“J’Accuse…!” was an open letter published on 13th January 1898 in the newspaper L’Aurore by the writer Émile Zola. His issue was what came to be known in France as L’Affaire Dreyfus. Dreyfus was a Jewish artillery captain in the French army who was falsely convicted of passing military secrets to the Germans. He was degraded and sent to Devil’s Island, and his public humiliation was an expression of the ambient anti-Semitism of the time. This issue deeply divided France. It was not simply a matter of injustice to a man but also touched national identity, politics and religion in the anti-clerical era.
Two events are now widely known in the news surrounding the Brexit issue: the Supreme Court ruling that the PM didn’t have the right to prorogue Parliament in these circumstances (again, read the news) and the sickening rant of Geoffrey Cox (Attorney General) in today’s reassembly of the House of Commons. I have no idea what Mr Johnson is going to do, though I have been reading and watching commentaries by those who know a lot more about politics than I do.
The whole thing is a diabolical web with no way out. I will refrain from comparing it to Hitler’s Enabling Act of 1933 in Germany, even though I see a lot of parallels. There is no effective opposition by Corbyn’s party. It seems to be that the majority of English people still want Brexit and the hardest one possible, believing that there will be no adverse consequences. England now seems to be as divided as France was in the 1890’s.
The Dreyfus Affair still has its effects here and there, even though anti-Semitism is no longer acceptable. The issues are similar, just what made the twentieth century and its political instability. England was the country of my birth, and now I mourn as for a deceased loved one. The coffin lid has to be closed and life must go on. My time of anxiety is over and yields place to grief.
I must think more about my life in France and turn the page as the UK either crashes out at the end of October (whether the PM is Johnson or someone else) or remains in the EU as a toxic and divisive thorn. The time is past, as far as I am concerned, for political activism or protest. I see nothing good or noble, only the beginnings of a revolution in the UK (or two opposing revolutions), the end of the Monarchy and very dark times.
We have to raise ourselves to God, what is good in humanity and the wisdom we seek and to which we aspire. Today we mourn, and tomorrow we will see destruction, and maybe a true sunlit upland will come in ways we cannot expect.
Teach us the strength that cannot seek,
By deed, or thought, to hurt the weak;
That, under thee, we may possess
Man’s strength to comfort man’s distress.
Teach us delight in simple things,
The mirth that has no bitter springs;
Forgiveness free of evil done,
And love to all men ‘neath the sun.
Land of our birth, our faith, our pride,
For whose dear sake our fathers died;
O Motherland, we pledge to thee,
Head, heart and hand through the years to be.
The Lord shall be thine everlasting light,
And the days of thy mourning shall be ended.
Soon after reading this, I encountered an interview by an American journalist of a Booker-prize-winning novelist, whom I have not (yet?) read, Howard Jacobson, which includes:
“most of all, and you know about all this, we’re worried about the Labour Party, which was once a home for Jews. It would be nice to be rooting for the opposition, but I can’t root for Jeremy Corbyn or for Jeremy Corbyn’s party. What’s the more terrible? This is something that all the Jews I know say: What’s more terrible, Boris Johnson and his cynicism or Jeremy Corbyn and his rigid anti-Semitic ideology? He doesn’t think he’s an anti-Semite. He doesn’t call himself as an anti-Semite, but he’s an anti-Semite. Everything he says, everything he does, all these predilections, all the things he doesn’t notice. It’s anti-Semitism. So we can’t want him to win.
“[…] there are places, of course, where people are attacked. There are places where if you were an Orthodox-looking Jew, and you’ve got a kippah and you’ve got your tzitzit [fringes], then you could be attacked, and some are attacked.
“It’s an intellectual tone that’s discomforting. You never know how these things move from the opinion makers, the intellectuals, the politicians, the universities down into the mob. I think we can call them a mob again; they’re behaving like a mob. The universities are hotbeds of that form of anti-Semitism which claims it isn’t anti-Semitism, and says it’s anti-Zionism, which is nonetheless anti-Semitism. […] once you’ve been shown the truth, to persist in the idea, as Corbyn does, that “Zionism is a racist endeavor” — that’s the phrase that Corbyn likes — I think that’s a deeply anti-Semitic thing to say.”
Perhaps “Boris Johnson and his cynicism” can yet contribute to something better than this, and than the dumbfounding range of abuses the so-called ‘Conservatives’ have, variously, tenaciously ignored and tenaciously perpetrated, over the past 9 years.
Your comment is thought-provoking. It is truly a Devil’s Choice between Johnson and Corbyn. They are both as cynical (modern meaning) as each other and hide-bound by ideology. Corbyn makes his party unelectable and the Tories have been purged and are for the hardest Brexit. I don’t know all the ins and outs, the political wrangling and all the cloak-and-dagger stuff that is kept secret. The latest news indicates that Johnson is stuffed and is being effectively prevented from getting his General Election before 31st October – which he wouldn’t win a few weeks after no-deal Brexit because everyone would begin to suffer from the effects (cf. Yellowhammer or “Orwell Mayhem”).
What would the UK look like after 5 years of Corbyn. Much depends on whether he gets a new Brexit deal or remains in the EU. Without the EU, he could work towards his ambition of reviving 1970’s style Soviet Communism in a more “moderate” and “English” form, cups of tea at will.
Possibly, what is coming is a collapse of the political establishment and all ideologies and tendencies. The result would be anarchy with only the police and the army to keep order, and who might rally to a hard-right populist ideology. If Parliament collapses, or is made to do so, then the way is left open to a dictator and a situation that would be analogous with Germany in the 1930’s. Then the next fear will be war in Europe caused by the UK.
Of course, the EU might in turn collapse and populism might gain more countries than it has already done. England is not a country where I would want to live, even though I was born there. In the end, the issue is not Brexit but new forms of Fascism and national-populism, an outrage against God and man – and ultimately hell on earth.
I need to read more about the transition from the Liberals being one of the two major parties to Labour being that, in the early Twentieth century. And about the transition from the U.S. Articles of Confederation (which apparently inspired the short-lived United States of Belgium – yet another thing I know too little about!) to the U.S. Constitution in the 1780s. Perhaps one or the other of them might have some hopeful parallels with the possible near future of the UK and EU.
And now I am pleased to see something I was wondering about addressed in a letter to The Times:
SIR – I find it interesting that the leaders of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party are all calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister and the Attorney General on the grounds that they acted unlawfully in advising the Queen to prorogue Parliament. Are these party leaders also going to call for the resignation of Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice; Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls; and Dame Victoria Sharp, the President of the Queen’s Bench Division, who ruled that the Prime Minister acted legally?
President, National Union of Mineworkers 1982-2002
Barnsley, South Yorkshire
I noticed this yesterday. I really do wonder if there is some kind of pact between the Tories and the Corbyn “opposition”. Could it be that they are both working for the same thing under different appearances? It sounds wild and “conspiracy theory”. Scargill was one of the most militant union leaders in the Thatcher era – very left wing. People do mellow when they get older, but… ?
I too hate the country of my birth.
Dear Patrick, I would be careful about hating anything. Bad emotions tend to be “bouncy” – they bounce back and hit you in the face. Love what is still our country and resist evil. Bonhöffer loved his native Germany but gave his life resisting the Nazis.
But what is still our country? Wherever I look I see husks of erstwhile impregnable institutions that have been corroded from within. The country is full of ideologues and mongrels, and all around there is an overweening contempt for everything that was once good, and indeed exceptional, about Britain. It’s as Húrin the Steadfast said when he returned to his old home, lately overrun by the brute Easterlings: “Men are changed here. In thraldom they have found thrall hearts”.
Last July, I drove through Surrey from Farnham (my mother’s native land) to return to Dover. The air was heavy with the smell of honeysuckle and lime trees. It was warm and the sun was shining. It was a tiny bit of heaven. Of course we can find the same thing in France or almost the same, which is why I want to plant a lime tree in my garden this autumn. For the political situation, I try to steer between Scylla and Charybdis and read some first-rate articles on Dominic Cummings – who seems to be straight out of a Dostoevsky novel! If Brexit wins, it is a revolution, an American way of life (Trump edition – unless Trump gets impeached) and feudalism in a modern form. Many Germans got out in the 1930’s before it was too late and Hitler closed the borders. Ultimately, the UK will be so short of essentials that war will have to be waged against the European countries for food and “living space”. Heard that one before? Hate the sin, not the sinner!
Your Surrey experience reminds me of Frodo and Sam’s sudden hopeful seeing of the head of a statue of a king crowned anew with the flowers of a trailing plant (Lord of the Rings, IV, 7). As far as I recall, Orwell does not tell us enough of Oceania in 1984 to know the full significance of Britain being called Airstrip One, but whatever one thinks of the full history of Allied air power in the west in 1942-45, it was good for the UK and continental Europe that “an American way of life” (so to put it) flourished on so many airfields, and elsewhere, in England, then. Need one suppose post-Brexit Anglo-American and Anglo-European relations will be worse than after the liberation and reconstruction of western Europe – however much “overweening contempt for everything that was once good, and indeed exceptional, about Britain” indeed remains to be combatted?
I just encountered this fascinating presentation of a very dark view of the situation in England/the UK:
I was quite bowled over by this fellow’s reasoned reflections. Born in the thick of the Baby Boom (1951) he traced back this revolution in the UK to the 1960’s and even the 1950’s. The legacy of Gramsci is not to be underestimated. It influenced the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmement (CND) and the ecological protest movement, now in the form of Extinction Rebellion. It occurred to me to do a Google search on an association between “Cummings” (Dominic Cummings) the “Goebbels” of the Johnson government and Gramsci. Bingo! I have ready read a little about Cumming’s ideas and methods, his nihilism and desire to destroy in order to rebuild. Revolution via culture! The comparison isn’t perfect, nor is the ideology, but the methodology is strikingly similar. Hitchens states his case with extreme calmness. The other thing that impresses me is the harm that has been done to education, not only in the UK, but everywhere. Gone is the ideal of Bildung – a solid philosophical education. I never had philosophy at school, not even at St Peter’s. Nor did I do classics, to my regret. French children usually have some philosophy at Lycée level, but I don’t know if it is very widespread or profound. The German Gymnasium tradition? I have the impression that this revolution is shared by both left and right, Labour and Tory – thus the apparently incomprehensible position of Jeremy Corbyn in wanting a Brexit of his very own.
The present “radio jamming” of talks between Johnson and Varadkar is very curious. Who is going to get what out of it? It seems to be the endgame with a high probability of Brexit being delayed again to give more time for “talks” and supposedly some legal stuff for trade deals in the future. It is a war of attrition, also a part of Gramsci’s revolution or other radical movements following the same methodology.
The “us and them” mentality is extremely dangerous, both leavers and remainers, and comes from both Marxism and fascism in its Italian and German forms. Hot button politics, like “identity politics” is dangerous and anti-rational. Hitchens makes a point about Extinction Rebellion being a kind of “dogmatic” cult resembling the worst of religious faith. Isn’t it amazing to see everything converging!
Between a crisis and a catastrophe, a glass of champagne!