Tag: modern history

Hewitt, paedophilia and 1970s progressivism

The newspapers in Britain are full of something I mentioned as an aside in a post last year—the fact that 1970s consolidation of progressive power was the phase that included the dropping of legalised paedophilia as a progressive goal. The status of the Paedophile Information Exchange as an affiliate of the National Council of Civil Liberties was what I had in mind when I wrote that. It was never any secret.

The establishment line, coming from senior policiticans who shared platforms with paedophile campaigners forty years ago, is that their progressive movements were “infiltrated” by “evil” paedophiles, later driven out. Inasmuch as “infiltration” implies any degree of secrecy or misrepresentation at all, that is very obviously untrue. In the early 1970s, paedophilia was a progressive cause. Rock stars’ banging of underage groupies was seen as part of their general wildness and edginess. It might eventually end in tears, but the same goes for their other wild behaviour like dropping acid or driving sports cars at 100mph—sex with teenagers was seen as in the same moral category as these other excesses.

East Germany legalised homosexual sex in 1968, with an age of consent of 14. The NCCL, by campaigning a few years later for Britain to follow that example, was holding a perfectly respectable progressive position—and going even further. (NCCL supported reducing age of consent to 10 “in some circumstances”, which I think meant relationships between children).

The Guardian today quoted a letter from Patricia Hewitt, saying “Our proposal that the age of consent be reduced is based on the belief that neither the police nor the criminal courts should have the power to intervene in a consenting sexual activity between two young people.” That was the progressive position in 1976. There have been pictures of demonstrations against the PIE, but the placards brandished by the demonstrators carried the National Front logo—not a respectable organisation.

The question for historians to ask about the 1970s is not, “how could respectable people have supported paedophilia back then?”, rather, it is “how did they not succeed?” My original answer was that as the rebels became the establishment, they were forced to take some small measure of responsibility for keeping society together, and withdrew from a few of their most dangerous demands. That’s no more than a hypothesis really, since I have no particular evidence for it. The truth could possibly be even more interesting.

Update 16 March 2014
I just noticed on Wikipedia, that the Labour Party was proposing reducing the age of consent to 14 as late as 1998.

What Happened in the Sixties?

Point 5 of Nydwracu’s Priority Research Areas for Neoreaction is:
“What happened in the ‘60s?”
My guess would be: the death of conservatism. Except that that
probably happened in the 1950s, and the sixties were a delayed reaction
to the fact that progressivism no longer had any organised opposition.
The familiar neoreactionary story is that progressives have long had
the upper hand, certainly since the death of Queen Anne in England,
and from the very beginning in the American colonies. Modern leftism
is simply descended from the whigs.
However, though they were dominant throughout the period 1714 – 1960,
they were never entirely unchallenged. There were still Tories in
positions of influence who maintained a coherent traditionalist
political philosophy, and who (in the later period) accomodated with
the age of democracy without ever accepting its assumptions.
That political force was dying in England by 1945. It was routed and
destroyed by 1957. After two hundred years of advance by overcoming
conservative opposition, progressivism was left completely
unconstrained. Scattered discontents remained, but, without a living
conservative movement or philosophy to draw from, they were not able
to make arguments that would satisfy anyone.
Progressives responded by driving out potential rebels — first from
academia, always a centre of progressivism but soon owned by them
exclusively, and then from organised religion.
What we think of as “the sixties” was the gradual realisation by
progressives that they could get away with anything. Every door they
pushed on swung open, and there was a decade of exuberant pillage.
The end came as they gradually adapted to the fact that they were now
the establishment, and needed to produce some measure of moderation
from within. They started to address their contradictions among
themselves: many of today’s basic political and cultural assumptions
were decided somewhat arbitrarily in that 1970s settlement. (That, for
instance, is where paedophiles failed to make the cut as a protected
victim group). The recessions of the 1970s injected a note of realism
into economic policy, and the enfeebled Conservative Party reenergised
itelf, but basing its new opposing philosophy on classical liberalism
rather than conservatism.
It was hard for me to understand the process, because, being born
after the sixties, an actual conservative movement is something I have
never seen. It was on its last legs in the first half of the century,
but it really existed. This
biography of Anthony Eden
gives some clues as to what it looked like: patrician, honourable,
suspicious of America, and doomed. There were presumably others like
Eden, but today there are none.
This has obviously been a very anglocentric account. I would guess
that the story for France would be fairly similar, though I don’t
know, but that America was a bit different. The outcome seems to have
been much the same in all three.

Noah’s Castle

April 28, 2013


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I suspect my

of what a collapse of society looks like is heavily influenced by the
1970s TV series Noah’s
which I saw when I was a child.
As I recall, the plot was that this chap saw that things were all going
wrong, and moved out to the country and stocked his cellar up with
food. The point of the story was the moral dilemma of whether he would
keep his stores for his own whiny ungrateful kids or open them up to
the hungry mob at his gates.
The purported dilemma seemed almost as inane to me thirty-odd years
ago as it does today, but the image of the wild horde begging for the
tinned spam in the basement stuck with me.
That’s my excuse, anyway, because looking at the idea now, it’s not
all that convincing. Firstly, whether you feel like giving away your
hoard is a minor question compared to whether you can hang onto
it. Second, if it really did get to the stage where the existing food
distribution mechanisms broke down, or food became too expensive for
the masses, we would be looking at a minimum of hundreds of thousands
starving. Third, drastic changes in government would happen before
that, so reactionaries who waited for actual anarchy before acting as
I recommended recently would be leaving it too late.
So the question is, what are the stages of the collapse of the state?
At what point can a reactionary leader claim to be restoring order
rather than opposing order?
I plan to write a few posts looking at the likeliest possibilities,
but first there are a couple of other lines to rule out.
Simple state bankruptcy is not the answer. States can and do run out
of money, without losing control. As we have seen in Cyprus, the state
can simply confiscate what it needs taxation no longer suffices.
Running out of money could very well contribute to a failure of the
state, but in itself it does not constitute a failure.
A foreign invasion obviously is a failure, but that’s not a likely
scenario for Britain, so that can be ruled out.
My current theory is that democracy probably goes first. Once the
progressives have abandoned or bypassed democracy, even as a temporary
expedient, it becomes possible for reactionaries to claim that since
the rulers’ position is no longer justified democratically, there is
no reason for the people who caused the crisis to remain in power.
I will expand on this later.

Lady Thatcher

April 18, 2013


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I was on the street yesterday to see Baroness Thatcher’s funeral procession go by. She was only a politician, but respect is important, ritual is important, and getting in the way of the left imposing their own narrative is satisfying.
 As for her real legacy, it can be confusing. On one hand, many have pointed out that Thatcher’s achievement is that the controversial positions she introduced are now completely mainstream across the political spectrum. In terms of the broad political positions on the role of the state in the economy, Ed Miliband is to the right of Thatcher.
I read that, and nod sagely.
At the same time, a few others are pointing out that she never really made a difference. The state is bigger now than it was in 1979, and controls more of the economy. The leftist singularity grows closer. The social conservatism she occasionally made small efforts towards has been steamrollered over.
I read that, and nod sagely.
What were the achievements of Thatcher as Prime Minister? She broke the power of the Unions, replaced a largely state-run economy with free enterprise and competition, opened up international trade and reduced taxation.
It looks now as if all those things would have happened anyway. They happened across the world, enacted by right-wing parties and left-wing parties. The main cause was the decline of the economic importance of mass manufacturing. When the economy depended on factories, mines and the like, with armies of semi-skilled workers, the unions had substantial real power, and running the economy effectively consisted in large part in managing those armies of workers. The wartime economies morphed easily into command economies, all across Europe.
In the 1970s, automation gradually ate away at the “armies of workers” model. Economic success came less from better handling of a mass workforce and more from the innovations of the highly-skilled and from better management of capital. However, the political institutions did not reflect reality — the unions had real power, high top tax rates were an impediment to getting the best out of the most skilled, and tariffs were an obstacle to employing capital effectively. This state of affairs existed through the 1970s, causing the economic devastation that Thatcher is now credited with “saving” us from.
Across Europe, the cost overhang of the industry which was no longer productive but survived because of its political power became prohibitive, and resulted in a political conflict. Thatcher did not start the conflict; it had been going on for a decade under both Labour and Conservative governments. She won it, as Wilson, Heath and Callaghan had tried to do unsuccessfully. To the extent that she deserves credit for it, it is not for taking on the miners, steelworkers, etc., but for winning. But it is not clear that any of the alternative politicians that might have held the office of Prime Minister for the early eighties would necessarily have failed.
(In the USA, the greater efficiency of industry meant the erosion of manufacturing happened a bit later, and the much weaker political power of the manufacturing unions meant that happened much more gradually, rather than being a catastrophic event as it was in Britain.)
The need to develop new industries to replace the mass manufacturing required the deregulation and tax reform that happened in the 1980s. In the old economy, the expertise and capital to build industry could most easily be assembled by governments. For the new economy, they just couldn’t and governments had to compete to bring high-skilled people and capital to their territory.
So what look like the massive, enduring achievements of Thatcherism were really just the spirit of the times. There were other achievements though. Argentina might have been allowed to take over the Falklands with only a little fuss. While I think the defence of sovereignty was justified and right, I can’t honestly say it makes a big difference to me, now. The sale of council houses was a policy that need not have happened. I’m not sure whether that was a good thing or not — if the state is going to house the poor, it could be argued that owning and managing the housing is a more sensible approach than the current Housing Benefit mess, though there are arguments on both sides.
The centralisation of power away from the already quite weak local government bodies also seems to have been a global phenomenon. It was possibly an inevitable effect of the breakdown of the postwar consensus, under which it didn’t matter which party controlled a council because they all did the same thing anyway.
Finally, we have the end of the Cold War. The strong support for Reagan may have enabled him to push the USSR over the edge faster than otherwise, but I think it was doomed anyway.
 So the real enduring achievements of Thatcher are much smaller than generally supposed by supporters and enemies. Her undoubted strength of conviction may have caused the inevitable to have happened a couple of years sooner than would otherwise have been the case. This might have given Britain a better economic position relative to other countries, due to a head start. On the other hand, the conflicts that happened might have been less violent and destructive if they had been left a bit longer.
What is striking, particularly in comparison with the last ten years, is how competent the Thatcher government was. After all, if the things that governments do are more or less out of the control of particular politicians, all they actually control is whether the things are done well or badly, and, when set against Brown or Cameron, Thatcher and her government did a lot of new, difficult things with surprisingly few missteps.

Another turnaround

November 18, 2012


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Half Sigma linked to this piece by Eric Posner pointing out that what we think of as the “American” absolutist attitude to free speech is really only half a century old.

I bring it up not to comment on Posner’s argument about the desirability of censorship of hate speech, or Half Sigma’s warning about the likelihood of a liberal-majority supreme court outlawing swathes of HBD and other blogging, but simply, like the sexual habits of 1970s DJs, as an example of how quickly the commonplace can become unthinkable, and the unthinkable commonplace.

Jimmy Savile

There’s a lot of mystified chatter around these days along the lines of, “How did Jimmy Savile get away with it”. There are some fun theories (David Icke is on form there), but the truth is at once boringly prosaic and shocking.
In the 1960s and 70s, being into teenage girls wasn’t a big deal.
It wasn’t exactly respectable, but DJs weren’t respectable anyway. It wasn’t legal, but neither was drink-driving, and everybody in those days did that.
Being into teenage boys was a bit worse, but that’s because homosexuality was not well-regarded. Stories about choirmasters or scoutmasters or latin masters who were a bit too friendly with their charges were common jokes. Not shocking, “alternative” jokes, but boring, mother-in-law, Benny Hill, variety show jokes.
I think messing about with pre-pubescent girls or boys was another matter, but Hugo Rifkind’s story, from Savile’s autobiography, where he keeps a runaway remand school girl home overnight, was not the sort of thing someone with a reputation for being a bit rough and wild anyway would be shy of admitting.
This is another example of those changes in attitude that are so severe and sudden that the culture just blanks out that things were ever different, leaving odd inexplicable anomalies like Jimmy Savile, the friendly childrens’ entertainer and sex-case. 

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