[00:00:00] Speaker A: Hello everyone, and welcome to the 171st episode of the Atlas Society. Asks. My name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. I go by my initials Jag. I am the CEO of the Atlas Society. We are the leading nonprofit organization engaging young people with the ideas of Ayn Rand, including fun creative ways like graphic novels and animated videos. Today we are joined by Brendan O'Neill and it is 10:00 p.m. Over there, so we are particularly grateful to have him with us. Before I even begin to introduce our guest, I want to remind all of you who are watching us on Zoom, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube go ahead, jump in to the comment section. You can start typing in your questions and we will get to as many of them as we can. So our guest today, Brendan O'Neill, is a British pundit and author. He was the editor of Spiked magazine from 2007 to 2021 and he is now its chief political writer. He is also a contributor to The Daily Telegraph and a variety of other publications across Europe and America. In his battle against cancel culture and groupthink, O'Neill has published several books, including A Duty to Offend Anti Woke and his latest book, A Heretics Manifesto Essays on the Unspeakable. Brendan, thank you for joining us.
[00:01:39] Speaker B: Hi Jennifer, it's a pleasure to be here.
[00:01:43] Speaker A: So our audience always likes to begin with our guests'origin stories where you grew up, early influences, and maybe even what you wanted to be when you grew up.
[00:01:57] Speaker B: So I grew up in North London, in a tiny part of North London called Berntoke, which no one has ever heard of, including people who live in London.
It's called Burnt Oak because apparently the Romans burnt down an oak forest there thousands of years ago and made way for a town. So I grew up in that town. I grew up in an Irish part of North London. My parents are Irish immigrants. I was surrounded by Irish people, Irish culture, when I was growing up. The Catholic school that I went to was around 90% Irish kids. So I had a very Irish upbringing in London, which is not as uncommon as you might think.
And it was quite a working class area. My parents were working class immigrants, they had working class jobs. It was a really nice upbringing. It was a very friendly neighborhood. And I guess my early influences. I was a very avid reader and writer from an early age, unlike my brothers who were all playing football or getting into scraps. I would be reading Stephen King novels and other things that a twelve year old probably shouldn't be reading. So I was interested in reading and writing from a very early age, and I also got interested in politics at a very early age, which was quite unusual. 1213 14 I was kicking up a fuss about injustice at school and things that I thought were wrong in the school that I attended where the teachers were mistreating us or doing things they shouldn't be doing. So I was involved, I guess, at some level in politics from a fairly early age. And then that developed when I was a teenager and I got involved in political activism and eventually in political journalism. So that's my origin story. In a nutshell. It's pretty different to the origin story of most journalists in the UK, where journalism tends to be a pretty upper middle class affair. Here there aren't that many people from my kind of background. So I sometimes think of myself as having a bit of a responsibility to represent people who don't normally get represented in these kinds of you know we.
[00:04:10] Speaker A: Tend to forget over here in the United States that there is much more of a class consciousness and a class history in the UK than there is here, where we're all immigrants, essentially.
Now, part of that early political activism, if I'm not wrong, you became a trotskyite and you joined the Revolutionary Communist Party. So how did that happen and how did your disillusionment with those ideologies come to pass?
[00:04:47] Speaker B: It's an interesting question. I was thinking about this ahead of this discussion, and I think disillusionment is not the right word. I think really what happened is I just realized that Communism is a dead ideology. It belongs to the 20th century. It's pretty much a failed experiment.
When I hear Generation Z people call themselves Marxists and Communists these days, I don't get angry like I know some people on the right do. They think oh, my God. The communists are taking over. I tend to laugh. I think it's quite comical. I think they don't really know what they're talking about. I don't see them as a threat to the social order, certainly not in a communistic sense, although I do think their identity politics and some of their other ideas are profoundly problematic.
So I think I just came to the realization that trotskyism and communism were archaic ideologies. They don't really have a particular role to play in 21st century politics. So you're right. I joined an organization called the Revolutionary Communist Party when I was around 18 or 19 years old. I was very young.
It was a very interesting organization. They had a great magazine called Living Marxism, which was very distinctive from most of the other left wing publications in Britain, in the sense that firstly, it was interesting and exciting. It was very, very anti Stalinist, very anti Soviet Union, very pro freedom, pro freedom of speech, very critical of the state and state intervention into people's lives. Very much anti nanny state. So it was a pretty distinctive magazine and I think lots of your audience, despite the fact that it was called Living Marxism, I think a lot of your audience probably would have enjoyed some of the arguments made in that magazine.
So I don't think disillusionment is the right term, although I don't call myself those things anymore. But in relation to someone like Trotsky, for example, trotsky's famous line, he once said that the task of the revolutionary is to argue for to increase the power of man over nature and to abolish the power of man over man. That was his great line. And, you know, that's still what I think. I still think that we should I don't call myself a revolutionary. I don't think revolutionary politics has a particular role to play today. But I still think we should increase the power of man over nature in the sense that we need more industrialization, more exploitation of natural resources, which is a very unfashionable thing to say. More economic growth, more progress. So we should increase our power over nature, but we should decrease our power over each other, by which I mean we should have less authoritarianism, less censorship, less social control, less welfareism, to the extent that welfareism is often used to control how people behave and what they can do. So I still believe that I don't call myself a Trotskyist anymore. I don't think that politics is particularly relevant. But I still very much believe that we should have greater human control over the natural world and less human control over other human beings.
[00:08:11] Speaker A: Well, that would definitely be right in line with objectivism that we are not owed, we are not owned, that we are each as individuals, the owners of our own lives and have an inherent right to pursue our happiness. And also that, yes, there are really no such thing as natural resources, that they are only natural products and natural materials that become resources once they are developed by man. And it's interesting, though, what you referenced regarding that particular Trotsky formulation. Maybe that would help to explain why at various times you've called yourself a Marxist libertarian, which for some of us can be a little bit difficult to wrap our heads around. It would be like, I'm a I don't know, mystical objectivist or something like that. Tell us about that.
[00:09:20] Speaker B: Yeah, I have used that term. I sometimes still use it just to irritate people, primarily just to get people going. It's quite a funny term to use. Yeah, lots of people say, Isn't that a contradiction in terms?
I'm one of those annoying you know, those annoying people who talk about pop bands and they always say, oh, I preferred the early stuff. I'm like that with Marxism. I preferred the early stuff. So we're talking about long before the birth of the Soviet Union and the birth of Stalinism. If we go back to the 1840s, the 1850s, if you look at what Marx and Engels were writing at that time, there was a very strong libertarian streak in what they were writing. So, for example, Marx wrote a series of essays about press freedom in relation to Europe in the mid 18 hundreds, and they are some of the best things you will ever read on press freedom. They are unapologetically anti censorship and pro freedom. He has this great line where people are always saying to him, but the press is irresponsible and it publishes outrageous things and it publishes lies and misinformation. And he said, well, you can't have the roads without the thorns. And I often think that these days when I see people saying, oh, God, the Internet is full of crazy people saying crazy things and conspiracy theories and so called misinformation. Although I do think that term gets misused by the authorities quite a lot these days. And I think of that. I think, well, you know, you can't have the rose in this case, the wonderful freedom that the Internet gives us. You can't have that without the thorns, which is all the nonsense and rubbish that gets published on the Internet by people who want to publish nonsense and rubbish. So there was a libertarian streak in early Marxism they do talk quite openly about. They ask themselves the question, how can we create a society in which people can live as freely as possible? That is basically the argument, the question they put to themselves. And of course, then you have the development of all sorts of Marxist movements and Stalinist movements that were profoundly authoritarian and completely against human freedom and violently murderously against human freedom. So there's no skirting over that history for sure. But even in his own lifetime, marx looked at some of the Marxist movements in Europe and he famously said, if this is Marxism, then all I can say is I am not a Marxist. So he was even aware that things were going wrong even while he was still alive. So this is not me trying to defend the reputation of Marx and Engels. People will always make up their own minds about those writers, and absolutely they should do that and read those things and have those discussions. But there was a liberal streak in the early arguments, and there was a liberal streak in the left in the west, right up to the 1960s. I would say there was a very countercultural streak, and in fact, I can't remember who wrote it, but someone wrote about the interesting mix of the kind of hippie culture of the 1960s with an Ayn Rand approach to the idea of a daring capitalism, or the brave individual seeking to remake the world in his own image. In the 60s, there was an interesting crossover between the hippies who wanted to move away from the stifling order of old and Ayn Randists, who were obviously interested in creating greater freedom in society. So the left, however, has gone over there and is now very much into canceled culture and authoritarianism and the divisive politics of identity. So it is a lost cause. I would never call myself a left winger these days because I just think it doesn't really mean much of much value.
[00:13:13] Speaker A: Interesting. Well, in terms of the roses and thorns out there on the internet. I am looking at you whether you are joining us on any of our streaming platforms. Just go ahead, type in a question, a comment. We're going to get to them shortly. But first I want to get to your book, a Heretics Manifesto Essays on the Unsayable. And speaking of cancel culture, you begin by sharing some misgivings about the term. You say it is quote, accurate and neat, and yet not enough. Can you elaborate?
[00:13:55] Speaker B: Yeah, so I should say that I use the term cancel culture. I think we all use that term because it is quite a convenient term and people know what you're talking about. When you say cancel culture, you often see kind of haughty leftish commentators saying no one knows what cancel culture is, no one knows what wokeness is. Stop going on about these things. I think people have a pretty good sense of what these things mean. They know that cancel culture exists and they know what it entails. So I do use the term cancel culture because it's a very convenient term. But I do increasingly think, as you say, that it's not enough. I don't think it captures the seriousness of what we're up against today. And sometimes when I say the words cancel culture, I think to myself it sounds very quaint. It sounds almost slightly comedic and certainly too soft.
I found the same thing about the nanny state. In fact, I made lots of arguments against the nanny state a few years ago. The interfering state constantly wagging its finger at us about how much we drink and what we should eat and how we should raise our children. I started to think the nanny state as a term sounded too quaint and ridiculous. It was like as if it was Mary Poppins or something, when in fact, what the nanny state really represented was an overhaul of the enlightenment ideal that people should be left alone unless they do something that harms other people. The nanny state really represented a counter Enlightenment in some ways, an intrusion into areas of life that the state ought not to intrude in. And John Locke made those arguments 400 years ago in his letter concerning Toleration, where he really basically tried to draw the bounds between the free life, the everyday life, and the moments at which the state might be allowed to intervene. And he drew those boundaries quite clearly, especially in the realm of belief. He basically said the state should never interfere with someone's beliefs. And I think that the nanny state represented a muddying of those old barriers. And I think the same thing about cancel culture. I think cancel culture is fundamentally part of a new counter enlightenment where the great ideals of modern times, for example, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, tolerance, equality, democracy, I think all of those are very seriously threatened by the culture we live under these days. Let's call it canceled culture for now, which I think is very antidemocratic, incredibly divisive, very very toxic intolerant of difference of opinion, has a lust for censorship that I don't remember such a powerful lust for censorship in modern times. So I just think if you combine all those things and look at the problems that they are causing in my society and your society too, I just think canceled culture doesn't quite capture it. So I will carry on saying canceled culture but I'm also encouraging people to think about maybe a more profound term that might describe the world we're living in.
[00:17:12] Speaker A: Interesting.
Well speaking of the woke agenda, one of the terms that I think anyone can recognize as part of that is of course quote her penis. So let's talk about her penis. You suggest in one of your chapters that we can't really reconcile the dizzying number of examples of the phrase and media accounts and arrest records in the courtrooms and you give a lot of those examples. How do we reconcile that with the claim by some that this wokeness and pronouns is just some fringe obsession of a negligible minority? And why in your words, does her penis matter?
[00:18:04] Speaker B: Yeah, it really does matter. It's funny, as soon as I got the idea to write a book called a Heretics Manifesto, I knew that the first chapter would be called her penis. And I knew that the first line of the book would be we need to talk about her penis. And that is indeed the first line of the first chapter because I find that phrase her penis so interesting, the speed with which it has become an acceptable part of everyday discussion, I find that incredibly concerning and quite chilling in fact. And it really has become part of everyday discussion. So I give numerous examples in the book, as you say in the Times newspaper over here, which is our newspaper of record, they've used the term herpenis. The BBC has used know the public broadcaster and it's used in courts of law. So there was a case fairly recently of a man who identifies as a woman and he was convicted of raping two other women and in that court case, in that courtroom they actually said her penis in relation to this man, this male rapist. And I just thought that was extraordinary. I thought it was extraordinary that in a case about rape we would still flatter the delusions of the man at hand and play into his identity. And in fact there was pressure on his victims, on the women to refer to him by the pronouns, the female pronouns. So firstly he takes away their dignity and then they're forced to genuflect to his fantasy identity. It's like an extra layer of cruelty. So it has become an entrenched term. And one of the most shocking examples I give in the book is of the New York Times and the BBC. They both reported a few years ago, a couple of years ago, in fact, about an 80 year old woman, a woman in her 80s in New York who had murdered and decapitated another woman. And I read this thinking, hold on, women in their 80s don't do that. I've never heard of that in my life. I've never heard of a woman in her 80s doing anything like that. Women in their 80s tend to be fairly frail, usually quite small, certainly not murderously inclined. So it was quite a shocking story. Of course, you get halfway through the New York Times piece and it says, this is a trans identifying person. You get to the very last line of the BBC piece and lots of people don't ever get to the very last line of a news report and it says, this is a trans person. So it wasn't a woman, it was a man. So they were lying to us. And the point I make in the book is that when you sacrifice truth and objectivity at the altar of ideology, when you rearrange facts themselves to make sure that they accord with your ideological beliefs, then we really have reached orwellian territory, then we really are reaching tyranny. Because the high point of tyranny, of course, is the state's belief that it has the right to define reality itself. And that's where I think a term like cancel culture just isn't quite sufficient to describe how serious these kinds of issues are.
[00:21:25] Speaker A: So if that is what is being recounted in newspapers and media channels of record, what is this doing to our crime statistics? I mean, how will we actually be able to measure anything accurately? Are we going to see a rise in the proportion of violent crimes committed by women? If that is the new standard, yeah.
[00:21:52] Speaker B: And that's what's already happening in the UK, at least. There are numerous police forces now which will record a crime as having being committed by a woman. If the man who committed the crime identifies as a woman, which is really extraordinary, and that truly is, orwellian because that is memory holing the truth and replacing it with a lie. There's another interesting debate in the UK about whether trans people should have the right to alter their birth certificates. So not just their passports or contemporary paraphernalia that they carry around, but their birth certificates. So you could go back and your birth certificate would no longer say that a boy was born on the 13 August 1975, but a girl was born, and that's not true. The nurse and the midwife and the doctor who said, this is a boy, were telling the truth. The registrar who registered the birth of a boy was recording the truth. If we go back and erase it and replace it with a girl, we are replacing the truth with a lie. And that is exactly what Winston Smith's job was at the Ministry of Truth in 1984. His job was to go and rewrite old newspaper articles to make sure that they faithfully reflected the contemporary beliefs of Big Brother and the contemporary beliefs of the Party, and we're now doing that ourselves. So this is how serious the problem has become. And I think in relation to crime statistics, it's a really important point, because if a society cannot tell the truth about itself, if it cannot tell the truth about who is being born, what sex they are, who committed this crime, what sex that person was, has there been a spike in male violence? Are there rising numbers of female victims? If we cannot have these discussions about the very makeup of our societies, then we are sacrificing civilization itself at the altar of being politically correct. And that's something that I think we should never do.
[00:24:03] Speaker A: So I'm going to get next to the chapter that you have in here on COVID as a metaphor, which really was one of my absolute favorites. And I thought you had a very different kind of approach to the subject. But I'm going to dip into our questions before we get too far along, because some of them are actually referencing back to what we discussed at the top, including this question from our friend, my modern Gault on Instagram, asking Brendan, do you believe that the violent anarchists of the 18 hundreds subsumed themselves into Marxism?
[00:24:45] Speaker B: Good question.
Not something I've thought about particularly closely, I must say. But I do think there's often been a tension between Marxism and anarchism, particularly between traditional Marxism and anarchism. And that tension went right up to the 1980s. In fact, there were discussions in Britain. We had so many kind of trotskyist sects and communist parties and anarchist movements. There were loads and loads of them in the UK, in the I'm sure there were lots in America as well. And there was tension between traditional Marxists and anarchists right up till then, because the traditional Marxists always put a focus on ideas, the intellectual mission of trying to understand society in order that you might change it for the better, whereas anarchists were often much more driven towards action. Let's act now, let's be disobedient, let's take things into our own hands. So there was often tension.
I think that kind of discussion is slightly ancient history, which is not to say it's not interesting of course it is. But I myself have always been slightly wary of anarchism. I've always thought it's a little bit juvenile. I'm fascinated by the idea of an anarcho capitalist. I'm sure your listeners have heard about those. I think that they're an interesting subset of a lot of the kind of people that you and I might know. But I'm always slightly wary of anarchist. I'm wary of action for its own sake. I do think ideas are important, and one of the points I make in my book is that we have to challenge the new ruling ideologies of the establishment if we're going to start making the case for genuine freedom in everyday life.
[00:26:33] Speaker A: All right, well, a lot of people here actually interested on your previous interest in Trotskyism. So we've got a question from Kingfisher 21 on YouTube asking Brendan if you think that Trotskyism, as you described it, could ever be implemented.
[00:26:54] Speaker B: No, I don't think so. The thing about Trotskyism, which is an interesting, I think, historical observation, trotskyism was never really a system of government. It was more a system of resistance. So the Trotskyist movements in the west, for example, including here in the UK, they were very much anti Soviet Union. They were against Stalin. Trotsky was famously anti Stalinist. Stalin eventually sent someone to murder Trotsky in his home in Mexico City a couple of years ago. I visited the room in which that pickaxe was driven into Trotsky's head in his former home in Mexico.
So Trotskyism in the UK and across Western Europe was very much about opposing Stalinism. So it was very critical of Western capitalism, of course, but it was equally, if not more critical of Eastern Stalinism, particularly the incredibly violent crushing of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 and the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. And, of course, the events of 1980 819, 89, where the Soviets tried to hold on to power in Eastern Europe.
Trotskyism was critical of that. So Trotskyism was really a movement of criticism, fundamentally, and a movement of ideas and a movement that actually very often put the case for freedom, rather than being a movement that was desired to get into power and implement particular policies. So if Trotsyism wasn't really about getting into power back then, I don't think it could ever get into power today.
[00:28:35] Speaker A: Really fascinating distinction. So I'm even more fascinated personally with this chapter that you have on COVID as a metaphor.
It really explored a theme that others who have been on this show, like our friend Jeffrey Tucker, have touched on, but not quite so comprehensively. And that's the idea that the brutal COVID interventions, and indeed, in some ways COVID itself, was seen on some level as a punishment for a wayward people who, in defiance of their intellectual betters, had embraced populism or had voted for Trump or had failed to take seriously the elite's warnings on climate change or consumerism. So tell us a little bit about how you made those connections, because, again, I think it was a really unique perspective.
[00:29:36] Speaker B: Yeah. So, as you say, that chapter is called COVID as Metaphor. And I'm sure lots of your listeners will recognize that that comes from Susan Sontag's famous book, Illness as Metaphor, which was published in the 1970s. And then she followed it up with a long essay, AIDS as Metaphor and Susan Sontag's great insight about how we talk about disease. She looked at it historically and she looked at all the different ways in which disease was often seen as a form of divine punishment. So a plague, for example, was God's punishment for mankind not listening to the Bible, not going to church, not being a righteous, Godly people. So a plague would be sent to punish them. That's how plagues were often understood. Susan Sontag also talks about how syphilis was understood in the late 18 hundreds and early 19 hundreds. In particular, syphilis was often seen as a disease of mass society and democratic society because society was becoming democratized at that time. And syphilis was often seen as an inevitable encompiment of mass society, industrialization and so on. So syphilis was used to condemn progress, to condemn industry, to condemn modern society. So she was very interested in how diseases were often interpreted as the reprimand of humankind for losing its way.
So the reason I wrote a chapter called COVID as Metaphor is because that came through so strongly to me on many of the things that were written about COVID I read so much stuff over those two years, some of which we were all forced to stay indoors, or we were not allowed to go out, we were not allowed to go to work very often. I spent a lot of time reading, trying to understand what this was all about. Why were we having these lockdowns across the world in such a severe fashion where civil liberty was almost completely suspended? And when I was reading, what became clear was that COVID was being turned into a metaphor. It became a metaphor for our hubris, the way we've interfered too much with nature. So you had actual environmental spokespeople at the United Nations referring to COVID as Mother Nature's punishment. And these are pretty high up people who were saying that. And then another interesting discussion started, which was that COVID would be worse for populist countries and for people who believed in populist politics. So the argument was that if you're a populist, you probably don't trust experts, you're probably a bit stupid, you probably won't wear your mask, and therefore you're more likely to get sick and die. They said very similar things during the plague. During the plague. They said it's the most sinful people who will probably catch the plague and die. And I thought the arguments about populists and COVID was a reiteration of that idea of disease hunting people down and punishing them for their sins against God, or in our case, their sins against the experts. So it was very interesting to me the way in which COVID very quickly became weaponized as a lesson from the elites to ordinary people about our supposedly bad behavior.
[00:32:55] Speaker A: Yes, one of the quotes that you had in that chapter was, quote the self avowedly vengeful return of the expert was as much about reasserting the dogmas of the technocratic class as it was about engendering respect for the medical battle against COVID. And perhaps that is why certainly here in the United States, there seems a complete unwillingness to admit error. And to take responsibility for some of the failures of these policies.
It seems a little bit like that. There is a bit more openness in the UK and in Europe, for example, there's no more requiring or recommending the vaccine for people under 65, certainly not for children.
Does that kind of resonate with what you're seeing?
[00:34:00] Speaker B: Yeah, it does, actually. And we're having an inquiry here in the UK into lockdown into the Pandemic to see whether we did it right. I'm concerned that they've already reached their conclusion even before the inquiry starts. I think there will be a lot of effort by the political class to retrospectively justify what they did, because what they did was so extreme and unprecedented in modern times, which was basically to put most people under house arrest and to suspend the right to associate, the right to move, the right to leave your house. I remember there were drones flying outside in certain parks to try and catch people who were going out more than once a day.
I went to Hyde Park one day here in London, and the police just swept through the park and sent everyone home, which was utterly bizarre. So there was an extreme authoritarianism and the police were pretty heavy handed here in London, so I think they will want to retrospectively justify that and say, look, it was the right thing to do and I think they'll find a way to do that. So I'm not convinced it will be the thorough discussion we ought to have. But you're right to highlight that part of my book about the revenge of the expert, because that is something I noticed very early on in the Pandemic. In fact, Imperial College here in London, who were the advisors to the government on, they provided models of the COVID disease to the government here and to governments around the world. Very early on, an academic at Imperial College wrote a piece which said, the expert is back with a vengeance. That's literally what it said. And The Guardian and other publications were all publishing articles saying, hopefully now the expert will return. We'll start to listen to them again, we'll start to bow down to them. That's essentially what they were saying, and that was obviously them hoping that COVID would reprimand the stupid people who voted for Trump or who voted for Brexit.
Those populist strikes against the old establishment were often depicted as revolts against the experts, the low information masses rising up against the expert classes. That's how those two votes were understood. And so COVID, they saw COVID as an opportunity to put the expert back on his pedestal and to put ordinary people back in their place. And I thought that was very, very cynical, very anti democratic. But that was one of the key motifs, I think, of the COVID era.
[00:36:34] Speaker A: And of course, the irony is that they have dispatched the expert so far from a pedestal that expertise may never recover. And I think it's important to make a distinction between being able to have people who have a specialization and who have the ability and the training to be able to interpret data from this progressive ideal. That a distinct class of experts and technocrats are going to be able, through central planning, to organize society better than the invisible hand of people making their own decisions. And so sometimes people say, well, it's just in terms of where the political chips happen to fall. But I think that there is a deeper vein of a kind of progressive conceit about managing society. That what's informing these different approaches to how to handle a pandemic.
All right, you had another chapter on white shame. You describe, quote, the re envisioning of racism as a hereditary sickness, again continuing with these metaphors about illness and disease. So I'd love to get some examples of that manifestations and also maybe elaborate a little bit more about what you meant.
[00:38:23] Speaker B: Yeah, I find the discussion about race today really quite chilling, if I'm being honest, both in the United States and also in the UK. Because we seem to have moved so far away from that more positive message of the 1950s and the 1960s. And then in the UK. It tended to come a bit later in the 1970s and the 1980s. And that message was very much that we should judge individuals as individuals rather than as representatives of a know. We should judge people by their character, not their color. That's Martin Luther King's famous line. And I think that's a pretty good way to approach life and to approach other people.
What you have today, and I mentioned this in my book you have a situation today where on some campuses in the United States, in their lists of microaggressions that you should never say, they include the idea that you should judge people by their character, not their color. I mean, that is now listed as a microaggression on some campuses because what they argue is that if you do that, you're denying people's sense of cultural being, their sense of racial experience, and apparently that's a bad thing to do. So we now have a situation where it's very possible that Martin Luther King would be disinvited from campuses and no platformed from campuses for having the wrong view on racial issues. That's how much of a turnaround there has been. And I think another way that turnaround expresses itself is that the racial panic of the early 20th century was against black people. They were seen as deviant. They were seen as criminal. They were seen as hereditary, having hereditary failures. That's how racists tended to look upon black people. We now have a situation where that racial thinking has been rehabilitated, but primarily in relation to white people. So white people are now seen as deviant in some way. We have books about the problem of whiteness. We have people like Robin D'Angelo, writing entire books and making a hell of a lot of money from saying that whiteness is toxic, all white people are racist, all white people are fragile, et cetera, et cetera. In workplaces in both America and the UK, there are now workshops encouraging people to be less white, which means less arrogant, less conceited and so on.
And we also see whiteness increasingly being discussed as a kind of psychological ailment. So there's a psychological journal in America which talked about racism being something that is passed down from generation to generation in white families as if it's a hereditary disease, a hereditary sickness. And of course, we all have to pay penance for our whiteness. We have to self flagellate, we have to check our white privilege. I thought it was extraordinary during the riots in America in the 2020s that we saw scenes of actual white people bowing down to groups of black people and begging for their forgiveness and saying, please forgive us for the sins of our forefathers. So there is an anti white hysteria, and that's really worrying because to me it looks like the old anti black hysteria, which I'm sure everyone agrees was poisonous and dangerous and anti democratic and deeply illiberal, that has now been repackaged and placed on white people. And I don't see that as progress. I don't think that's a step forward. I think it's either a step sideways or possibly a step backward. It's a terrible thing to do. So the point I make in that chapter is that all forms of racialization are bad. We should never treat an individual as a racial creature, whether that's a black person or a white person or whatever heritage they have. We should treat them as an individual with an equal shared capacity for freedom and the right to be free. That's how we should approach all people. And this new identitarianism, which encourages us to approach people as representatives of their race, representatives of their ethnicity, representatives of some event in history that I think is backward and regressive and dangerous, and it runs counter to the ideals of freedom.
[00:42:52] Speaker A: All right, dipping back into our questions and your observation that this is not progress and how far we've come from the days of Martin Luther King to the hereditary sin of whiteness, george Alexopoulos on Facebook is saying it seems like the insanity of the left has really become more noticeable in the last ten years. Do you agree? Do you see that there's some kind of acceleration of this going on?
[00:43:25] Speaker B: Yes, I think absolutely. It really has accelerated. I mean, I'm one of those people who think it's been a long time coming, and I think you can probably trace it back I mean, you can probably trace it back to the 1930s and the 1940s, in fact, and the moments after the First World War. Actually, there's lots of interesting books coming out at the moment about the West's loss of faith in itself after the First World War and how that manifested itself in the interwar period, and then later, of course, manifested itself after the Second World War as well, particularly in the kind of strange, interesting revolts of the 1960s. And then I think humankind's loss of faith in itself really comes to a head in the 1970s, because that's when you get the anti industrial Revolution. I think that's a phrase that originally comes from Ayn Rand, in fact, where you no longer have a west defined by industrial Revolution, but anti industrial Revolution, anti growth. We start to view humankind as a pox on the planet, a plague on the planet, something that needs to be controlled, and that gives rise to all sorts of new forms of authoritarianism, new ideas for social control. And then eventually, in the 1980s and the 1990s, you get political correctness, which at some point morphs into wokeness, and then you're right. Over the past ten years, it's taken off to a psychotic degree. And we now have open discussions all the time about humankind's being, a plague on the planet, about the horrible human footprint that we've left on this planet, when in fact, what we've done is tamed this planet and made it into a livable place for billions of human beings. I think we should celebrate humankind's impact on the planet. It's been a wonderful thing, but you're not allowed to do that anymore. And at the same time, we have this growing idea that human beings are racial creatures.
They ought to be policed. They need to be managed. They need to be technocratically kept apart. They need to be controlled. This misanthropic desire for social control has taken hold amongst establishments in the US. In Europe, and around the world. I find that incredibly worrying, and I do think that supposedly left ideas like identity politics, their re racialization of everyday life, their anti humanism that expresses itself in environmental politics, I think all those things have contributed to this new misanthropy and to the thing that the new misanthropy gives rise to, which is a profound illiberalism.
[00:46:04] Speaker A: You mentioned Einran's anti industrial revolution. Of course, this is an audience that is brought together in part by our shared admiration of the ideas of Ayn Rand. So any thoughts? Have you read any Ein Rand? And what might her perspective offer for understanding the sort of insane moment in which we find ourselves now?
[00:46:35] Speaker B: I have. I've read Atlas Shrugged. I read it years and years ago, so please don't test me on it because I won't remember much of it. I do remember its dystopian qualities and the aspiration for freedom that drove the central characters, but I've forgotten a lot of it, I'm sure.
Yes, so I've read that. I'm aware of Rand, and to me, the attraction of Aynrand to younger people. A lot of young people now are interested in Aynrand. To me, that is not mysterious at all. There is often a hysteria about Ayn Rand amongst leftists and so called progressives. They think Ayn Rand is this kind of proto fascistic, horrible ideologue who has twisted the minds of the right and blah, blah, blah. You know the story better than I do. I just think that's such a fantasy because it makes perfect sense to me that in an era of cowardly capitalists who don't have the gumption of the capitalists of the old, they're not really digging for oil and exploring the world and seeking to remake it in their own image, as capitalists once sought to do.
They're meek and cowardly and apologetic and pathetic. These are people who can't even justify their own economic system. And in fact, what strikes me about contemporary capitalism is that it seems to me that anticapitalism now is an outgrowth of capitalism itself. And there are few people as anti capitalists as the capitalists. They hate themselves. They hate their economic system. They hate the privilege that they enjoy as a result of being entrepreneurial and so on. So there's this real, self loathing capitalism in denial that we all live under. And in that kind of climate, it makes perfect sense to me that younger people who are aspirational and who are in favor of the free market would turn to someone like Ayn Rand to see those heroic figures, those figures that she wrote about and fictionalized in some instances, who were keen on stamping their human footprint on the world. Let's put it like, you know, it's interesting if you read the Communist Manifesto. And I would recommend everyone should read the Communist Manifesto. It's very short, as we discovered in the famous debate between Jordan Peterson and Slavoz Zizek. It's the only Communist book that Peterson has read. And so if he's read it, I think everyone else should read it as well. And what's interesting about The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels, of course, is that the first few pages, quite a few pages are devoted to praising capitalism. They say that capitalism has achieved wonders that the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans could only have dreamt of. They said it had rescued people from barbarism. It had united the world in a new mission to have greater civilization, greater production, greater growth. And sometimes if I look at the Communist Manifesto, I see echoes of someone like Ayn Rand.
Obviously, she comes much later because there was this shared view for decades, if not for a century or so, between the left and the Right, between Marxists and capitalists, there was a shared view that growth was a good thing. But the question is what would be the best way to achieve that growth? Would it be to overthrow capitalism and have a system of Marxist production, which is what Marx and Engels thought because they thought that would unleash the true potential of human productivity? Or was it the free market and the invisible hand which people like Iron Rand and others thought was the best way to ensure growth and wealth and comfort. But they had this shared aspiration to create a world of plenty. Today, it's the complete opposite. Now the right and the left are united by an embarrassment at the idea of growth, an opposition to industrialization of the world, a kind of shame facedness about the wealth that we enjoy and the comfort that we enjoy. So now the left and right is united in its contempt for the fruits of capitalism, and I find that incredibly worrying. So when Ayn Rand starts to become popular, it makes perfect sense to me, because I think people are looking for more aspirational figures to explain the society we live in and to look to a potentially richer, freer society in the future.
[00:51:15] Speaker A: Yes. When people asked Ayn Rand if Atlas Shrugged was some kind of prophecy because they saw many of the things that she had written about coming true, she said that Atlas Shrugged is not a prophecy of our unavoidable destruction, but a testament of man's power to avoid it if we choose to change course.
And then there was another quote from Atlas Shrugged in which Hank Reardon was talking to Dagny Taggart, and he said, all that lunacy can't last. It is demented, so it must defeat itself. You and I will have to work a little harder for longer. That's all. Of course, it was about the ultimate impotence of irrationality, a kind of manifestation of her observation that you can avoid reality, you can evade reality, but you can't evade the consequences of evading reality. So, given that sort of optimistic view of a benevolent universe in which evil must ultimately defeat itself, do you feel optimistic about the future?
Have we passed or are we approaching peak wokeness? Where do you see the future?
[00:52:49] Speaker B: Yeah, I'm generally a fairly optimistic person, so I'm usually pretty optimistic. But at the moment, I'm slightly flitting between pessimism and optimism. I was very, very optimistic about the vote for Brexit in 2016. I think that did more than anything in recent times to really send shockwaves through the very establishments that we've been talking about, particularly, of course, in the European Union, one of the most sclerotic, technocratic illiberal institutions that has ever existed.
A kind of Byzantine organization which wants to control the lives of 550,000,000 people in Europe. And it was delivered an extraordinary body blow by ordinary people in Britain who said, actually, we'd rather have a bit more control over our own lives. So that was wonderful. I was very optimistic about that. I was even optimistic about the vote for Trump. I'm not a Trumpist. I have lots of criticisms of Trump.
I think he was a bit snowflakey sometimes, ironically, because he loved to criticize snowflakes, but I think he had snowflake tendencies. He was a bit too illiberal sometimes for my liking. But I thought the vote for Trump and the victory of Trump in 2016 was incredibly important. And it delivered, once again, another body blow to the complacent elites, the backward elites, the regressive elites who have been taking people for advantage for far too long and robbing them of their livelihoods and of their liberty and treating them like an inferior species. It really was a blow to that establishment. So I felt very optimistic after the Trump and Brexit earthquakes, I feel very optimistic about the uprising of turfs here in the UK. Of course, a turf is a trans, exclusionary, radical feminist, which basically means a woman who understands biological sex.
Britain is sometimes referred to as Turf Island because we have so many turfs. I think the New York Times refers to us as turf island. They think it's an insult. I think it's something to be incredibly proud of. So there's interesting pushback in different ways. I also feel incredibly inspired by the uprising of women and men in Iran over the past year. I think too many people in the west have ignored that because they're worried about being accused of Islamophobia. And I have a chapter in my book about the fact that if these women who are tearing off their hijabs and burning them in the street and dancing around them, if they were to do that in a city in Europe, they would be accused of Islamophobia. They would be accused of hijabia, which is a real word, believe it or not. It's in the Oxford European Handbook on Islam.
So we've got ourselves into a real mess. You can see how censorship really screws up your mind, because people don't even know how to offer solidarity to the revolters in Iran because they're worried about being accused of breaking the speech codes of Islamophobia. So I'm positive about the electoral revolts in the United States. In the United Kingdom. I'm positive about lots of changes that are happening in Europe. I'm positive about the uprising in Iran. I think there's pushback against identity politics. It's all good on that front. But I do worry that the thirst for freedom is waning sometimes. And one of the dangers, I think, especially post COVID and post lockdowns, is that people are losing the knack of being free. Because being free is a pretty big ask. It's a big job. It's not easy. It means taking responsibility for your life, for your mind, for your family, for your community. It means taking on the burdens of self government, individual sovereignty, family sovereignty, wanting to be your own government. That's basically what freedom means. It's a big job. And I think people are losing the knack for it because we've been Molly Cobbled by the technocrats for quite a long time now. So I think one of the key things we have to do is to not only restore faith in freedom, but to give people a sense that they are capable of being free. And I think that's going to be a real uphill struggle, but an important struggle in the coming years.
[00:57:18] Speaker A: Well, speaking of big asks, of course, we have asked Brendan to stay up till 11:00 p.m. There over in the UK, and so we're really grateful. Please, everyone, do yourselves a favor. Get his book. A heretics manifesto. Essays on the Unsayable. You won't be disappointed. I have a lot of reading material on this subject and I really thought that he brought a very nuanced and unconventional perspective to a lot of the topics that we tend to talk about in terms of the wokeness and identity politics. So you'll want to get that and then where do we keep track of you, Brendan? What's the best way to get more up to date and up to speed on what you're working on?
[00:58:10] Speaker B: Well, the best thing is to read Spiked. That's where I do most of my writing and follow Spiked on Twitter, of course. I also write for The Spectator every week and I write for the Daily Mail here in the UK.
I'm not really a social media person. I've never used Twitter myself.
I don't use Facebook. I'm slightly under the radar. But I am on Instagram. I'm on Instagram under Burnt Oakboy, because, as I said earlier, I'm from Burnt Oak, so people can find me on Instagram, but mainly follow Spike. If you follow Spike, you'll always find out what I'm up to.
[00:58:47] Speaker A: Fantastic. Well, again, Brendan, thank you so much for joining us and hope that you're going to be getting to bed soon.
And thanks to everyone who joined us, thanks for all of your great, great questions. I'm sorry I didn't get to all of them. And remember, if you enjoyed this video or any of the other materials and content from the Atlas Society, remember, we are a nonprofit and you can support our work by making a tax deductible [email protected]
. Please be sure to join us next week. Of course, next week is our big gala coming up in Miami, but I am still going to be doing my weekly interview with Chris Styrwald from the American Enterprise Institute, and we're going to talk about his latest book, Broken News why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and how to Fight Back. So we'll see you then. Thanks.