On the Lost Art of Intellectual Honesty 194

I remain strongly opposed to Brexit. However, I feel obliged to state, purely as a matter of intellectual honesty, that if the UK leaves the EU, even if it has no special trade deal and is merely subject to WTO terms, the fall in value of sterling already due to Brexit would give its goods a comparative advantage over the pre-referendum position even when the EU tariffs are applied. I say that in response to some of the apocalyptic comment around matter of fact remarks by the EU trade commissioner.

It is unfortunate that political debate in the UK has descended to such a debased intellectual level. If you support a position, you are not ever to admit there are any counter arguments on any aspects of that position which might have the remotest intellectual validity. Thus, in the EU referendum campaign, Leavers painted the EU as a dastardly organisation bent on evil and controlling everybody’s lives, and Remainers portrayed it as an earthly paradise to which the alternative was eternal damnation and plagues of affliction. One of the arguments the Blairites use against Corbyn is that he had the temerity to employ nuance and intellectual honesty in discussing the EU. Intellectual honesty is certainly not something Tony Blair ever employed.

Politics has become a branch of PR. It is just about selling. The party, candidate or policy you are selling must be portrayed as the absolute epitome of excellence, with no flaws whatsoever. Political discourse has therefore become juvenile. It is about expensively dressed, well groomed salesmen with perfect teeth. Thought is positively frowned upon.

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194 thoughts on “On the Lost Art of Intellectual Honesty

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  • bevin

    Leaving the EU is not even the beginning. It is just a prelude, necessary but, in itself, of little significance.
    A cheaper pound is a good way of beginning to understand what the problems are: yes, it will make exports easier, but it will make imports more expensive. And Britain, once famous for its reliance on exports, relies heavily on imports.

    The UK has a gargantuan Balance of Payments problem, entirely predictably so too. The manufacturing industries did not disappear overnight. Nor did they disappear because the invisible hand took them. They were wrecked and dismantled by successive governments wedded to-inventing as they stumbled along – neo-liberalism. Industry was collateral damage in the war against working class living standards and communities.

    This is a road we, as a nation, have been down before, under the liberalism which is now being discovered anew: the liberalism of Cobden and Bright, Mill and Macaulay, Gladstone and Peel.
    Then, in the C19th, as the Empire was being expanded in every direction, in many places under the Union flag, in most, however, as an Empire of Free Trade, the industry being wrecked and dismantled was the largest in the country, the basic industry producing raw materials for clothing and feeding the population. Agriculture was hauled onto the altar of Free Trade and slowly bled to death. The rural masses were reduced to beggary, the villages emptied, communities slaughtered. Millions were driven into colonial exile, a significant proportion of them dying of disease, hunger, heartbreak in the ships that carried them. Millions more were driven off the land into the cities where, again, most were quickly killed off in slums where life expectancy was generally less than thirty, and wages rarely yielded a subsistence, even in the intervals between unemployment.

    A century ago, finally, the nation, still obsessed with liberalism and Free Trade, was forced to confront its history: after more than a century of industrialisation and expanding capitalism the people of the UK were shorter, weaker, less able to defend the country and easier to kill than their ancestors had been, and the armies they faced, from countries marginally less afflicted by liberalism, were. It was notorious that the basic human capital, the working class, had been so starved, beaten, cheated and confined in bad conditions that something would have to be done if the country were not to be allowed to disappear into a nirvana of pure liberal ideas.

    It was at this time, between the Somme and the revolution in Russia, that the Labour party was founded. And the Webbs, Fabians and allies of the Tory imperialists who had turned away from liberalism to dabble with such heresies as protective tariffs, framed the famous Clause IV of the Party Constitution which defined party membership until Mandelson and Blair replaced it with vague weasel worded platitudes about values and aspirations.

    The real shock of the war was not that the people had degenerated physically but that after decades of Free Trade the country was no longer able to feed itself, so that a submarine campaign against shipping brought Britain close to starvation. The economy had become extraordinarily dependent, also, on imported raw materials and even manufactures. The international division of labour, thanks to the City of London meant that the UK was now part of an international system- still centred on the City- on which it was completely dependent.

    And that, after a hundred years of running around in all directions, is the situation again today. And the problem, which has been growing since the days when Lord Liverpool ruled, is still to be faced.

    Leaving the EU is a step in the right direction but no more than that. For economic , environmental , social and political reasons we must learn to live off our own. Those who claim that the population is too large for the food supply-the Malthusian idiocy that is one of the foundations of the dystopia to which we are headed- are wrong: the calculation which Malthus made regarding the increase of human populations is equally applicable to other animal and vegetable populations. As Cobbett remarked, mouths never appear in the world without hands attached: increasing food production is, once the wreckage of enclosure, industrial agriculture and private property has been cleared away, a simple matter. The only major problems being connected to environmental degradation which is, itself a function of Free Trade and imperialism.

    The great failure of the EU is that, contrary to promise, it has not, despite its enormous area, its fertile lands, its fisheries and its variety of climatic and soil conditions, moved any closer to the self-sufficiency that was part of its original purpose. And the reason for this is that it has become, to an extent much greater than any of the US geo-strategists who regarded its foundation so benignly ever dreamed it would, completely integrated into the US imperial hegemonic project. And like the US itself it has nursed policies and practices, both in agriculture and in social policies, which can only lead to dependence through degradation to desertification.

    The EU has become not a refuge from Free Trade and market fixation but super heated in both respects.
    One such respect has to do with the denationalisation of the EU’s peoples: the patriotic instincts that, given favourable conditions, led to the foundation of welfare states and social safety nets, including the wide accessibility of liberal education, has been replaced not by a wider internationalism, evidenced by a concern for our brothers in Greece or sisters in Ireland, but to the discrediting of solidarity as an idea. Stripping the poor people of England of their social services has only made people more callous in the face of what is being done to old age pensioners in Greece or unemployed Latvians or, for that matter, refugees being herded into the EU by militias in NATO’s employ.
    The solidarity and internationalism, which the Tories, Blairites and other remainers lament will be lost in Brexit was long ago lost in neo-con wars abroad and neo-liberals kicking the vulnerable wherever they ran across them.
    Craig talks about the need for intellectual honesty, without which neither democracy, nor anything approaching accountable government is possible. But it is not without significance that the PR man’s dishonesty, the lawyer’s sophistry, the pundit’s logic chopping which degrades our society is invariably accompanied by the arrogant sneer of the nihilist narcissist.
    Just as we need honesty we need empathy and charity. Auden was right , we can love one another or die.

  • RobG

    As I’ve probably said on here before, during World War Two more than 11,000 merchant seamen were killed on the Atlantic convoys. They gave their lives to keep Britain from starving, because prior to the war Britain was not self-sufficient in food; ie, the governments of the day were criminally irresponsible.

    In post-war Britain this situation was rectified – ‘The Archers’ radio programme started life as propaganda from the Ministry of Agriculture, to encourage farming. After 4 decades of neo-con lunacy we’re now back to the same sorry state of affairs: Britain can’t come anywhere close to feeding itself.

    The value of a currency is not really that important when it comes to the life of a nation.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain

      RobG, don’t forget that you are hideously over-populated, too.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain

      michael, I once read some of Goebbels’ non propaganda writing, and was quite impressed. If you did not know that he was part and parcel of a genocidal gangster state, you’d imagine him likely to be a fine person, and undoubtedly a talented writer. Evil as he and the top Nazis were, I’d reckon that there are worse about, at present, running the Western world.

  • DomesticExtremist

    Since we are finally discussing Brexit, you might like to read and ponder the Archdruid’s view from over the water:
    Outside the Hall of Mirrors

    Kind of nails it for me and puts it into a global perspective (which also nails the little Englander slur).

    • Ben Monad

      It’s kind of like the rise of Trump isn’t it? The problem a cattle rancher faces with cattle is they sometimes stampede with a similar mob violence, devoid of reason. Well out of the control of their handlers the situation must be allowed to exhaust the energy available. That’s the narrow window which escapes the attention of most people.

      Oh. Did I inadvertently compare people to cattle?

    • Hieroglyph

      Would we really want Blair to represent our EU exit? Or is a cold ruthless man, devoid of compassion with maniacal tendencies, the ideal man for the job?

      He’s use his cold, ruthless traits to sell us out. And probably negotiate some nice terms for whoever it is he’s shilling for; think he’s a Goldman Sachs whore at the moment, but JP Morgan too. Given Blair is, basically, certifiable, and wants the EU job, what better way of applying than by screwing us over? And yes, I do believe he’s quite capable of such treachery.

      Anyway, if Chilcot has any balls, Blair and his acolytes are about to be ruined, so the point is moot.

  • RobG

    Geoffrey Hill, the English poet, died today aged 84.


    In my humble opinion, Hill was a minor poet who had his moments:

    “I love my work and my children. God
    Is distant, difficult. Things happen.
    Too near the ancient troughs of blood
    Innocence is no earthly weapon.

    I have learned one thing: not to look down
    So much upon the damned. They, in their sphere,
    Harmonize strangely with the divine
    Love. I, in mine, celebrate the love-choir.”

    (hello Tony O)

    But the point I want to make is that under this neo-con madness all poetry, music and art has gone out the window. There’s now nothing new/original. Instead we get corporate controlled ‘pretend events’.

    Bloody hell, I had no love for Thatcher, but at least the birth of the neo-cons still allowed art.

    This isn’t art, it’s pop; from 1983, and the original German language version, which was always the best (you’ll have to be an old Cold War junkie to understand what this is all about)…


    • Republicofscotland

      “This isn’t art, it’s pop; from 1983, and the original German language version, which was always the best (you’ll have to be an old Cold War junkie to understand what this is all about)…”



      Yes the German version is the best, you don’t need to understand the lyrics however to enjoy the music.

      Take the Sull’aria, from the Marriage of Figaro for instance, you dont really need to know what those women are singing about, to enjoy the beauty of it.

      Incidently the women are singing about a love tryst, and infidelity.

      Thank you for posting the poem, I enjoyed the emotion within it.

      • RobG

        Thank you, Republicofscotland.

        I hope Tony O doesn’t take offence at me comparing him to Geoffrey Hill (it’s actually a compliment).

        I could have saId: Tony, shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? etc, etc.

  • Tim Murray

    Sadly I paid a years subs, £50. to the Grauniad a few months ago.

    I want my money back! Then I’d pay you a sub instead

    cheers for your insightful, informative posts!

    • Mark Golding

      These mist covered mountains
      Are a home now for me
      But my home is the lowlands
      And always will be
      Someday you’ll return to
      Your valleys and your farms
      And you’ll no longer burn
      To be brothers in arms

      Through these fields of destruction
      Baptisms of fire
      I’ve witnessed your suffering
      As the battle raged higher
      And though they did hurt me so bad
      In the fear and alarm
      You did not desert me
      My brothers in arms

      There’s so many different worlds
      So many different suns
      And we have just one world
      But we live in different ones

      Now the sun’s gone to hell and
      The moon’s riding high
      Let me bid you farewell
      Every man has to die
      But it’s written in the starlight
      And every line in your palm
      We are fools to make war
      On our brothers in arms

  • fwl

    GT topic theme. Incidentally aren’t Wales the greatest footie team of all time although in the interests of intellectual honesty I should add that the Belgians have some talented individuals. Oh how the empires are falling.

  • nevermiond

    Jubilations all round, Wales showed what can be done if you can weld footballers together to play as a team. Anon1 must be as jubilant as many of the melodious welsh supporters who know how to behave themselves abroad. They pummelled the Belgians from the moment they equalised.

    Looking forward to tonight’s game, may the better win.

    • michael norton

      “Stay calm and collected” – Queen tells Scottish parliament post Brexit


      Addressing the opening of the fifth session of Scotland’s parliament, the Queen said now was a time for “hope and optimism.”

      “One hallmark of leadership in such a fast-moving world is allowing sufficient room for quiet thinking and contemplation, which can enable deeper, cooler consideration of how challenges and opportunities can be best addressed.”

      The Queen’s first public comments since Britain voted to leave the European Union had been eagerly anticipated.

      • michael norton

        I wonder if she is thinking of the non-stop-yakking of Nicola Sturgeon on multiple Referenda?

  • glenn_uk

    “I remain strongly opposed to Brexit.”

    Indeed, and I fully respect your opinion, and considered it – I wish I had more opportunity to do so, had you campaigned on the issue, with the same enthusiasm as your campaigns over the Scottish referendum a couple of years ago.

    Nevertheless, the public has decided that they wish to leave.

    Are you going to support the stated position, the free choice of everyone entitled to vote (as upholding democracy would appear to dictate), or would you wish to thwart it, and slow down the process?

    It’s a genuine question – I remain ambivalent.

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