X Close

Confessions of a student Marxist It is hard not to conclude that a whole generation has been terribly misled about how best to pursue a life of meaning and resilience

Some students doing what students like to do. Photo by Tolga Akmen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Some students doing what students like to do. Photo by Tolga Akmen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


September 17, 2020   8 mins

After a long, eerie summer, the students are returning to campus. The neuroses that so often characterise this period will be intensified: UCU hysterically threatens 50,000 extra deaths from an uncontrolled return to university life; the lack of school exams will increase self-doubt and suspicion; and the promise of a bright future for graduates on the other side looks more distant than ever.

Above all, the life into which they enter will be a bare one. Even where each constituent part of student life remains in place, it will be hard to act with confidence, fluency or grace amid the uncertainty. The “student experience” was always a dismal expression; now it is a sad joke.

But this is not the only threat that incoming students face. Universities are front and centre of the new culture war and the dominant culture in the humanities and arts is soaked in an anxiety-ridden politics of negation. It is a world with which I am all too familiar, from many years’ involvement in the far-left, which — stripped of materialist analysis and class content — increasingly finds its base in the university. I had come to see those years as misspent but essentially inconsequential and a little embarrassing.

What is remarkable is not that I found these politics wanting — most who move through these scenes eventually do — but that, shorn of their economics, they now appear culturally hegemonic and unassailable. Today these politics represent what Wesley Yang described as the “successor ideology”, the default politics of a new elite coming of age, and this language is the currency of the professional managerial class in the English-speaking world. They do not seem so inconsequential anymore.

I spent my teenage years immersed in Marxist and anarchist circles and literature, at protests and occupations, squats and reading groups. I would listen to ageing Cockneys give talks on class interest and exploitation in the backrooms of dusty pubs. It may not have been much, but it did at least feel like we could lay claim to the heritage of a genuine radicalism.

When I arrived at Cambridge a decade ago, then, I was taken aback to encounter many like me. Indeed most of the students studying the arts and humanities were well to the left of Labour, which was regarded as a bit of a joke. There were differences, of course, with my previous political world: at Cambridge, the talk was of activism and oppression rather than organising and exploitation. Political economy and class were downplayed and gender, race, colonialism, sex work and mental health came to the fore. This allowed participants to see themselves not as the guilty children of the elite, but as subjects of a politics of anti-oppression in their own right. It felt less like a historical reenactment society and more contemporary, urgent even.

That this ancient institution was saturated with radicalism posed a problem for my self-image. Calling yourself a communist or anarchist was just not very interesting anymore. As we occupied university buildings and demanded the impossible from the safety of our cloisters, it seemed to me that the age-old debate between left-communists and anarchists who believed in the spontaneous uprising of the working class, and the Trotsykist idea of an intellectual vanguard at the helm of the revolutionary movement, was decisively resolved in favour of the latter.

Some blame academics for the radicalisation of students, but in truth self-selecting mechanisms ensured many of us arrived pre-radicalised, and from there it spread memetically, not didactically. The internet was a far bigger radicaliser than Left-wing academics. The handful of academics involved with the political scene were outliers and most were political liberals.

The next three years played out predictably. The organiser of a gay night was denounced for playing a song by Katy Perry because another song of hers was deemed problematic. A rare working class boy had his Union Jack flag stolen and set on fire during a commemoration for the Queen, while students (many of whom from one elite international school in Geneva) denounced him as a racist. We queued round the block for Judith Butler and we tried, sometimes successfully, to get others blocked from public platforms altogether.

Rumours would circulate about people who were “problematic”, often socially awkward men whose problem was that they interrupted people. Talks on sex work and the radical possibilities of kink proliferated. One of my more sordid memories is of person after person taking turns at a public assembly to declare themselves “disabled”, presumably by nature of their mental disorder, and therefore oppressed. A good friend was condemned in a public blog by his ex for the crime of suggesting that her new activist friends might not have been making her very happy.

At first, there was a rush — the feeling of belonging to a community, particularly one defined so clearly against an other, gave meaning and purpose to life. Taking part in “action”, the more covert the better, strengthened this sense of conspiracy. But over time the world darkened and lost colour. Our intellectual world shrunk and everything was subjected to the same dreary analysis. Real conversation became impossible, replaced with irony, intersectional bromides and endless talk of mental illness.

The college was a bucket of crabs and happiness itself suspect, a mark of privilege, as with the rugby lads who had the audacity to actually enjoy themselves. When there was laughter it was heavy and jarring, filled with irony and bitterness, never light or free. The elitism of the university discounted even appreciation of the beauty of its buildings or the surrounding countryside, although by then we were probably too far gone to notice. Though we were aware of our enormous privilege we contrived to see our time at Cambridge as some grim fate foisted upon us.

Right now, the discourse is centred on “cancel culture”. It was not cancellation but closure that defined our social-political scene, and that now characterises the culture at large — the ideas left unexplored, the varied uses of the English language reduced to greyscale, and, in the end, the elimination of joy, curiosity and wonder from our lives. (This closure plays out just as surely among liberal and Right-wing culture warriors, who are reduced to dull defences of free speech. This essay, in its own way, contributes to that closure too. Life is good and there is so much more we could talk about!)

Few have described this process as well as Philip Roth in American Pastoral. The lifelessness of it all and the impossibility of any lightness or dialogue, as he put it: “The monotonous chant of the indoctrinated, ideologically armored from head to foot — the monotonous, spellbound chant of those whose turbulence can be caged only within the suffocating straitjacket of the most supercoherent of dreams. What was missing from her unstuttered words was not the sanctity of life — missing was the sound of life.”

Roth wrote of the manipulative potential of compassion, the only recognised virtue: “There may not be much subtlety in it, she may not yet be its best spokesman, but there is some thought behind it, there’s certainly a lot of emotion behind it, there’s a lot of compassion behind it…” On top of this there was the moral certainty that erases any concern about means. “Rita was no longer an ordinary wavering mortal, let alone a novice in life, but a creature in clandestine harmony with the brutal way of the world, entitled, in the name of historical justice, to be just as sinister as the capitalist oppressor Swede Levov.”

Unhappiness brings with it power over others. Where compassion is the highest virtue, this power is almost limitless. Misery also provides the motive to wield this power, and mental blindness to one’s own culpability in its exercise. The principal protagonists of this scene nestled into their unhappiness and woke politics was the form of emotional manipulation its outward expression took. Its obscure language games were about codifying the rules of social engagement so that its anxious subjects could navigate social life as much as they were about prohibition.

Whenever a clip goes viral of a person, clearly in some mental distress, repeating the usual platitudes, it is impossible not to see the anxieties of life under late modernity writ large. They are there in the voice, constantly on the point of breaking, in the incredulous, widening eyes, and in the earnestly furrowed brow. It is a recognisable form of distress, but not one found among those at the sharp end of genuine political tyranny or destitution. It is hard not to conclude that a whole generation has been terribly misled about how best to pursue a life of meaning and resilience.

Social theorist Mark Fisher described from first-hand experience the manipulation of this scene as a Vampire Castle which “feeds on the energy and anxieties and vulnerabilities of young students, but most of all it lives by converting the suffering of particular groups — the more marginal, the better — into academic capital. The most lauded figures in the Vampire Castle are those who have spotted a new market in suffering — those who can find a group more oppressed and subjugated than any previously exploited will find themselves promoted through the ranks very quickly.” The Vampire Castle recruits on the promise of community and self-healing. The reality is an ouroboros of emotional manipulation, stripped of the political and of all that makes life interesting and worthwhile.

So when Black Lives Matter adopts the same therapeutic language in their description of their praxis — “we recommit to healing ourselves and each other… we intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depletive… we practise empathy… we are self-reflexive… we support each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another” — it makes my skin crawl. I dread the thought of anyone that I love getting sucked into this false community.

Undergraduate wastefulness, self-absorption and misery are nothing new, but the form they took presaged what was to come. In another age, we would have been conservatives — frightened of the outside world, haunted by anxiety and guilt, unafraid to speak or think freely. But instead, the politics of my old friends set the national agenda.

We would have laughed at the idea we formed an elite and we certainly didn’t act like one. But we were the vanguard for a movement that has swept the English-speaking world in the subsequent decade. We still professed to be fighting the old powers — patriarchy, white supremacism, the nuclear family, colonialism, the university itself. But in truth we represented what Christopher Lasch called psychological man, “the final product of bourgeois individualism,” and were being trained in elite formation for the therapeutic age just as surely as our forerunners had been for the previous, paternal age.

In the past two months, this new elite has discovered its collective strength. The cultural politics of the emerging professional managerial class have joined with the rage of those with first-hand experience of police oppression. The anxieties of the milieu I left have found in white guilt a steady resting place. The emotional manipulation developed in elite institutions has developed a motte-and-bailey style of argument (superbly analysed by Jacob Siegel) which is impossible to push back against without seeming callous. And every institution, public or private, has simply buckled.

Towards the end of American Pastoral, the protagonist Swede Levov — poor Swede Levov — wonders whether he tried to be too understanding of his daughter’s descent into the furthest reaches of the political fanaticism of the late 1960s: “Perhaps the mistake was to take seriously what was in no way serious.” He gave an inch to the madness of his daughter’s utopian ideology and she took a mile, blowing up a suburban post office and killing two people. Yet this doctrine has graduated out of the elite universities where it first festered and is rewriting our institutions and our history. It must be taken seriously.

Last year I argued in American Affairs that the way through the culture war was a radical economic settlement that gave people security and order; socialist means to achieve conservative ends. This now looks naĂŻve. The material genesis of the radical cultural politics that has shown its strength in the last few months lies in the overexpansion of higher education, which produced a new middle class that is materially discontented and uncomfortable in its own skin. The globalisation of American pathologies has given this new urban class, present across the Western world, a politics that is carving through our institutions.

Providing decent work and the possibility of home ownership in big cities, therefore, combined with the longer term goal of overhauling higher education, seemed the best strategy for overcoming the listlessness of an elite fraction disenfranchised from a world that failed to live up to its promise. Perhaps it still is. But the embrace of this movement by the rich, and the profound philosophical break it represents with the old order, suggests it has a logic and a momentum of its own and its potential is without limit. It is a politics of negation and renunciation and there is no end-point. There is always more work to be done.


Tobias Phibbs is writer and director of research at the Common Good Foundation


Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

86 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
matthew-hall
matthew-hall
3 years ago

I was at Oxford in the 80s. Not many wokists but a lot of over-privileged kids who had never met anyone not like them. My abiding feeling was that we should all have been sent off for a year’s national service – male and female alike. A year of service to the nation. Hard, physical work that would have put everyone in the same boat.
Ultimately, life is about service, or as Jordan Peterson is fond of saying, finding the biggest load you can bear and bearing it. Robbed of this idea and being focused on entitlement, kids don’t stand a chance at psychological health. We only have each other and unless we are bound together by common experience we have no basis for a stable, healthy society.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  matthew-hall

“Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having served at sea”.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 years ago

Liberal and right wing culture warriors “who are reduced to dull defences of free speech”: Tobias has hit the nail on the head and touched on something I’ve been thinking about. It also applies to classical liberal and conservative appeals to ‘conversation’ and ‘debate’. As Tobias describes, a whole generation is searching for meaning and has found it in utopian ideology. Unfortunately, the liberal ethos of free speech, the search for facts and resolution through debate is a bloodless appeal to process. It won’t cut through.

When you pitch process against emotive ideas, emotion will usually win. If you see oppression wherever you look, you’re unlikely to be persuaded to slow down and have a discussion. Which is why the hashtag ‘notdebatable’ went viral. Appeals to process are weak against appeals to change the world for the better.

We need a new philosophy, a new world view that can capture idealistic minds as classical liberalism did 300 years ago. The problem with Enlightenment values is that they’ve been with us too long. In the west at least, they’ve lost the glitter of novelty, they’re tired. They don’t have the ability to capture and enthuse the young because these values are no longer radical, but conservative. They’re seen as part of the problem, not the solution.

polidoris ghost
polidoris ghost
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Good response to a fine article.
I was around in student circles in the 60’s and yet I was immune to what I regarded as metaphysical gibberish. I could not out of my head the idea that there is no direction, no progress in human affairs – The future is utterly unknowable, except that it will always be, somehow, more of the same.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

That’s interesting. I wonder if the problem though isn’t so much that they seem conservative, but they just aren’t enough. They don’t contain enough content, at least not in the form that has came to us at the very secularised end of the 20th century.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 years ago

Yes, that’s what I mean by ‘process’. We counter demands for justice (as they see it) with relatively shallow requests about the rules of engagement – free speech, debate, mutual respect, etc – but we don’t meet their world-view head on with our own theory of the just society. I think that’s called a category error. You’re right to mention our very secularised culture as (from my religious pov) it’s removed the traditionalist world picture – full of rich content – from polite discourse.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

There is no philosophy that can counter this aberration.
The only response that could have worked would have been to just say NO and sticking to it, when these toxic demands were 1st uttered.
Its probably not too late to at least start to apply the law beginning with street demonstrations especially in a time of pandemic.
At the very least, people need to start to experience consequences for bad behaviour.

jcurwin
jcurwin
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

I suspect this explains, to some extent, Jordan Peterson’s enormous popularity. He is offering a way back to something more sacred that people find palatable. He is giving them permission to think about higher ideals without embarrassment.

JT Hamilton
JT Hamilton
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Excellent post. I have been struggling with the same thoughts but have not expressed them so clearly. The current crop of “true believers” will not go quietly. I fear that history has already outlined for us our possible futures.

Charles McEwan
Charles McEwan
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

If you are saying that only what is new is of value, then we have no past to learn from. In fact, if we look back in history we see that pretty much all ancient societies were slave states in which human sacrifice was prevalent. That began to change with the arrival of Christianity. Slavery and human sacrifice (honour killings) remain to this day in Islamic societies and now in Western society we are re-introducing both (e.g. zero hour contracts and abortion) as we eliminate Christianity from all our institutions. We have even managed to get quite a few “Christian” leaders to join in the denigration of Christian civilization.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles McEwan

“If you are saying that only what is new is of value”: No, I most certainly am not. See my reply to Meghan Kathleen Jamieson below. I’m just not clever enough to create an iteration of traditional value systems for the 21st century.

Robert G
Robert G
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles McEwan

Abortion cannot be equated with human sacrifice.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert G

I think it can, it is a sacrifice to the convenience of the market, eg, “we cannot afford to have another child”, “my career is just taking off”; or, the ego of the individual, eg “I am not ready for this now, I’m too busy having fun,” I don’t want a baby” etc.
Contraception and abortion were developed during the 20the century by men to enable women to more easily provide their labour and taxes for ‘the common good’, ie, human sacrifice to market forces.

Ralph Hulbert
Ralph Hulbert
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

We will only improve society if every child is loved and wanted….

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Ralph Hulbert

Please explain therefore why our society has not improved since contraception and abortion became feely available ? It could be argued it has become significantly worse and there were 200,000 abortions last year and rising.
When are we going to encounter this improved society of yours ?

Also I would argue that it is up to the parents whether they love and want their children, you cannot force people to love and want their children, they need to be coaxed and encouraged to do so by narrative and example, even stereotypes to some extent, though instinct probably plays the greatest part in loving.
Freely available abortions do the absolute opposite, the life you have created is so worthless it can be disposed of down the drain.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Ralph Hulbert

Plenty of unplanned, unexpected children end up being very much loved and wanted.

Ralph Hulbert
Ralph Hulbert
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles McEwan

I would have suffered immensely without zero-hour contracts. Work, when I wanted it, at my own convenience, to fit around other work commitments.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Is there anything new under the sun?
Utopianism is cheap and easy and has always been able to attract young minds. What’s new to young people is old history. So, maybe we (they) just need to rediscover Enlightenment values for themselves. What heretofore unknown, magical philosophy could we otherwise be waiting for?

Chelcie Morris
Chelcie Morris
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

This is what I’ve been telling liberals and conservatives for a while now. Using the “moral high ground” as your arguing position doesn’t work; you can’t debate against someone who runs purely on emotion because they will not play by the rules and will steamroll over you which we have seen for years now. If we want to win against these people then we need to use their tactics against them.

Last edited 3 years ago by Chelcie Morris
frances heywood
frances heywood
3 years ago

thanks – I didn’t intend to sound mean spirited, however, I find it incredibly sad that someone so privileged to attend a world class university should have wasted his time so comprehensively. And surrounded himself with a bubble of extremely mean spirited fellow students. He obviously had no truck with the rugby lads, who enjoyed themselves, or the one, despised, working class student who dared to have a Union Jack.
Interesting though the article is (and I agree with many of his points, such as the over expansion of university education, which has lead to a lot of disappointed young people) there is a sadness running throughout his reflections. Because he now realises he was part of the genesis of the poisonous intolerance and cancel culture which has spread throughout universities.

Julian Hartley
Julian Hartley
3 years ago

Would you rather he remained unaware of his past failings?

frances heywood
frances heywood
3 years ago
Reply to  Julian Hartley

no, of course not, as I and others said, it’s good that he has changed his mind.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago

While it’s true the author, Prof. Phibbs, might better have observed a negative capability, stil, the subject of the experience is not the thesis, which is a report and analysis of subject’s experience. Andrew Best’s comments are ad hominem.

The much analysed ’60’s student experience was marxism mediated by French existentialism, the all absorbing need to be authentic, with social justice a subsidiary function. The methodology was constant and excruciating self-criticism (“The Lemon Eaters” comes to mind), and activism the goal.

Roth captures it well. Swede is the All American Golden Boy, perfection incarnate. His daughter has a stutter. That’s to say, the ’60’s generation was defective. Actually they are both heroic and beautiful, and defective (viz. human) … an unmitigated tragedy, very much The Antigone (also a cult play at the time).

Mutatis mutandis, today it’s Foucauldian deconstruction leading to social justice.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

I have argued further down that it may be the rise of the feminine in public life over the past 50 years, the negative side of feminine energy; an irrational mixture of compassion for people’s hurt feelings alongside a spiteful, vengeful intolerance.
Perhaps a lack of balance at a fundamental level.

john h
john h
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Certainly something in what you say.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Interesting. And how would it apply with the heroine and her therapist in “American Pastoral”? Isn’t it more she’s a child than gender? The unbalance of youth, rational is ahead of the emotional?

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  robert scheetz

I’m afraid I have’nt read American Pastoral, so I cannot answer your questions.

john h
john h
3 years ago

These people are competitive, but it has become twisted into bad outcomes. The rugby lads were competitive as well, but i think they also learn to loose as well as win.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago

You neednt have picked on his failings because he admits them..

Chelcie Morris
Chelcie Morris
3 years ago

My theory is this: we lack community, societal standards and values and we have seen these events play out before in history: the fall of Rome. What was happening during this time? What it meant to “be Roman” was constantly questioned, what it meant to be a man or a woman was questioned, the loss of traditional values, parents weren’t tending to their children, sex was casual, there was a decline in the community and there was large income inequality.
How does that correlate to now? Everyone is apathetic, what it means to be British is constantly being questioned, everyone works all of the time, large income inequality, our values and boundaries are constantly being pushed, parents aren’t tending to their children because both parents are working, sex is casual, and no one is willing to celebrate anything that is remotely cultural and that is where I think the problem stems from. How are you supposed to have an identity, or be comfortable in that identity, when the very first identity that you are supposed to have, your culture and your community, is considered a source of shame? The woke types always express shame of being patriotic or will look down on our culture in favour for someone elses because, to them, their identity is shameful and someone elses is much better (hence the hatred for the British flag but love for the EU one, ironically). I didn’t grow up with any community, and I don’t think many people around me did either, and I distinctly remember feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere.
Also, we have allowed in our world one thing that was very rare before and that is the ability to pity oneself and make yourself a victim; mix this in with a hero complex and you have social justice.

Michael Joseph
Michael Joseph
3 years ago

Absolutely brilliant. I’d love to send this around my workplace which in a terrifyingly short amount of time has embraced all this madness. But I’d probably get fired, so best not.

Adam Huntley
Adam Huntley
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Joseph

My work place too which perhaps predictably is a university. A place loudly celebrating its new BAME Action Plan but still happy to employ largely poor, black, middle aged staff to pick up its rubbish, clean out its toilets and collect its parking fines on contracted out zero hours contracts

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

Woke is neither compassionate nor understanding. Groups like BLM, XR and many other far left organisations are about homogenisation of thoughts and ideas. The possibility that a person is not 100% committed to every facet of the organisations top down goals is a blasphemy punishable by cancellation. Look at how XR refused to accept the report of the peoples assembly they called for because it was not filled with people they had placed there and it’s outcome was not a rewrite of their manifesto!

These same organisation also practice their own form of extreme bigotry. The whole notion of “black lives matter” and “white privilege ” is based around skin colour and a reversal of the eugenics arguments of the 1930’s. It’s inherently racist!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Another ‘highly educated’ idiot with less common sense or useful knowledge than the vast majority of the ‘working classes’ who do the real work.

Really, there was none of this nonsense when I was at college. I don’t remember a single discussion about politics. We just got on with it and went into the world of work.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Overcoming marxist indoctrination is extraordinarily difficult and can take years of work. He has somehow managed to unbrainwash himself. To be perfectly honest, IMO, I think that’s pretty impressive.

frances heywood
frances heywood
3 years ago

especially if, as the author suggests, he arrived at university already radicalised from a young age.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

When did you go to college..1920?
The bloke who wrote this article is on YOUR side by the way.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

There is nothing new about student radicalism, the difficulty is that institutions and big business have become so willing to kowtow to radical youth movements, whereas in the past, certainly in my day, they resisted, controlled and even punished them.
For me, the two major changes which have caused this, are making students paying customers, with the result that the customer is always right + more generally the rise of the feminine in public life, and not in a good way.

Throughout history, younger men were kept in check by experienced, older and tougher men, they had to buckle down and behave themselves if they wanted to survive until it was their turn. With the advance of women there has been a general tendency in society towards compassion and giving way – nothing wrong with those in the right place at the right time, but not everywhere all the time.
Wokism has the peculiar juxtaposition of compassion for people’s feelings and spiteful intolerance, which I think is distinctly feminine – the dark side of feminine not the good.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Within the Family, I’m not sure you’re right. Typically, the mother indulged the boy; the father, the girl. But, all that ‘s out the window these past 50 yrs with the single mother family. There’s a new sociology now; but, it turns the reigning ideological narrative on its head, and is thence, never allowed to be enunciated: to wit, the old sociology was a matriarchal, the new, patriarchal.

Chelcie Morris
Chelcie Morris
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I completely agree. Feminism has a lot to answer for when it comes to the state of the modern world.

N A
N A
3 years ago

That was difficult to read. The writer may have overcome his pretentious political leanings (and good on him) but he’s clearly yet to overcome the pretentiousness of that writing style.

Julian Hartley
Julian Hartley
3 years ago
Reply to  N A

That might be on you, I think. I found it lucid and pleasantly flowing.

David FĂŒlöp
David FĂŒlöp
3 years ago
Reply to  N A

English is my second language and I found this essay very well written and easy to read.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  N A

Unlike your brilliant prose eh?

Simon Moore
Simon Moore
3 years ago

It’s a thoughtful piece. Perhaps the responses characterized as ‘mean spirited’ are understandable when one considers the specific minds, careers and people undermined or brought down by this cult. Perhaps the author could have tackled that matter more directly. Ideologies are very good at harnessing displays of emotion to dreams of perfectibility. This is also an age when the media injects us with concentrated shots of emotion, partly in the belief that we think emotion is the greatest ‘truth’ and partly in the competition for more viewers, listeners, followers. Maybe we won’t be rid of this societal plague until we develop a more mature relationship with the media technology we have created, and restore civility to civic society.

steamingtraining
steamingtraining
3 years ago

Thank you for this lucid and exceptional analysis.

Andrew Best
Andrew Best
3 years ago

Your an idiot
It only took a lifetime of elite education and living a nice safe middle class life to realise it
Any working class man could have told you that in 1 minute and I bet we only have to ask the rare working class man who’s flag got burnt and called a racist could tell you.
People like you have destroyed any social cohesion in this country

frances heywood
frances heywood
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, at least one could argue that the author now sees the error of his ways (after 10 years). I’m sorry his exceptionally privileged university experience was so tedious and humourless. What a terrible waste. And whilst he now sees this, nevertheless the damage has been done: Andrew Doyle (aka Titania McGrath) is not alone in believing that many universities – especially their Humanities departments – are too far gone in their wokeness and cancel cultures. Diversity of views, especially any form of conservatism, is not allowed, among either staff or students.
It will take a generation to turn this around.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

The point is surely that he recognises that he’s been an idiot and is contrite.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

Fine, let’s not forgive your mistakes either.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

Most 19 year olds are idiots about one thing or another. Anyone who claims they weren’t likely hasn’t overcome their idiocy yet.

steve eaton
steve eaton
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

you probably meant “you’re”.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

And people like you DON’T speak for all working class men.
That whole working class thing has come&gone now anyway.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

What, may I ask, were your parents doing about all this?
You say you arrived on the banks of the Cam already radicalised, so either your parents of your school weren’t paying attention, is that not so?

Talking of schools did you have good fortune to be sent to a major Public School? If yes, it should be erased from the map.

Alternatively did you have the misfortune to be educated by the State, and suffer the horrors of the Comprehensively awful education on offer there? Either way, you have been failed, but fortunately have finally “seen the light”, and not a moment too soon. Well done.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Pity he didnt meet you to put him right about his whole wrong life..

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Dunn

Tut, tut, what a facetious reply.
However, at least he has “seen the light”, and only wasted 25 years of his life.

I trust you are not “in the same boat”?

Drew
Drew
3 years ago

If you’re really searching for contrition and to make restitution, stop writing essays suggesting higher ed. can be reformed. It’s done. Cooked. Finis.

Encourage young men and women to get out onto the land and rediscover where the finest of literature and many scientific discoveries have been made: the intersection between man and nature.

Just stop with the backhanded apologia and the abstractions.

J J
J J
3 years ago

Identity politics is Marxism. All they have done is to expand the number of ‘classes’ from a simplistic ‘everyone in society can be divided into two social groups: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat’ to a large number of social groups and sub-groups based on a number of potential group characteristics.

It’s actually an evolution of traditional Marxismism, but suffers from the same dysfunctional premise and same dysfunctional solution: one group is the oppressor and the other group is the oppressed. And resolution can only be found by removing the oppressor group.

It’s a mistake not to see this as Marxism. It’s as dangerous as Marxism was in the 20th century and we should treat it accordingly. We are indulging it far to much. Indeed, it’s more dangerous than traditional Marxism for the very reason it’s Marxism in disguise. No one is stupid enough to support Marxism anymore, but supporting ‘black people against racism’ and ‘LGBT people against prejudice’, surely that’s a good thing?

Edward Hulse
Edward Hulse
3 years ago

He has just grown up! Most people do. That is all, welcome to adult world!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Edward Hulse

Perhaps. But why did it take him until his late 20s? Why do some people not grow up until they are 60? Why do some people never mature in to any recognition of reality? My teachers wanted me to go to Oxbridge. I refused, because I knew it would be full of people like this. And that was nearly 40 years ago.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

‘There is always more work to be done.’

Surely this is a misprint. Surely you intended to write

‘There is always more woke to be done’

Otto Christensen
Otto Christensen
3 years ago

Judging from the comments Phibbss’s has touched a self identification nerve among readers. An aspect he does not realize is the consequence of elitist guilt and the politics of negation on lower middle class interpersonal relations-where most of us live.

The example set by the spawn of elite privilege has entitled the masses to turn on each other. Many now feel empowered to hate and disrespect their neighbor’s over the smallest issue. A misunderstanding over the price of a used tire becomes reason for extra ordinary livelong hatred and anger nicely justified by activist chest beating and violence over seemingly trivial issues exemplified on social media and the evening news. Elders are disrespected, greed is foremost, hatred is the approved and guiltless soup of the day. To all who have set this in motion, to I say, thanks for nothing.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago

Nah..he’s just a bloke like you who got some things wrong.. but unlike you, has the humility to admit them.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago

It is a world with which I am all too familiar, from many years’ involvement in the far-left, which ” stripped of materialist analysis and class content ” increasingly finds its base in the university.

I continue to scrath my head at how anyone calls a ideology stripped of materialism and class analysis Marxist. Influenced by Marxism, sure, but it’s nonsensical to call it Marxist.

J J
J J
3 years ago

Identity politics is Marxism, not just ‘influenced’ by Marxism. All they have done is to expand the number of ‘classes’ from a simplistic ‘everyone in society can be divided into two social groups: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat’ to a large number of social groups and sub-groups based on a number of potential group characteristics.

It’s actually an evolution of traditional Marxismism, but suffers from the same dysfunctional premise and same dysfunctional solutions: one group is the oppressor and the other group is the oppressed. And resolution can only be found by removing the oppressor group.

It’s a mistake not to see this as Marxism. It’s as dangerous as Marxism was in the 20th century and we should treat it accordingly. We are indulging it far to much. Indeed, it’s more dangerous than traditional Marxism for the very reason it’s Marxism in disguise. No one is stupid enough to support Marxism anymore, but supporting ‘black people against racism’ and ‘LGBT people against prejudice’, surely that’s a good thing?

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Firstly, and perhaps less importantly, marxism doesn’t say everyone is a member of the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. The reason that seems simplistic is that you have simplified it.

More importantly, you cannot just swap principles of a system in and out and claim that it is the same thing. Sometimes you have variations within a thought system that are just that, but when you change the basic principles you find you have something else. You cannot have a Marxist analysis that is not based in material reality, that’s a first principle of Marxist thinking. THat’s not to say there haven’t been dodgy Marxists that aren’t very good at applying that, just like there are dodgy Christians who fail to understand the principles of Christian theology in their thinking. But a system that actually abandons materialist analysis can’t be Marxist.

The way Marxism defines class is rooted in that materialism – it isn’t about some sort of essentialist membership in a group, it’s about how certain people exist in relation to certain other people in society. An employer and an employee for example, are “classes” because of the material nature of the relation between them. Change the relation and they would no longer be members of that class. THat’s quite different than identity politics and in fact is opposed to it because it precludes the Marxist solution to class problems which is to in some sense destroy the categories by changing the structure of society or social relations.

There is nothing wrong with noting that ideas get pulled into new ways of thinking from all kinds of places, used as people find them useful, changed. It’s certainly true that identity politics has embraced this idea that the oppressed have some sort of undefined special type of holiness, and that it has borrowed elements of that from Marxism. But to call it Marxism is to ignore significant real differences and it’s really just playing loosey-goosey with language to achieve a certain emotional impact.

vince porter
vince porter
3 years ago

In 1964 Jack Weinberg told a reporter to trust nobody over 30. Jerry Rubin would shout that advice from the rooftops and founded the Yippie Party to promote it. Take comfort in how their futures unfolded: Weinberg became an entrepreneurial environmental activists; Rubin, a stockbroker and millionaire businessman. The kids they tried to influence also grew up and were seduced by their own stakes in “the system”, becoming teachers and lawyers and money managers, commuting to and from nice homes in the suburbs. Strange, isn’t it, how, when daddy and mommy stop put food on one’s plate, self replaces altruism.

Steve Wood
Steve Wood
3 years ago

Psychologist Paul Bloom covers the dangers of overindulgence to empathy when navigating the world of policy in the real world in his book ‘Against Empathy’. The emergence of pampered middle class emotionally driven outrage mobs too short-sighted and inexperienced to see the end point for their cancel culture politics is a deeply worrying trend. The writer seems, like so many to have discovered too late the posturing virtue signalling and grievance mongering leads ultimately to unhappy, unfulfilled people rueing wasted years.

frances heywood
frances heywood
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Wood

It’s a great book.

Graeme Currie
Graeme Currie
3 years ago

Perhaps nothing better illustrates the fundamental Marxist doctrine that base determines superstructure than the inability of members of privileged groups to comprehend why those who do not enjoy such privileges might be willing to consider the politics of “negation and renunciation”.

s_roberts235
s_roberts235
3 years ago

Yes, there will always be more ‘work’ to be done. Because the center of your ideology is ‘Whatever is, is wrong, and must be destroyed.’

Your path can only end with a Lenin-Stalin figure shooting those who Utopian pretensions seriously.

Too bad about the dictatorship you will end in. But that is future you’ve chosen.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  s_roberts235

His article proves that he has turned away from that future.

Andrew Best
Andrew Best
3 years ago

Maybe after people like this spend years demonizing and bullying people who did not agree with them when they wanted it are now supposed to go, changed your mind, lovely, don’t worry about the people you put down for years, we forgive you!
Would you?
But he dont really care because he is a writer and a director with a nice salary and is again In his nice middle class world removed from the people and class that he and his friends insulted and demeaned

polidoris ghost
polidoris ghost
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

You are being very unfair. Maybe I think that because I straddled both worlds.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

Your resentments have poisoned you.

hisenormity
hisenormity
3 years ago

Oh dear, beautiful written, but eh? Your were students ffs. You had the whole of literature at your finger tips. If that was life at an ‘elite’ university, I’m glad I studied sociology and politics at a Poly back in the 80s. Perhaps my working class experience protected me, perhaps our study of Marxism, feminisms, etc etc was more rounded and contextualised. You write “Last year I argued in American Affairs that the way through the culture war was a radical economic settlement that gave people security and order; socialist means to achieve conservative ends”. Well, quite. That’s something I recognise even as I see it slipping further from grasp as I still understand the continuing salience of class as an objective fact even as subjective experiences and culture wars blurs the distinction between reality and illusion.

johntshea2
johntshea2
3 years ago

“This closure plays out just as surely among liberal and Right-wing culture warriors, who are reduced to dull defences of free speech. This essay, in its own way, contributes to that closure too.”

No. I don’t find this essay dull at all!

Charles McEwan
Charles McEwan
3 years ago

There seems to be a re-awakening nowadays of what we have been throwing away and this article does a good job but while it is accurate I feel it misses what a lot of similarly excellent and perceptive arguments also miss, or at least do not mention. We see the politicians nowadays with a similar dilemma. They want to solve the COVID crisis but they insist it has to be by political means – that the solution is in their hands. I’ve see a number of UnHerd articles which do not mention the other possibility. Is it because we haven’t got there yet or is it because we have not yet got to the stage where we are actually free to say the unsayable which is that this crisis reveals our powerlessness and we should ask for help. Can we perhaps accept in this day and age the old adage “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you”. Western society is still under the thrall of Marx but to paraphrase his words, “Is it not communism/marxism/socialism that is the opium of the people” rather than religion. Time is getting short. I see there is a petition for Boris to announce a national day of prayer. If he agrees he must remember the other ancient words, you cannot serve two masters so do not try and pray to different Gods. The real one told us “You shall have no other gods before me”.

henrysporn
henrysporn
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles McEwan

it’s worked so well in the past (plagues), why wouldn’t it work now?

Lindsay Gatward
Lindsay Gatward
3 years ago

Sounds to me like this seeming hopelessness is brought on by a lack of sex even though at peak performance and surrounded by the best possible circumstances opportunities and environment. I blame the excess oestrogen in the recycled tap water?

m_zehr
m_zehr
3 years ago

I read this now as an outsider. A ’60s radical who continued to work and organize poor and working people around THEIR concerns and needs, not mine. After decades of silence, peoples’ engagement should be welcomed. Mass movements have been the objective of most organizers. The intent being to raise the voice of the marginalized, address needs and concerns and empower them to act as agents of change. Most of the organizing in my active decades, I found was defined by focusing on people as they are impacted in their personal lives. Working within constructs of “who’s affected, who’s engaged and who is within reach” organizing those most impacted. Small actions. Families of prisoners, former prisoners and a few community leaders to confront the Department of Corrections in fatigues, bullet proof vests and with glocks and AR-15s. Taking the demonstration to the front gate of the Penitentiary of New Mexico. No arrests but confrontation inherent. African-Americans, Chicanas and Anglos together about treatment of family members during visitation. Different times. No self-righteousness. No presumptions. And no elites posturing as condescending saviors.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

What is the ‘Common Good Foundation’ anybody?

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

I loved the link to Jacob Siegel’s article “The New Truth”: “The reason we cannot argue about certain things is because they have already been proven true and the truth they have established is such a significant moral advance”like ending child sacrifice”that to question the rational basis on which the truth rests is to risk eroding a foundation of the moral progress that separates us from encroaching barbarism. If you want to argue about those things, then you are a barbarian”which means that argument with you is impossible, because the only argument that barbarians understand is being put to the sword or sent off to a labor camp.”

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
3 years ago

Spoilt brats who are unhappy are very pitiful – but no less spoilt than their happy counterparts.

Simon Moore
Simon Moore
3 years ago

Alas. Joined a cult that helped ruin lots of careers, a lot of talent, and a lot of good people. I wonder if there’ll ever be an apology? Perhaps saying sorry is bourgeois subjectivism. Perhaps the next step is to find out what the things his chosen hated actually are in reality, rather than surrendering to the tortuous definitions of the cult leaders.

mike otter
mike otter
3 years ago

I do feel for these new “evolutionary marxists” – maybe pseudo marxists is a better label. Back in the 70s student leftism came with a good mix of drugs and casual sex which was mostly positive and a hefty does of macho toxicity and ego driven rivalry that was not. This
applied to both men and women. As far as recovering from leftism goes good training in critical thinking will do the job, aided by reading about the poverty of historicism, failure of ideology, but having to live a normal working life and pay your way is perhaps the best medicine…..