Posts Tagged ‘Bernard Wolf’

Sargon of Gasbag Blames Plato for SJWs

January 13, 2020

Okay, I know, I shouldn’t have done it, but I did. I watched another of Sargon of Akkad’s wretched videos. In my defence I can only say that it is important to understand the ideas of the right and extreme right, and what they’re telling people about the left. And some of Sargon’s ideas are so bizarre that there’s a kind of weird fascination about them. Sargon is, of course, the nom de internet of Carl Benjamin, the Sage of Swindon, who broke UKIP by joining it. The scourge of Communists, feminists and anti-racist activists put up a video in which he claimed that the ancient Greek philosopher Plato was responsible for Social Justice Warriors. That’s the term the right sneeringly uses to refer to all the above, or even simply anyone who believes that the poor, unemployed, disabled and the working class are getting an increasingly raw deal and that the government should do something about it.

Sargon’s Libertarianism

For Sargon, anyone who believes in government intervention and in greater equality for women, ethnic minorities are working people is a Communist. But it’s the definition of Communism as used by the American right, which means anyone with vaguely left-wing views. Barack Obama was actually very moderate in his policies. He’s since come out and said that he considers himself a moderate Republican. But that didn’t stop his right-wing opponents attacking him as an evil Maoist Communist, as well as an atheist Muslim Nazi. Sargon himself is a ‘classical liberal’, which means that he’s a Libertarian who looks back to the early 19th century when governments followed the economic doctrine of laisser faire, so that people could work 18 hours per day in factories or the mines before dying of disease or starvation in a cellar or garret in an overcrowded slum. But Sargon, like all Libertarians and Conservatives, believes that if private industry is released from the chains of government bureaucracy, it will somehow magically produce economic expansion and wealth for all. Even though we’ve Tory privatisation and neoliberalism for forty years, the Conservatives have been in power for the past ten, the economy is collapsing and people are being forced in homelessness, debt and starvation. Most weirdly, Sargon somehow continues to believe he’s on the left. He’s a moderate, you see, unlike the far-right SJWs.

Plato and Aristotle

And he blames Plato for the far left on account of the ancient Greek philosopher’s highly authoritarian political views and his theory of forms. Plato believed that beyond this material world there was another, perfect world of ideal forms, of which the entities in this world were only imperfect shadows. For example, these ideal forms included animals, so that there was an ideal cat, of which real, material cats were imperfect copies. But there were also abstract concepts like justice and beauty, in which the beings in this world also participated and reflected. A beautiful woman, for example, was a woman who corresponded to the perfect ideal of beauty in the intelligible world. SJWs were intolerant, because they were idealists. They had impossibly high ideals of justice, and this made them intolerant. Just as Plato himself was intolerant in his idea of the perfect state, which he wrote down in his Republic and Laws. Plato himself believed that government should be left to enlightened absolute monarchs, and his idea of a perfect state is definitely totalitarian. Sargon’s right about that.

Sargon, however, champions Aristotle, because he believed in ‘the republic of virtue’ and democracy. And it was at this point that I stopped watching, because there’s only so much right-wing idiocy you can take. It can sound plausible, but a moment’s reflection is all it needs to show that it’s all nonsense, and Sargon knows less about SJWs, Marxism and Aristotle than he thinks he does.

Aristotlean Democracy Different from Today’s

Let’s deal firstly with the idea that Aristotle is a democrat. He isn’t, or rather, not in the modern sense. He’s not a totalitarian like Plato, but he believed that the only people, who should have a vote and a share of government in his ideal democracy were leisured gentlemen, who didn’t need to work and therefore had the time, education and money to devote themselves to politics. He makes this very clear in his Politics, where he states categorically that artisans and other working people should very definitely be kept away from politics and from mixing with the gentlemen of political class. So firmly did he believe this the he argued the two classes should have two separate forums. And Aristotle, like Plato, also believed in the world of intelligible forms. Which means that if idealism makes someone intolerant, then, by Sargon’s argument, he should also attack Aristotle as intolerant.

Marxism, Communism, Postmodernism and the New Left

Sargon is also, of course, spectacularly wrong about Communism. He uses it to mean anyone, who has what he considers to be extreme left-wing views. But Communism also has a very distinct meaning in that it referred to those versions of Marxism practiced in the former Communist bloc and the parties outside it that followed these forms of Marxist dogma. In the USSR and the European Communist countries, this meant Lenin’s formulation of Marxism; in China, Mao’s. But at the time there were other forms of Marxism that were far more democratic. Karl Kautsky, the leader of the Austrian Marxists, believed that industries should be socialised and taken over by the state when they became monopolies, and that socialism could only be achieved through democracy. He was bitterly hostile to the Soviet dictatorship.

Marxism certainly is an element in some forms of contemporary radicalism, such as postmodernism and Cultural Studies. But this is the Marxism of the New Left, which emerged in the 1960s. The New Left attempted to revitalise Marxism through a return to Hegelianism. As far as I can tell, it was Trotskyite, rather than Communist, although both refer to radical Marxism. But Postmodernism was also strongly influenced by structural linguistics, Freudian psychology and Nietzsche. And, at least in the 1990s, it rejected class politics, which are an essential part of orthodox Marxism.

Modern Feminists and Anti-Racists Not Necessarily Marxists

It’s also problematic how much contemporary anti-racism and feminism owes to Marxism. Some of the Black rights and anti-colonialist movements of the 20th century were influenced by Marx to a greater or lesser extent. But I doubt that the mass of anti-racist or feminist activists in this country have read Marx. For them, it almost certainly has more immediate causes in their experience of being treated as less than and denied opportunities open to White males. One of the landmark cases in British feminism was the strike by women workers at Dagenham in the early ’70s. But I doubt they were interested in creating a Communist utopia. They simply wanted to be paid the same as the men. And as for utopianism, while that does exist among the real extreme left, such as anarchists, communists and Trotskyites, for most people left-wing activism simply means realising that things are badly wrong now, and wishing to change it for the better. But as the books on left-wing organisation and activism I’ve read have argued, that means simply trying to make things a little better, and realising an absolutely perfect society is unachievable. That’s also the point of view Marxists like the economist Bernard Wolf.

The Utopianism of Libertarians and Conservatives

If anyone does believe in a perfect system, however, it’s Sargon and the Conservatives/Libertarians. They really do seem to believe that capitalism is a perfect system, and if people are poor, then it’s their own fault. It reminds me of the 19th century Tories, who talked endlessly about the perfection of the British constitution without thinking that anything could or should be done about the mass poverty around them. Sargon and his allies are thus rather like Dr. Pangloss, the character in Voltaire’s Candide, who believed that all was for the best, in this, the best of all possible worlds. Except in their formulation, all is for the best in capitalism, the best of all possible economic systems.

But capitalism is not perfect. Unregulated, it creates mass poverty, and this has always spurred left-wing activists and reformers to try to tackle it. This includes liberals as well as Marxists. But Sargon doesn’t understand that, and so he thinks that those dissatisfied with capitalism can only be radical Marxists.

He’s wrong, but this view is very influential, and used by the right to discredit everyone on the left. And so, daft as it is, it needs to be fought.