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Buckley and the brain

“What a polite, well-educated young man.” Yes—and what a total phoney. The above video is an extract from a studio discussion, circa 1970, on the William F. Buckley show—Buckley is on tour in England, his guests are Kingsley Amis and John Braine; and, in line with the show’s structure, there is also a “junior panel”—in this case of young British intellectuals, aspirant writers of Observer editorials, who are all on the left except for this schoolboy (genuine Tory boy archetype). If you watch the full episode, you will realise that nothing ever changes. Amis and Braine complain that there is an implicit leftist conspiracy to exclude right-wing views from the media—especially from the BBC; and that the intellectual class is out of touch with ordinary British people. Further, you can predict everything the left says because, notes Braine, they are “zombies” who voice the same opinion—whereas between himself, Amis, and, outside the studio, Enoch Powell there are considerable differences.

So, in a sense, nothing ever changes: “You’re being paranoid.” “We are not, it’s not like you all get together to decide it in a club, you just have implicit taboos to police…” “Yeah, yeah—typical right-wing schizo paranoia. The Observer is very right-wing.” “Right-wing, it is not. If that’s what you call right-wing than God know what you think is left-wing...” On the other hand, while the debate is identical, the country has deteriorated significantly in the interim; and this is salient to the above nerd, because what people say and what they do are two different things.

If you watch the young man above, you would probably think: “He’s on the right—he says right-wing things. You could say he’s very right-wing.” Yet there is only one right-wing person in the whole discussion, John Braine. The young man above is on the left. Why? Because all the things he says, no matter how “right-on” right-wing, are just ideas he has culled from right-wing books and magazines and overheard conversations to sound like a “right-wing person”. Not one thing he says comes from his own experiences or even his own thought processes; and it is all done for effect, for narcissism—you can tell because he glances at the camera quite often, he is very conscious as to how he comes off. Yes, he is ugly; yet you can be an ugly narcissist, in this case his narcissism is about how his intellectual opinions come off; and he is also after approval from Braine, Amis, and Buckley—the powerful men in the room, so he parrots opinions he thinks they will like; probably as he perfectly parroted his teachers at school.

He wants to, as the economists say, counter-signal his left-wing peers; to be a contrarian, as we say in ordinary conversation. “I’m going to be one of those demonic notorious right-wing people, that will be what makes everyone notice me,he says to himself; just as his peers thought: “I’m going to contradict all the things my dad and The Telegraph say—I’m going to oppose hanging and support coloured immigration and say the permissive society is a good thing.” A game within a game; he is no more sincere than his left-wing contemporaries—he just said to himself, probably because he is ugly and not very daring, “If you’re all going to be good boys, I’m going to be the bad boy” (in this case to be the “bad boy” is to be “the good boy”). “Boy” is the salient word.

You can tell he is not sincere because his voice rises to a shrill crescendo—actually begins to break, about seven years too late—on “discipline in the family” and “Church matters”. He almost seems to become hysterical. Yet, of course, it is all phoney—when people are really angry or upset about something they do not become hysterical so their voice breaks, they become quiet—people get quiet before a real fight breaks out; rather, the quavering voice is something that happens to bad actors and to genuinely hysterical women. Look at him, do you think he was someone who, growing up, needed to be belted by his father (as they said in them days)? No, he looks like someone who asked for lashings of extra homework—double algebra and spelling; he probably voluntarily punished himself for failure to complete his extra-curricular trombone lessons. So what does he know about “discipline in the family”? A sharp look from his mother was undoubtedly enough to correct him.

Similarly, I bet it was beyond anachronistic, even in 1970, even for a really conservative person, to say you were concerned about “Church matters”—he places this point at the end, when he reaches a crescendo, because he thinks an appeal to religion, to morality (being good), constitutes the most emotive point. “They don’t even care…about the Church.” “They don’t even care…about the holocaust.” “They don’t even care about…”

Yet he is undoubtedly as modern as anyone else, Christians, even the residual regular church-goers, are not going to wage a crusade against The Observer because it has unorthodox views on the Nicene Creed—that is not even in contention; and while the speaker undoubtedly goes to church, he probably does it in the spirit of it being what we have always done and “it has a positive moral influence” and, after all, there are no better ideas. The reality of “Church matters” was probably—and still is—about dealing with batty old ladies who bitch about each other in subtle ways connected to who does the flower-arranging to get the vicar’s attention. Only an abstracted intellectual could allow himself to be so unrealistic about such things—to think that England in 1970, let alone in 2022, would be convulsed with concern about “Church matters”. “What’s that, eh? When you wipe your arse with pages from the Bible?” <<Horrid man>>. This is why conservatives today, such as Laurence Fox, who throw up the cross opportunistically because they think it is a powerful symbol to hide behind are deluded. “But it’s a Christian country, ain’t it?” “Hm.”

If the speaker wanted to be genuinely emotive, as opposed to pretend emotive, he would have reached for the real issue: “Their objective is to kill you and rape your women.” Now, that is an emotive statement—and, if you look at much political rhetoric, that is what it all says in a prettily packaged way; and that is because that is what man is, at base, like—the “they” varies with circumstance, of course.

The only actual right-wing person in this debate is John Braine, a man who reminds me of my paternal grandfather—not so much in appearance or accent, although the glasses are similar, but in general demeanour; Braine was Northern, my grandfather an East Midlander. Braine is on the right, not just because he is a big-brained nibber, but because everything he says in the discussion comes from his personal experience or something he has thought through for himself; not from books or articles, or from watching his social group and doing the opposite to get attention. This is why you can tell that his positions are sincere; although, in his own spirit, I do not think he is right about everything he says—although when he is wrong it is him who is wrong, not someone else’s repeated opinion. The way you can tell everyone else is a phoney is from this interchange:

You notice that everyone—from Buckley to the boys to Amis—sucks in their breath and goes “shhh—oooo” [you can’t say that]. If they were for real, they would have heartily laughed when Braine said that, since they would have accepted it was true already (just rarely said)—perhaps they would have been silent, the other possible response to reality. However, as phoneys, when reality intrudes they go “oooo” awkward giggle [the thrill-shock-pain when social convention is broken, when someone is impolite]. They are half delighted and half repulsed; there is a bit of a scandal, but scandals can be fun. “Now, come on, John; you’re a nice educated man really—a novelist—you don’t really think such dreadful rude things.” You notice that Buckley, the ruling queen of American conservatism for many decades, reacts Cheshire-cat strongly to Braine’s remarks; and this is because he is the most narcissistic man there, after Amis, and is not on the right at all; he is all about appearances, about “being proper”—a real lady. Indeed, in this clip Braine is the man and everyone else is just a woman going “Ooohh, that brute—what a shocking beast”.

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