We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

I am more and more coming to the conclusion that National Greatness Conservatism, like all quasi-fascist movements, is based on a weird romantic teenager’s fantasies about what it means to be a grown up. The fundamental moral decency of liberal individualism seems, to the unserious mind that thinks itself serious, completely insipid next to very exciting big boy ideas about shared struggle, sacrifice, duty, glory, virtue, and (most of all) power. And reading Aristotle in Greek.

Will Wilkinson

However I must disagree with Will elsewhere in his article. I see individualism as magnificently and floridly Art Deco.

23 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Talking of styles: from Wikinson’s article

    I sometimes think that liberal individualism is something like the intellectual and moral equivalent of the best modernist design — spare, elegant, functional

    I don’t know what “best” modernist design might be. Usually, modernist design is ugly, horrendously ugly, part of the 20th century cult of ugliness in all arts.
    Individualism is more 19th century than 20th. I’m with Perry on this.

  • renminbi

    What does SQOTD mean? It would be more stupid not to ask the question. Thanks

  • Ian B

    Modernist design is a very bad design. The modernist ethos claims to be functional and practical, e.g. in architecture buidlings are “machines” designed for function. But that’s collectivist newspeak- modernism is after all the “artistic” expression of the collectivist utopianism of the early 20th century. The buidlings are only practical and functional if you live the life precisely planned for you by the architect.

    Modernism and (town) planning are siblings born of centralist fantasies. If there’s a single foe individualists must slay, it’s that naive, dangerous ideology of the virtue of planning.

  • Ian B


    I meant to say “modernist design is a very bad analogy”…

  • That is why I like Art Deco… it is modernist in all the right ways, whimsical and aspirational in the face of po-faced less-is-more De Stijl/Mies van der Rohe crap.

  • veryretired

    I find the difference between modernism and art Deco is the latter’s elegance. Modernism has all the grace and style of its cousin, soviet realism.

    As an aside, Powerline has the transcript of a eulogy given for some fallen soldiers in Iraq by their commanding officer. It is as plain spoken an example of a warrior speaking to other warriors about their comrades as I have seen for quite some time.

    It is exactly what I was referring to, especially at the end, in the previous thread about whether or not we had the spirit to endure the current conflict.

    Sorry about the digression.

  • Nick M

    Just two things to throw into the fray…

    People seem to like the modernist look of Apple kit.

    And almost everyone seems to like Mondrian who hung with the De Stijl mob.

  • People seem to like the modernist look of Apple kit.

    I loath the sterile white pizza box screen look of the current iMacs visually

    However the late G4’s and early G5’s were very funky shapes rather than minimalist (sort of like a mutant backpack), as were the original gumdrop iMacs. I even like the ‘Cheese Grater’ metal Mac Pros.

  • Nick M

    With ya on the Mac Pros. I like the new iMac a lot but wasn’t into the original… Did you mean eMacs not iMacs? The translucent sided CRT ones? I quite liked the look of the “anglopoise with a bloated base” iMacs though.

    The only Mac I’d want (practically) though is a Pro and they’re unfortunately the only ones that are dramatically more expensive than a PC. By which I mean, a similarly specced, “lifestyle PC” is not much cheaper than an iMac and usually much clunkier. I would consider one in the living room but not as a work machine. Not expandable enough.

    I don’t like the looks of the MacBooks at all. Or the similiarly styled Sony Vaios. But then I have an aversion to a laptop without TrackPoint. I think only Lenovo (maybe some Toshs) have that now. Bugger.

  • Ian B

    The question of Mac vs. PC is an interesting one in this context because, IMV, it kind of encapsulates the statist vs. individualist worldview to some degree. This occurred to me some time ago when I found myself in another place getting into Mac/PC arguments and found myself analysing why, since obviously Macs are very good computers, and I wondered why I was so irritated by them, or rather by Mac zealots. I finally concluded that what was irritating me wasn’t the question of which system is “better” (which is entirely subjective anyway, these days), so much as I was seeing Macs as kind of authoritarian. Well, not the computers themselves, so much as the views of their promoters who I was disagreeing with.

    The Mac ethos does, to me, seem to me to be one of “we will design an optimal system and that is the best thing for you”, whereas a beige box PC is an eclectic mix of components chosen by the owner (obviously this argument doesn’t count for non nerds 🙂 What was, I think, bothering me, was the idea that a “World Of Macs” would be one with much reduced consumer choice, with decisions made by the wise technocrats at Apple; and that the particular Maccies I was arguing against very much liked that idea. You can see the same thing in the “web standards” argument, in which loyalists very much want the regulations of the technocrats at the w3c imposed upon the internets for our own good; not just standards but what you may use it for and how it operates.

    So in that sense modernist design in the Mac world is consistent. Like I mentioned earlier with buildings, a Mac is a machine that is optimal so long as you work the way the machine has been designed for you to work. Using our analogy, the PC is less optimal (oh noes, I installed this driver and now my PC is broked) but more of a “market” or individual choice system. Which I then concluded is the reason why Macs tend to appeal to people of an authoritarian “liberal” bent. It encapsulates their technocratic worldview. PC nerds tend to want to make more choices, and risk the bad consequences of doing so. So really the argument isn’t about “betterness”, it’s too conflicting worldviews which map onto the struggle in society at large.

  • Macs are for people who want to do work, PCs are for people who want to grapple with computers. I use a PC because I am a gamer, but the Mac is a vastly better OS in my view, it just does not suit my personal needs.

    I see it as similar to the issue of manual vs. automatic transmission on cars. If all you want to do is get places, automatic is surely the way to go. If you actually like driving and value that extra few percent of control at the cost of more hassle, get a stick shift. Personally I hate driving.

  • That is an interesting point, Ian, since the thing many non-nerds (like me) complain most about PCs is that it wouldn’t do what I (a consumer) want it to do – Windows knows what is best for you, and it will do it regardless of your wishes. Well, it is the same with Macs, only they presumably do it (i.e. what they want) better, for more money. I for one know that it is only a matter of time that I will warm up to Linux. As to exterior design, I really could not care less, as I have have been using laptops exclusively for years now, and they go back in the drawer anyway when not in use.

    As to Art Deco, as Perry has hinted, it is one of the many movements in modern art, so strictly speaking, cannot like Art Deco, and despise modern art at the same time, and has to be more specific as to which movement one despises. For example, what VR seems to be alluding to is constructivism, and if so, I am with him 100%. End of nit picking.


    The buildings are only practical and functional if you live the life precisely planned for you by the architect.

    This reminded me of how Frank Lloyd Wright used to get down to such details as the dress of the lady of the house, not to mention furniture, light fixtures etc. More to the point though, there is no other way, as far as I cant tell. No single architectural design can possibly satisfy every client. So in principle, there is nothing wrong with life lived “as planned by the architect”, as long as the planning has an actual client’s tastes and inclinations in mind, and, obviously, as long as the client is free to choose from different architects (which is far from being the case in the computer operating system market, of course).

  • Nick M

    Ian B,
    I too find Mac zealots annoying but then I generally can’t be doing with zealots of any stripes. Modern (post Intel) Mac kit is very good stuff but I prefer PCs because I’m a tinkerman… Fixing them is also my living so I don’t really have much choice. If I ever get round to shading into web-design or something full-time then… We shall see.

    Anyway, as to the authoritarianism of the system… Oh, behave. Vista treats it’s users with positively fascist distain and incompetence. I haven’t used a Mac for donkeys and I’d love to borrow one for a week, have a nose about and see what’s what.

    Anyway, this is well OT and I don’t want to precipitate an OS war here.

    My personal bette-noire with architecture is not so much modernism per se. It produced some fine stuff along with lots of dross. I suspect a lot of the concrete brutalist buildings in the UK are/were so shonky because they were done on the cheap but it’s the 80s-90s postmodernist “monster cottage” style that gets my goat especially. You know pointless gables and daft clock-towers on supermarkets. We’ve got better since. At least in the cities.

    Perry’s comments on Art Deco make me think of the jostle of competing skyscrapers in Manhatten compared to the grids of identi-blocks planned as housing by LeCorbusier.

  • renminbi

    NYC between 14th St. and Canal St. has greatest collection of buildings from the 19th C. anywhere and it was all unplanned except for the grid of streets. You have to see it to appreciate how good lack of zoning can be.

  • Ian B

    The old operating systems airline joke seems to be keeping up with the times… 🙂

  • Nick M

    That reminded me of this.

    BTW, it’s rather old.

  • Pat Knowles

    Commenting on your original quote and not the subsequent thread: without a capacity for struggle (shared if you’re lucky), sacrifice and power no one has any liberty of any sort. Without virtue we are animals. Without duty no laws or agreements would be enforced. In short without these things (whoever espouses them) there would be neither architecture nor computer systems nor copies of Aristotle for people to discus.

  • Otto

    Commenting on the quote rather than the thread, as a Brit, I hadn’t come across the term “National Greatness Conservatism” before. When I though about it, on this side of the Pond, our problem is with National Obliteration Progressivism and in “Blue Labour” with National Obliteration “Conservatism”. (George Orwell used the expression the “pansy left” to describe the antecedents of the National Obliteration types.

  • Jacob

    “National Greatness Conservatism”

    Wasn’t that called in Britain: “Empire building” once ?

  • without a capacity for struggle (shared if you’re lucky), sacrifice and power no one has any liberty of any sort.

    I agree. I just don’t want that imposed on me if all I want to do is hang out at the mall.

    Without virtue we are animals.

    But what does that have to do with anything? Actually Will would no doubt hold virtue up as the opposite of what constitutes ‘National Greatness Conservatism’.

    Without duty no laws or agreements would be enforced.

    That very much depends what you mean by ‘duty’.

    In short without these things (whoever espouses them) there would be neither architecture nor computer systems nor copies of Aristotle for people to discus.

    I think you need to make your semantics clear first before that can even be debated.

  • Pat Knowles

    Hangout in the mall all you like- if asked I would advise that done too much it will result in less liberty for you rather than more (and doubtless someone will create a fuss), but its your decision.
    Will apparently regards virtue as a “big boy”idea. presumably he doesn’t class himself as a little boy so he appears to say that its only for overgrown children. If moral excellence/goodness is only for children heaven help us- no adult will and no little boy can.
    Nonetheless in practical terms there are many different interpretations of virtue, and if soldiers, policemen and judges do not do their duty by the accepted laws, but instead do what they individually think right then there would effectively be no known law and any agreement could potentially be overturned if a judge felt personally that it was unfair.
    Whatever the rights and wrongs of “National Greatness Conservatism” (which is a new term to me) any belief system that belittles struggle,sacrifice,duty,virtue and power must remain either abstract or parasitical. Glory, like virtue can have many interpretations but if it is to mean anything it must not be an end in itself, but an incidental result of worthwhile actions

  • If moral excellence/goodness is only for children heaven help us- no adult will and no little boy can.

    You really don’t understand where he is coming from even a bit, I think. Now personally I take a very different position to Will (I am a hawk on foreign affairs unlike him) but but I think I know what he is trying to get at.

    I would hazard that moral excellence/goodness appeal greatly to Will (they certainly do to me), but when a Conservative says those thing, he is probably suggesting that moral goodness requires sacrifice and that serving the Nation (or Volk or whatever you want to call it) is actually moral, rather than a collectivist imposition.

    Personally my view is that people joining the military to defend their society is indeed admirable… but they should do it because they want to as a source of personal satisfaction, not obligation, and not because they have been told The Nation represents some higher order of moral value (in fact it represents no moral value at all and is at best an ‘affinity’).

    That is why I say there is nothing bad about saying no to all that and just going to the mall. That does not mean I think joining the Army and shooting Taliban is a bad thing, just that declining to do that is also not a bad thing (far from it, in fact).

    and if soldiers, policemen and judges do not do their duty by the accepted laws, but instead do what they individually think right then there would effectively be no known law

    Oh I beg to differ. The highest duty and hardest one to actually life, is to act according to your best moral theories. If you do not think you know better than the law, it makes sense to obey the law. But if you have reason to think you do know better, there is nothing moral about obeying an immoral law. True virtue in fact demands you do not. I really think German soldiers ordered to shoot civilians at Babi Yar should have not followed those nevertheless legal orders under German law. I think Saudi Judges should say “screw this” and not sentence raped women to be flogged regardless of what Sharia dictates. Do you disagree?

    Certainly Will, who I believe takes a very eudaimonic view of the whole purpose of life (but you’d really have to ask him) thinks joining the military and doing the bidding of a corrupt and foolish political class is madness. Thus when a conservative uses words like struggle, sacrifice, duty, virtue and power, and then offers them up as the things that define what life is all about, I think Will’s position is that simply ain’t true.

    As I said, Will and I take a rather different view on many things but I do find his eudaimonic approach quite interesting.

    But mostly the quote was chosen because its funny.