[OPE] A death of ideas in Britain?

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Mon Aug 10 2009 - 18:45:38 EDT

The death of ideas
Dominic Sandbrook

Published 06 August 2009

(...) A common explanation for the death of political ideas is that we live
in a post-ideological age, in which grand narratives have been discredited
and broken up, much like the heavy industry and public utilities of the 20th
century. But surely this is highly exaggerated. It is true that Marxism as a
practical economic blueprint lost what remained of its appeal with the fall
of the Soviet Union; in a globalised world, a return to state socialism
seems even less likely than Brown going down in history as one of the great
communicators. Yet even though academics and intellectuals may scoff at the
notion of grand ideological narratives, there is little evidence that the
general public has lost its appetite for big ideas. One reason for the
appeal of the British National Party, after all, is that it offers a simple
and compelling story that makes sense to working-class former Labour voters.
Moreover, there is no sign of religion dying out as a global force. And in
their different ways, the anti-globalisation and green movements reflect the
same hunger for ideological commitment and crusading mission - values that
have almost disappeared from the arena of electoral politics.


Surely this interpretation (you have to read the whole article) merits some
further comment? For one thing, the British educational establishment, like
elsewhere, has systematically discouraged sustained inquiry that might lead
to any serious grand narrative, by an individual or group, and even before
you get there, you might have your idea already skimmed and neutralised; the
grand narratives that exist, simply cannot be told anymore, only lived. Most
of what we get academically is a stick-and-paste postmodernist pastiche of
the latest fads, big theories are conceptualized with cavalier abstractions
by the truckload, but in the voluminous intellectual supermarket they are a
dime a dozen. It is quality we should be concerned with. It takes many
years of patient research to develop a grand social theory that will stand
the test of time, to pursue the social questions of the age to the end, but
who's going to fund that in these days of quick money, when people want to
see product, status and performance before they'll pay up? Besides, grand
narratives could be dangerous, they might grip the masses... What is
forgotten here also is that someone like Marx sacrificed health, happiness,
family and money to pursue a study which took him some twelve years, reading
all the political economy literature and more, to write a very large book
challenging the ruling ideas of the age - which he didn't even finish. Would
he have been able to write that in a university? Not bloody likely, he
couldn't even land a job nevermind a chair, and it's not likely now either.
Basically if you want to do something like that, you'd have to do it more or
less in secret and in privacy, but even that is difficult to accomplish,
even on a remote island, insofar as you still need to have recourse to
libraries etc. Well, maybe if you were very rich... You would basically have
to have most of in your head, and then just write it - it's conceivable, but
not very likely.


I'd like to tell my story,
said one of them so young and bold,
I'd like to tell my story,
before I turn into gold.
But no one really could hear him,
the night so dark and thick and green;
well I guess that these heroes must always live there
where you and I have only been.

- Leonard Cohen, "A bunch of lonesome heroes"

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