenda.

    Ultimately only history will reveal who was right in this matter. I hope I don't sound too wild-eyed.

  3. Roger Scruton's version isn't bad either:

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  5. Well Recusant, Scruton describes the EU at its foundation as merely a Customs Union rather than an attempt, also, to prevent another devastating twentieth century European war.

    And then he's angry about our losing pounds and ounces and all the damage that has done to us because, presumably trading in decimals with the rest of the world was unnecessary.

    Like much of the Brexit narrative he evokes a rather paranoid vision of Europe (perhaps typical of an island nation) which is not generally benign but malign (for some reason unknown).

    He talks of the "we" which he defines in nation state terms. Perhaps globalisation has altered the nation state game and the "we" now has to be wider? He concedes that the "global economy has turned upside down and disrupted people's sense of place and home" so might the insistence on the nation state be outdated? An idea. Cannot the assembled Council of Ministers use the pronoun "we"?

    The narrative of the haughty metropolitan elites versus the common man is a simplification. If you discard the insights of the educated (for they were statistically just that) elite what are you left with?

    Don't misunderstand me - I like Scruton and Gray - just disagree on this issue.