Saturday, 23 November 2019

Beyond the motive

There is insanity in absolute badness, something motiveless, or something that reaches out, with a longing arrogance, beyond the motive: Iago lusted after Desdemona a little and hated Othello a great deal, but beyond those tiny passions was a lust to possess the evil deed as a thing worth having in itself, a flower, a jewel of the mind, a trophy of the intellect.

Hugh Walpole - The Cathedral (1922)

As we approach the season of goodwill, suppose we compare Lenin and Jeremy Corbyn. On the face of it the two men are not obviously similar. Lenin was intelligent, capable and charismatic. Corbyn isn’t. Yet if we use Walpole's trophy of the intellect analogy there is more similarity between Lenin and Corbyn than we might initially assume. For example, what was Lenin’s ultimate aim in driving through the Bolshevik revolution? Political altruism? Hardly.

Supposedly Lenin’s ultimate aim was a dictatorship of the proletariat but every move he made tells us that his real aim was a dictatorship of the Bolshevik party. However one looks at Lenin’s political career, it is not obvious that he had a clear and unambiguous altruistic goal in mind, one which would ultimately benefit the proletariat.

There is no great reason to suppose that Lenin cared anything about the proletariat anyway. Certainly there is nothing to suggest that he thought the Russian proletariat capable of forming a dictatorship, whatever that might mean and whatever Marxist theory might require.

In which case we might use Walpole’s trophy of the intellect analogy. As an analogy it suggests that Lenin merely saw the Bolshevik revolution as a jewel of the mind , a trophy of the intellect. Like an Olympic gold medal it was a trophy to aspire to with fanatical dedication but that is all. A political victory as opposed to an Olympic victory - I knew I could do it and I did it.

The analogy works well if we compare Lenin to Jeremy Corbyn. Mr Corbyn’s totalitarian political ethos seems to have no genuine altruism embedded in it, nothing which could usher in a better world for ordinary people. Just the opposite if historical experience is any guide and all that historical experience has been readily available to Mr Corbyn for the whole of his adult life.

Yet as with Lenin, Jeremy Corbyn seems to have no interest in the political, social and economic damage his political goals are likely to cause. As far as we can tell, and the clues are abundant, the trophy of the intellect is everything to him. We are nothing.

The trophy of the intellect is merely an analogy of course, but fascinating and surprisingly apt. It has wide application too. Many people with radical ideas do not come across as selflessly altruistic. It is not at all obvious that they are striving for a real improvement in the human condition. It is more competitive than that. More murky. More sinister.

Instead they come across as people pursuing a trophy of the intellect and like an Olympic medal the trophy is an end in itself. Job done. Goal achieved. Altruism doesn’t come into it.


Edward Spalton said...

A palpable hit!
I think a common feature of many on the left is the inbuilt certainty that they are “on the side of history” and so, somehow or other, the servants of destiny.

The same goes, of course, for the believers in other totalitarian creeds, like national,socialism. They all start with a belief that they somehow have a short cut, a morality bypass, to a marvellous new world - one in which the momentum of inevitability will give them absolute power.

Sam Vega said...

I have a similar feeling about Boris. Worked all his life to be PM, but what does he actually want to do with it? He main difference is that Boris values democracy (so is more likely to get us out of the EU) whereas Corbyn's "jewel of the mind" is a starring role in a socialist narrative.

These types of people are everywhere, but on a smaller scale. They want to "run things", to be in charge. Far more pernicious than mere physical lusts.

Scrobs. said...

Is it not indicative of a person who has spent a whole life producing no wealth for a country, and being employed in various public sector positions, he or she will be totally divorced from the actual needs of others? The rules by which the person has to operate in this sort of environment are cast by more 'others', and even if that person tries to change these rules, then the 'others' will just make more rules, to justify their existence.

Meanwhile, producers of wealth are made to understand the 'rules' by the faceless 'others', and satisfy the Inland Revenue, (more 'others') even before they can satisfy the aspirations of their employees.

Luckily, Corbyn's tenure is in doubt for the next few years, and as long as his party are put back in a box, then such events as above will just fester as they always do!

A K Haart said...

Edward - you are right, a belief that they are “on the side of history” seems to be near enough universal with the left, radical environmentalism and all manner of centralising political creeds.

Sam - I have that feeling about Boris too. It's my biggest reservation, but unfortunately with the major parties it seems too common to avoid anyway.

Scrobs - yes the public sector does have an ineradicable problem in being divorced from the actual needs of others. It varies with the amount of exposure those on the inside have to the people they supposedly serve, but incentives are important and in the public sector incentives are generally ambiguous at best.