Fludd by Hilary Mantel

This short novel is a comedy which has gained a larger readership because of the huge success of Wolf Hall. Hilary Mantel attended a Roman Catholic primary school and this formative experience may have influenced this work. The text has little respect for faith and its slightly cynical outlook mocks characters who are made absurd by the difficulties of observing religious practices in a changing world.

Mantel sometimes tries to show compassion to her creations, but her efforts to be amusing make this intention problematic. Arguably, there is a lack of awareness that secular cultured people also struggle to give their lives meaning, structure, and consistency. An air of superiority haunts the book.

There is nothing offensive in Fludd, but the sombre community does not really come alive. Atheism may be a logical philosophical position, but novels which seem to pour scorn on religious behaviour are not automatically compelling. The crudeness of the narrative is also irritating:

“…Tommy, I thought I could spot one a mile off, I’ve never seen such a bloody strange-looking tart in twenty years in the hotel trade.”

Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth? Edited by Andrew Simms and Joe Smith.

This eclectic collection of essays illuminates one of the difficulties that modern capitalism faces. The ecological dilemma is multifaceted and awkward because of its international character. Even being adequately aware of the crisis is problematic, as some of the essays unwittingly underline.

Interestingly, David Cameron MP contributed to this project. The former Conservative Prime Minister put pen to paper while Leader of the Opposition. Before the pressures of governing got to him, Cameron dabbled in a fuzzy type of green politics. Perhaps it was a way of detoxifying the Tory brand, but the politician used a fragment of the philosophy of Edmund Burke as a way of reconciling conservation and Conservatism.

Once in power, Cameron allowed Chancellor George Osborne to set much of the agenda. A perceived economic imperative caused Cameron to water down his concerns about environmental sustainability. His early rhetoric about General Well-Being was replaced by the less progressive mantra of a Long-Term Economic Plan. Further, there was an early clue to the later lack of commitment because he was highly sceptical of the role of the state. Few citizens can participate in international negotiations in relation to climate change so state action is pivotal. He wrote:

“That is why social responsibility will enhance people’s quality of life so much more than the Left’s approach of state control: enabling people to be ‘do-ers’ instead of ‘done-fors’ ; active citizens instead of passive recipients.”

How Do We Fix This Mess? by Robert Peston

This text is somewhat light on theory but it is useful reading for people who want to understand the credit crunch. It captures the complexity of modern banking and highlights the difficulty of trying to regulate the system. Further, it makes an important distinction between financial globalisation and other forms of globalisation.

Nonetheless, the reader may be disappointed if they want a broad understanding of modern capitalism. There is insufficient mention of the environment and this lacuna means that future prospects are not viewed with enough pessimism. In addition, those who took on loans from irresponsible financial institutions are not always discussed with adequate empathy. The imbalance in power between the two groups is sometimes neglected and those of us who were in neither category are partly ignored.

Another problem with the book is its inconsistent treatment of moral hazard. It is critical of the former governor of the Bank of England for his partial belief in the principle. However, when not attacking Sir Mervyn King, Robert Peston writes:

“But if taxpayers are at risk of picking up the tab when bank bosses mismanage their institutions, there is a question as to why they are paid on the same scale as successful entrepreneurs, who receive no protection from the state and who put their livelihoods on the line for their businesses.”

Will Chantal Mouffe be felt in Birkenhead?

Tonight there is going to be a rally for Jeremy Corbyn in Birkenhead Town Hall. Rebecca Long-Bailey MP will be one of the speakers. The Labour politician will be sticking up for socialism in the context of the leadership contest. It will be fascinating to observe the response of those in attendance.

However, it might appear that the whole populist tide is in retreat. Bernie Sanders disappointed some of his ardent supporters, while the demagogic Donald Trump has been discrediting populism and politics in general. The economic situation in Venezuela is grave. What can left populists do if populism on the left becomes unpopular?

The theorist Chantal Mouffe has played a major role in analysing politics. She has highlighted the need to bring the voices of ordinary people into the struggle. Antke Engel has written:

“Mouffe highlights the necessity to provide democratic channels for the expression of political conflicts; particularly, since, as Mouffe insists, there is passion in politics. While her liberal colleagues, who believe in deliberation or universal rational consensus, try to understand conflicts by looking at interests and values, Mouffe emphasizes the affective moment in politics. It is people’s desires and fantasies, which fuel identification and the formation of collective identities.”

The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism by Bernard Shaw

This lengthy Fabian analysis of politics retains the capacity to inform and entertain. The text is of interest in relation to the General Strike, the Labour Party, the Soviet Union, and fascism. However, short sections of the book do read like ranting and historical accuracy is sometimes sacrificed along the way.

It is in part the ambivalence which Shaw had to Marx which leads him into contradictory positions. His scepticism about portions of Marxist economics may have been justified, but his antipathy to Marx and Engels gets him into a futile argument with facts.

Theoretical debates can be selective with their facts. However, the assertions of Shaw stretch this principle beyond its breaking point. It can only be assumed that Shaw never appreciated The Condition of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels. If Shaw was properly acquainted with the text then he could never have alleged:

“Under Marx and Engels, Morris and Hyndman, Socialism was a middle-class movement caused by the revolt of educated and humane men and women against the injustice and cruelty of capitalism, and also (this was a very important factor with Morris) against its brutal disregard of beauty and the daily human happiness of doing fine work for its own sake. Now the strongest and noblest feelings of this kind were quite compatible with the most complete detachment from and ignorance of proletarian life and history in the class that worked for weekly wages.”

Aaron’s Rod by D.H. Lawrence

This strange psychological novel addresses some of the philosophical dilemmas which followed on from the First World War. The Russian Revolution had transformed the ideological landscape. While democracy seemed to offer an alternative to revolution, unequal and struggling societies meant that the stability of democratic systems was far from guaranteed. In this context, D.H. Lawrence stressed the importance of individualism and played with elitist ideas similar to those of Nietzsche.

Lawrence was a savage critic of alternative solutions to contemporary problems. Influenced by psychoanalysis, he showed no empathy to the aspirations of anarchists or socialists. As an artist, he was on an intense and contradictory quest. His pursuit of satisfaction was eccentric and couched in religious terms. Nonetheless, the poetry of his language cannot be denied.

However, the difficulty in understanding Lawrence is compounded by the gaps between him and his characters, between his life and his creations. It is possible to pity him if you take despairing fragments of text at face value:

“Never again absolute trust. It is a blasphemy against life, is absolute trust. Has a wild creature ever absolute trust? It minds itself. Sleeping or waking it is on its guard. And so must you be, or you’ll go under.”

Corbyn quotes a Liverpool Poet

If Jeremy Corbyn is feeling the pressure of his leadership contest, he is not showing his nerves. He made a confident speech to several thousand people on a damp night in Merseyside. Perhaps he complained about the biased media too much, but he hit his stride and delivered quite a powerful political statement. He showed his differences with his challenger, particularly focusing on housing and health.

Owen Smith has refused to back the NHS with the policies that will be necessary to stop its resources leaching out into the private sector. Further, his record as a lobbyist shows that he cannot be trusted to put the needs of patients first. In contrast, Corbyn is prepared to say what needs to be done.

Corbyn also showed his resilience through his bonhomie. He quoted Roger McGough with aplomb:

 

“Everyday,
I think about dying.
About disease, starvation,
violence, terrorism, war,
the end of the world.

It helps
keep my mind off things.”