MT: You write that ordinary people seem to be more connected to reality, and that it is the intelligentsia who seem to be taking the most irrational and intolerant positions. What do you think accounts for this divide?
MP: On the issues of the day, it is the intelligentsia that sets the tone and content of the debate – and it’s the intelligentsia where the most irrational and bigoted views on these issues are to be found. That’s because the core of this phenomenon is the replacement of truth by ideology. Rather than following the evidence to arrive at a conclusion, ideology wrenches facts to fit a prior governing idea. Ideology is thus intrinsically inimical to both truth and reason.
It is the intelligentsia which is attracted to ideology – or the dogma of a governing idea. Non-intellectual people have little time for the rarefied world of theorizing, being generally too preoccupied with the daily grind of making a living. It is the universities where the ideologies of moral and cultural relativism and post modernism took an axe to the concepts of morality and objective truth; and so it is the intellectual classes – the supposed custodians of reason – who have turned into the destroyers of reason.
Moreover, the most highly educated are often the most high-minded. They therefore tend to be drawn towards theories promising utopia. But utopia never arrives. So frustrated utopians invariably create scapegoats upon whom to take out their anger. Hence the various secular inquisitions.
So the failure of the environmental vision of spiritual one-ness between man and nature has seen mankind blamed for despoiling the planet and imperiling the survival of life on earth. The failure to arrive at a perfect state of reason in which all injustice and suffering are ended has been blamed on religious believers. The failure of the apparatus of international law and human rights to prevent war and tyranny has been blamed on America. And the failure of the existence of Israel to bring about the end of ‘the Jewish problem’ has been blamed on those same Jews for its continuation.
MT: Speaking of “the Jewish problem,” you write at length about Jew-hatred in the book. Why is that so central to your argument?
MP: It’s important for two main reasons. First, because in our supposed ‘age of reason’ it is dismaying, to say the least, that open Jew-hatred has now become an apparently unexceptionable part of respectable discourse. Second, because the extraordinary conclusion I came to was that ideologies which would seem to have no connection at all to the Israel issue – such as environmentalism, moral relativism or scientism, for heaven’s sake – all turn out, when you scratch the surface, to have at their core a hatred of Judaism, Jewish moral precepts or Jewish peoplehood.
In other words, you can’t really understand the suicidal culture wars the west is waging against itself unless you understand the current eruption of Jew-hatred; and you can’t understand the current eruption of Jew-hatred unless you understand the suicidal culture wars the west is waging against itself.
MT: You note that the Enlightenment, which sought to sweep away all the problems of the world by freeing the intellect from religious suppression, has proven to be a failed utopian experiment. Where did the Enlightenment go wrong?
MP: It’s a mistake, I think, to assume that the Enlightenment was a homogeneous movement of thought. As Gertrude Himmelfarb has written, there were actually three Enlightenments – the English/Scottish, the French, and the American, and they were all different. While the English/Scottish Enlightenment thinkers were merely against clerical abuses but assumed the Judeo-Christian moral framework continued to set the ethical guidelines for society, French thinkers were against all religion.
What we are seeing today is the dominance of that French atheist position but also, even more important, the dominance of counter-Enlightenment thinking. This was embodied in the German Romantic movement which represented an onslaught against reason – and foreshadowed the totalitarian movements of the last century of which our current deformation of thinking, cultural totalitarianism, is but a mutant manifestation.
MT: Toynbee famously said that civilizations die by suicide, not murder. Are you optimistic or pessimistic that Western civilization can reverse its slide into unreason, re-embrace its Judeo-Christian values, and defend itself against the enemies of modernity and truth?
MP: Um… pass! Look, there are two historical examples that I have constantly in my mind. One is 18th century England, when people like me were sitting around in coffee-houses predicting the end of Britain because of the general culture of debauchery and moral collapse. Yet this turned into the 19th century, one of the greatest periods of British power in the whole of its history. So that’s one historical example. The other is ancient Rome – which collapsed.
So which will it be? Who can tell? Prediction is a mug’s game, is it not? The fact is that the ordinary people are beside themselves with anxiety and fury about the undermining and willed collapse by the intelligentsia of the culture to which they belong. Will they pull the west back from the edge of the cultural cliff? Who knows? All we can do is sound the alarm as loudly as we can.
Pages: 1 2