review by Robert Leeming
If you research the history of the right wing in the UK and the US all you will find is binders full of bastards. That’s just a cheep and idle point of view there, and it’s easy to tout. To paraphrase, possibly even plagiarize, Woody Allen: “Saying you’re right wing is not the best way to get invited to a lot of parties.”
Except to right wing soirees of course, which are generally held in caves or dank cellars dripping with slime, staffed by hospitality friendly pygmies (trained at Claridges) who walk around serving crystal glasses of ox blood to the gathered gay bashing, immigrant hating, God loving, Daily Mail reading, Eton educated, Nadine Dorries fancying, Maggie Thatcher pickling, Shepard Smith humping, capital, corporal and personal punishment endorsing scum. And anyone found to be in opposition to these views, or in possession of any reasoned or indeed probable fact, is tied up and fed to the opulent Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who sits, ready to gorge, atop 16 golden mattresses strewn with Egyptian silks, wearing a purple dressing gown, with a jewel encrusted knife and folk raised Fatty Arbuckle style, jowls dripping with blood.
I’m being, perhaps, a tad over dramatic. I’m being sarcastic. I’m pandering to cliché and dealing in stereotype. I’m not right wing. I’m not left wing. I would characterize myself as someone who believes that life is much too complex to be one or the other. Nothing is ever just black and white or red and blue. I could make a snap judgment though, like: “Too many people are reliant on the Welfare State.” I could tout that opinion, I could even use it as a platform to stand for office. I could find some statistics which support my argument, some experts who are in my corner and use my eloquence and character to craft an argument that is charming, witty and, with a bit of luck and a following wind, effective. I could do that. But what do I really know? Do I live on benefits? No. Have ever tried to feed a family on benefits? No. Tried to keep a house on benefits? No. So what credentials do I have, really, to make a decision, what right do I have to lecture, trumpet and cajole? The middle class decide elections in this country and that always makes me extremely dubious of the whole shebang. I’m middle class and I don’t trust my own reasoning.
Of course, this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I’ve just made a scandalous snap judgment about the right wing just one paragraph previous. I’m a scandalous judgement snapper. So what is needed is a reasoned take, some right-wing facts amid the maelstrom and The Right-Wing Guide to Nearly Everything by the conservative commentator Richard D North, offers such an education. It is a self proclaimed bluffers guide to the right wing. Which is perfect, because we are currently examining the bluffer’s sphere.
An A-Z manual of right wing culture, history, politics and economics, the book is written in a fair minded and truthful manner by a right winger of fifty years. How it is possible to be fair minded and truthful in manner after half a century of affiliation to one particular political creed, I’m not sure, but for the sake of argument, I’m willing to go along with it. The book aims to dismiss stereotype and explore the opinion, or indeed fact, that in the authors words, “the right wing view to a good deal of trouble (public and private) is: Get real.” The book aims to prove that you can be right wing and still be in possession of a human skin, and not scales, or a wolf-man style pelt.
The books covers the traditional beliefs of the intellectual right wing, small state, a meritocracy, personal freedom and the like and because of this, North writes, “Hitler is out, but of course he’s a right-winger, just a weird one.” Which is the equivalent of saying, “Judas Iscariot is a nice man, who loves playing dominoes he’s just a bit two faced.” The emotional right-winger is also covered, the type who “dislikes spongers, likes freedom of speech and distrusts bleeding hearts.” So basically Mrs Thatcher and Sir Gary Barlow.
Featuring hundreds of right wing definitions for numerous political, social and cultural issues, many of them interesting and plenty of them authoritative, some of the book’s statements are more eyebrow raising than others. For example in the entry for “Black” there is the use of a “hypothesis”, and the term “hypothesis” might be stretching it somewhat, from that highly dubious source of “hypotheses”, David Starkey, the infamous television historian, who was apparently “clearly right”, according to the author, to identify the “blackification of the white underclass” as a cause of the 2011 London riots. “The disaffected young white man (mostly under educated) now pays the young black the compliment of thinking him cool,” North writes. Now, I could well think that Michael Jackson is cool, but that doesn’t mean I’m about to start building my own version of Disneyworld in the back garden and grabbing my crotch in public. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure the London riots were more the result of the crashing lack of hope and opportunity that is eating its way into the heart of my generation. But then again, who am I to judge? I’ve never trashed a Comet in my life.
North goes onto claim that there is no positive black culture and that those who seek fame “pander to dangerous stereotypes.” He goes on to say, “The singer Rihanna, for instance, reunited with the singer Chris Brown, against whom she had recently had a restraining order, to perform the song Birthday Cake.” And, yes, that argument is accurate, but it should also be ventured that the majority of past and present black culture is chocked full of freewheeling creativity, which has done no harm whatsoever. Instead North continues, “It is besides the point that Rihanna is a marvellous performer of very exciting material, but germane that she has a gun tattoo and is very free with the offensive N-word.” Come on Richard, “a marvellous performer of very exciting material?” Rihanna? Get real. Love that gun tattoo though.
At the same time there are some marvellous entries which help you understand British right-wing thinking better. A case in point being the section on Irish theorist Edmund Burke. He believed that “deeply-felt opinions are derived from workable traditions.” Hence the English favour for monarchy over revolution and the maintenance of Coronation Street for fifty years instead of trying something different, like Chester Row or Farrowdale Lane. But, then again, thinking about it, this is a very worrying thought, I mean, slavery was a workable tradition to the slave merchant, and the revival of Crossroads was a disaster.
There is also the reminder that on issues such as climate change where the right wing, especially in the US, is often castigated as horrifically out of touch, there is hard headed reasoning still in existence, despite the recent hijacking of the Republican Party by nutjobs. “The unintelligent right has sometimes been ideologically blinkered on climate change”, North writes, “such science as there is on the matter should not be ignored.”
There is a great story about the late dyed in the wool atheist Christopher Hitchens (an entry in this guide is devoted to him although he was no friend of the right wing). The tale goes that a friend of his accidentally bumped into Hitchens perched on a pew at the back of York Minster during Evensong. “What on earth are you doing here?” the shocked friend said, “you’re the last person I ever thought I’d see.” “I like the music,” Hitchens replied. One should always remember that an opposing viewpoint often has elements that can be appreciated without conversion. This book, along with being a informative, light-hearted tome to jump in and out of, fosters that thought.
There are many misconceptions in politics, on the right and left. People believe, for example, that the Democratic Party in the US and the Labour Party in the UK are somehow on the same page, when one was founded by two aristocrats while searching for butterflies on the Hudson River and the other was created by former miners and railway workers in a fix. Nothing is ever that simple. Perhaps I’m being overly flash, on the whole, the left, in very simple terms, doesn’t want to take things away from other people, the right wants to cut government programs created to help, with the aim of balancing budgets, and while fiscal responsibility is a virtue, this is done while still funding wars and missiles. There is a little appreciation without conversion in that somewhere, an advisable course for progress. Perhaps I’m ignorant and the majority of our political leaders, right and left, might be ignorant too, so it is surely better to give in ignorance, than to take away in the same mindset. But like I said, I’m a scandalous judgement snapper and middle class to boot.
Richard D North ‘The Right Wing Guide To Nearly Everything’ is out now – find out more at www.richarddnorth.com
words Robert Leeming