Guido risks joining Glenn Beck with his obsession with the Fabians

Eugenics simply isn't part of legitimate political discourse, and modern Fabians don't believe in it, writes Fabian Society General Secretary Sunder Katwala.

Sunder Katwala is the General Secretary of the Fabian Society

The comments of Howard Flight, following those of Lord Young, suggest David Cameron may need to set up a John Major style “Downing Street Peers Hotline” so that some of his more elevated Tory colleagues can call up to find out what they are about to say over a jolly good lunch might end up sounding when reported on planet earth.

The Tory party rather than the taxpayer could fork out for it this time – but we would all gain if the prime minister did not have to spend quite so much of his time explaining that his colleagues’ stream of foot-in-mouth comments are, of course, in no way reflective of what top Tories think about the rest of us.

One simpler lesson is: don’t try to bring eugenics back into modern politics.

Flight is of the right ideological stable to recall how warning about the “human stock” essentially ended Keith Joseph’s hopes of political leadership in the pre-Thatcher era.

As Paul Staines points out on the Guido Fawkes blog, early Fabians were among those who took eugenics seriously in the late 19th and early 20th century.

He’s right about that – there was a wide range of interest, from imperialists and socialists, in applying a bastardised social darwinism to social science and political affairs.

This leads to some extremely nasty and shocking implications – though these were perhaps less obvious in an age of empire, when assumptions of racial hierarchy were part of the intellectual furniture of most of society in Britain, western Europe and the United States, making their social extension perhaps seem less offensive. Especially after the holocaust, there are very good reasons why just about everybody today understands this is not part of legitimate mainstream political discourse.

But I am slightly puzzled by the charge that the modern Fabian Society have been very quiet on the theme. It simply isn’t part of legitimate political discourse, and modern Fabians don’t believe in eugenics.

Fabians have said that clearly and often for decades, so is there much more to say about it?

Take this example, on Shaw’s 150th birthday in 2006.

Shaw’s genius cannot be doubted. Nor his astonishing range, from his major contribution to music criticism to his being the only Nobel laureate to also bag an Oscar. But he is all paradox – the deeply committed wag, the egotistical collectivist, who pioneered great causes and pursued absurd flights of fancy with equal vigour: against Shakespeare, against Darwin, for an entirely new alphabet.

Michael Holroyd, author of the magisterial biography to which all discussion of Shaw is indebted, refers to “that mixture of rare sense and inspired nonsense that the world had come to refer to as Shavian”. The difficulty in working out when to take Shavian hyperbole seriously has meant that few have tried…

But for Shaw, not being taken too seriously may be a blessing. The case against him seems compelling. Very few early Fabian arguments on economics, which they saw as foundational, survive. Much worse, Shaw ended his long career as an apologist for Stalin’s Soviet Union and ventured dangerously into eugenics. Can any reputable Shaw with anything to say to us today really be rescued from all that?

Guido Fawkes risks joining Glenn Beck of Fox News, who has been entertaining his viewers with extended conspiracy theories about the Fabians.

The truth is that there are very few democratic political traditions as self-critical or more pluralist than the Fabians. That’s why the Fabian debate could encompass the anarchism of Oscar Wilde, the mutualism of GDH Cole and the Webbs’ invention of the modern welfare state.

When Tony Crosland took on the legacy of the Webbs in The Future of Socialism, it was a Fabian critique of Fabianism.

“Total abstinence and a good filing system are not now the right sign-posts to the socialist Utopia: or at least, if they are, some of us will fall by the wayside”.

Today the relevance and limits of Croslandite social democracy is part of the Labour conversation.

Revisionists revise. The enduring mission of a fairer and more equal society remains. The economics, the social arguments, the policy means, the vision of the society, all are always open

So it was telling that, when Richard Reeves and Phil Collins told Labour to ditch the poisoned Fabian tradition, they cited lifelong Fabian – the Society’s Life President no less – GDH Cole as the anti-Fabian hero who could inspire a liberal mutualist counter-reaction to the Fabians.

As I wrote at the time:

Collins’ extreme language about the “poisoned well” suggests that nothing good can come of state action. There have been Fabian mistakes, from flirting with eugenics to the tower blocks of the 60s. But the NHS and the minimum wage – Fabian ideas from a century ago – will rightly endure.

You could much more easily mock the Fabians for excessive reasonableness than make the charge of extremism stick. The Society published “What’s Wrong with Fabianism” by the LSE’s David Piachaud in 1995 (available from the LSE online Fabian archive), addressing the limits of “mid-century Fabianism” which its assumption that “Fabians know best”. (Similar tracts from the New Right were not much in evidence after the financial crash of 2008).

So what’s the real reason that Guido Fawkes is worried? He wheeled out the same charge on the day of January’s New Year Conference, attempting a pre-emptive strike on the “A rally of freedom hating statists who will throw soundbites to a tweeting mob”.

His own anarcho-libertarianism remains an important rival strand of political thought in democratic debate – though a distinctly unpopular populism on the long road to libertopia.

Perhaps it is that Fabian membership is today higher than it has ever been in our 126 year history.

That’s the thing about gradualism – we might even get there in the end.

26 Responses to “Guido risks joining Glenn Beck with his obsession with the Fabians”

  1. Sunder Katwala

    RT @leftfootfwd: . @GuidoFawkes risks joining Glen Beck with his obsession with the Fabians: //bit.ly/hEiwJ9 writes @nextleft

  2. Tory Bear

    You spelt Glenn Beck wrong, and what a compliment.

  3. Guido Fawkes

    Two stories in 11 months hardly constitutes an obsession. How many stories have you written about Guido this year?

    Incidentally, “Guido’s risks joining Glen Beck with his obsession with the Fabians” headline needs a bit of work – would never have happened in Will’s day…

  4. Stuart Singleton-White

    Saying “the charge that the modern Fabian Society have been very quiet on the theme” and inferring therefore that you somehow support it is a little like accusing you of supporting the French football team over England because you have never explicitly said that you didn’t.

  5. Mark Ferguson

    And more top stuff from @nextleft over at @leftfootfwd on Fabian gradualism – we might just get there in the end //bit.ly/hRdgOX

  6. Shamik Das

    Thanks for the subbing advice boys!

    To return the compliment, in this post:

    “A luxury sunshine holiday for Dave with his old Etonian mates in country where they shoot rioting students during a cold austerity Christmas back home?”

    Should read

    “A luxury sunshine holiday for Dave with his old Etonian mates in a country where they shoot rioting students during a cold austerity Christmas back home?”

  7. Sunder Katwala

    Guido

    I responded in January to show that we have commented on eugenics. As I said then: “Guido ripostes with his own not unjustified diatribe against eugenics in the Fabian tradition. (Only slightly undermined by many of his commenters seeming rather pro-eugenics)”.

    I feel that you might want to have the help look at some of the comments again today.

    Personally, I felt the one calling for me to be sterilised by boiling me in a pot probably crossed the line. I understand that you may want to decide to take a more nuanced view about those that advocate eugenics on your site in a less personally offensive way.

    ***

    It is a matter of historic fact that Mosley was a Fabian before he left the Labour party on a rather odd political journey. That does seem a slightly odd thing for you to want to repeatedly bring up 70 years later. As you most probably know, the reputational power of that is increased because he even then became a member of the British Union of Fascists. It almost felt to me as though you were trying to infer that there is some contemporary or (god forbid) even personal flirtation with that type of politics. I of course share your own abhorrence for those political views, and would be concerned if your readers were to get a different impression.

    To change the subject to contemporary television and popular culture, have you been watching This is England, 1986 on the TV. Powerful stuff, I thought? It was a good World Cup, though I have heard it wasn’t everybody’s favourite year.

    I understand that it is now considered bad manners to talk too openly about your (personal) student idea of mooting (entirely tactical) anti-left alliances between democratic right forces and other groups we need not mention, though my understanding is that the facts contained in the correspondence on that subject in 1986 have never been in dispute.

    For what its worth, though I understood from reports that you objected to one possible inference of that history, I always felt that the only natural reading was that it was a purely tactical piece of silly student political stuntery, given your own well-known anarcho-libertarian history, and indeed how clear you were about strong differences on central policy issues in the correspondence itself.

    It seems to me it would probably be *almost* as silly to be placing any significant weight on dragging up personal history 24 years later as it would be to go around trying to find contemporary inferences about political groups from 80 years ago, albeit without the direct personal link in the latter case.

  8. scandalousbill

    Guido Fawkes,

    On your blog you state:

    Prominent Fabians such as H G Wells and Webbs led the way in combining the ‘progressive’ ideologies of socialism and eugenics. It didn’t stop when Mosely quit the group either, while eugenics is now a dirty word, for a century the Fabians have sought, and sadly often succeeded, in undermining the traditional family, property rights and individual freedom. Their cause was, and still is, evil.

    Compare this to Glenn Beck’s ranting: (//www.fair.org/index.php?page=4052)

    “This was a progressive idea. Not the extermination camps, but eugenics, which led to the camps. You see, the progressives in America always thought they were superior. And it was the stupid people that were just slowing us down. Hitler just took that to the next level as did Stalin. The progressive tactics haven’t changed much since then.”

    “To you, a fight means educating people. It means mobilizing people to go out and vote. And you fight at the ballot box. But to these people, what does a fight mean to the uber left progressive? All bets are off. They will cheat. They will lie. They will steal. And they have, in the past, blown things up if it helps them win.”

    I see no qualitative difference between the two. Could you elaborate on how they differ?

  9. SteveTaff

    Guido's risks joining Glen Beck with his obsession with the … //bit.ly/hRnF2s — AmericaFirst

  10. MS

    Guido's risks joining Glen Beck with his obsession with the … //bit.ly/gaUByg — AmericaFirst

  11. Guido Fawkes

    Beck gets paid more.

  12. Sunder Katwala

    Another market failure … you’re definitely more accurate than he is.

  13. Tom White

    Guido is a tedious attention-seeking wanker. Why devote any more time to this moron?

  14. Anon E Mouse

    Tom White – Because he exposed the way Damian McBride was smearing and lying at the taxpayers expense.

    He exposed the dysfunctional nature of the last useless government and was vindicated by memoir after memoir.

    Of course if you love big state control freaks like Labour supporters seem to want you’d hate Guido. Democracy sucks eh Tom…

  15. Richard

    “Beck gets paid more.”

    But Guido earns enough to afford a maison secondaire (sic).

  16. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Guido risks joining Glenn Beck with his obsession with the Fabians //bit.ly/fmLqWq

  17. Richard

    “big state control freaks”

    Ther couldn’t be a more accurate description of this government, the largest since 1997. So much for your democracy Tom.

  18. Cheryl Jones

    Guido risks joining Glenn Beck with his obsession with the Fabians //bit.ly/hTDFhn

  19. Anon E Mouse

    Richard – If you really believe the current government are “big state control freaks” them why is everyone bleating on about job losses in the public service?

    You can’t have it both ways Richard and my advice is to join the Lib Dems and get a sense of humour instead of supporting unelectable leaders like Little Ed Miliband….

  20. Chris

    @mouse

    Yawn, your posts really are getting booooring. Has Cashcroft withdrawn his funding?

  21. janie_s

    Has Lord Paul withdrawn his?

  22. Anon E Mouse

    Chris – I’ll not take any lessons from a New Labour lickspittle who lies and smears people in public forums.

    Until you stop the blInd support for Little Ed Miliband, (the tax avoiding property millionaire and union stooge who was NOT elected either fairly or with the PLP support but is the darling of posh bit eco toffs like Joss Garman and his bunch of middle class wusses) the man who got his job through the unions cheating you won’t be taken seriously.

    Bit like Little Ed really…

  23. Anarcho

    “anarcho-libertarianism”? Please!

    Libertarian was first coined by a French communist-anarchist in 1858, in New York, and quickly became an alternative for anarchist across the world:

    //anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/150-years-of-libertarian

    So “anarcho-libertarianism” makes as much sense as “anarcho-anarchism”. But, obviously, you are using the term “libertarian” in the propertarian sense. Libertarian was stolen from the left by the American right nearly 100 years later, in 1955. Here is Murray Rothbard on this:

    “One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy . . . ‘Libertari¬ans’ . . . had long been simply a polite word for left-wing [sic!] anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over…” [Murray N. Rothbard, The Betrayal of the American Right, p. 83]

    So, please, don’t help the right appropriate the term libertarian from the left. Particularly as the propertarian ideology of Rothbard and Guido is deeply authoritarian in nature and distinctly at odds with any desire for genuine liberty for all rather than the property-owning few.

  24. Circulator38

    Guido's risks joining Glen Beck with his obsession with the Fabians //ping.fm/4YOdU

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