4 DECEMBER 1982, Page 4

Political commentary

Beer and pop

Colin Welch

T promised to dig out some worthwhile I stuff for you from Professor S. H. Beer's Britain Against Itself (Faber, £9.50). I'll try, but it's not an easy task. It is a political book, yes, but, like politics itself, not only about politics. In the index 'romanticism' and 'the romantic revolt' get 16 lines; Parliament gets only 10. Moreover, the book is rather like the overflowing dustbin outside some well-off, well-living but wasteful and not over-sophisticated household. In it the experienced 'totter', impoverished gourmet or ravenous tomcat will find all mixed up good things and bad, fresh and stale, very simple and sound in- gredients smothered with thick sauces of theory, pedantry and unnecessary citations (of authorities mostly American, pro- gressive and polysyllabic) or eked out with breadcrumbs of superfluous repetition.

In this chaotic lucky dip Mr Enoch Powell, as a mordant review in the Sunday Telegraph made clear, found nothing of value at all. He was plainly not only 'startl- ed' but vexed to find himself, a 'High Tory' as he supposes, accused by Professor Beer of combining 'neoliberalism' with 'populism', with demagogy and ideology thrown in.

One of Professor Beer's more elaborate confections is the concept of 'pluralistic stagnation'. Of this he is inordinately proud. Mr Powell dismisses it as 'a boring academic formulation' and later as 'bunkum'. What Professor Beer means by it is three self-defeating 'scrambles', for pay, benefits and subsidies, which have combined in his view to produce stagnation in Britain. He regards his 'scrambles' as the causes rather than the effects of inflation, which surely is bunkum. In this delusion he is like G. K. Chesterton who, as a child, thought that mighty winds were engendered by the frantic agitation of the trees. Abhor- ring the wind, Professor Beer proposes that upon the unruly trees we clamp great strait- jackets of collectivist and corporatist con- trols. And he appoints as his agents for this vain and futile exercise the Social Democrats, the answer in his view to this and many another prayer. The fact that Mrs Thatcher has actually contrived to abate the wind came too late for him, and would anyway have been unwelcome: he regards her record as 'dire' and 'dismal'.

The Social Democrats are also for him the appointed beneficiaries and represen- tatives of what he calls 'the romantic revolt' of the late Sixties, and of its fruit, that `new populism' which waffles on about cultural values, 'the quality of life', participation and decentralisation. Of this revolt and populism he gives an account so thorough and disturbing (Mr Powell unfortunately pays no attention to it) as to render his own calm conclusions absurdly complacent.

He justly characterises romanticism as looking for guidance in conduct to the heart not the head, to emotion not reason, to spontaneity not calculation, to nature not civilisation, to unrestrained subjectivity. (He lists Goethe as a romantic, incidentally, who said that classicism was health, roman- ticism disease!) He cites the clamour of the New Left for cultural, social (sic) and humanist socialism, for workers' control, for 'rallying points of disturbance and discontent' in the community, for 'direct action'. He notes the 'massive rejection' by British teenagers of existing government, their fundamental questioning of 'the usefulness and benevolence of any govern- ment'. He quotes Raymond Aron on the student revolt, 'an explosion of radical uto- pianism', 'an essentially romantic criticism of modern society', opposing money wor- ship, specialisation, the inhumanity of interpersonal relationships and alienation. He rightly takes quite seriously young fanatics who are to Mr Hattersley just inno- cent dupes who have been seduced and tricked. He observes the effect of the romantic revolt not only on politics but on every aspect of personal and social behaviour — on 'sex, music, clothing, mar- riage, the family, work, sport, education, religion, race relations', constituting 'a far- reaching assault' by the counter-culture on all established values.

The spectacle of Professor Beer earnestly slumming in the world of pop and rock has its comic aspects, like running across Woodrow Wilson or Emerson at Tramp. But he ploughs gamely on. He cites the Frankfurt Marxist Habermas's praise of pop art as 'creating images of a dehumanis- ed world' and thus producing 'a salutary ef- fect', serving 'the radical purpose of debureaucraticising the power structure' and 'opening up new concrete (sic) poten- tialities for human freedom' (sic too). The New Left found in 'rock 'n' roll ... a real revolution'. Professor Beer distinguishes two so',150.4 pop revolt — one 'Edenic and utoPiall jecting materialism and power-seeking aBsesaatal ts,) ,0 tah tehoe t vhae Ira 'eas of i off rac ew and e dcei ‘v, issatatttietito marked by 'the most striking expressi°,sile hatred of the Affluent Society that has `ty appeared' (the Rolling Stones). In une' 'y other or both we find, according t°Fle, m. usic professor Wilfrid Metiers, 'the gs .. perhaps the conscience of a gea tri `te. tion expressed', in music which is nat tainment or 'an embellishment °f which one can take or leave. It is rather way of life', 'music of necessity', ak,i that /100 soamtethoin'. of , gprimitive peoples; it I would add that, so far as I kali °Or find rarely in it any understanding I(, patience or respect or gratitude or lo%te 80). what our civilisation has achieved; ilarritiit. sense of order, of fruitful work or 'Idif What we do find is what Nietzsche

Wagner, Wilf

'the three great stimulants°.; exhausted — brutality, artifice and dig nocence, or idiocy'; what Goethe all music, 'the brandy of the damned 'd ill what the great Mrs Mandelstarn f°a" tsis the pre-revolutionary Russian intelligee°4 say, it ict will end int'alicteenactse:. As nannY 95 ay, boot: One thing Professor Beer is clear a iv the romantic revolt isn't over, sPeat;has quotes one Roszak: 'The counterculta0 become less visible over the past decade fito Seventies) only because it has dissolved its surrounding social medium.' MallYpajit): aims are already our everydaY cohabitation, abortion, hom0sex15,


pornography, protests blocking pe;o1 squatters — one could go on ad naus':, ot The new populism is a new orthod0x)00, dissent. Its devotees have alreadYcrir smtietanctteodats, which hmatrcehyup through our to striveloi will devastate and pervert as they proceed. ',iv are at the gates of Parliament: indeed, the Kronstadt sailors, some are aireat'ion side. They constitute a barbarian inv`:,•00, from below to above, a vertical inva'spo our ownhome-grown Goths, H°5har Can the Social Democrats provide a prO, PY and rewarding home for them,as :ide. fessor Beer, looking on the bright from time to time implies? I guess her-11;er as well put up Caliban or the Y011sevill Verkhovensky for the Reform Club 'a00

, v

all defects of upbringing and Pre' reiati I '

p Mr Hattersley's kiss break the

sell them, revealing the good solid s:119Or I Labourites he thinks hidden

doubt that too.

A E. 'In the lost childhood of Judas', r'1051 wrote, 'Jesus was betrayed'. So in th,fie 00). childhood of these young peOPle things will be betrayed, unless thereq: fot change of heart. Impossible? Not at a' oire spiritual forces can notorious dilec ly ovrcte They could justify Professor Beers bt. , optimism. Meanwhile, we are in 12i..s....c.„.„--/le