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What Neema Parvini thinks and what Neema Parvini does

Instapundit’s Charles Glasser calls this Quillette article “nail on the head stuff”, which it is. It’s very good. But, you know: very good in a way I am now fairly used to. If, like me, you are one of the many and extremely varied persons whom the left calls “extreme right”, and if you have been reading both inside and beyond your various internet bubbles for quite a few years now, this article will probably tell you little that you don’t already know.

Sample quote:

One side effect of dealing with political opponents in this manner is that the left has become increasingly accepting of straw man fallacies created out of their own righteous bigotry and refusal to respectfully address counterpoints. They have no concept of Jonah Goldberg’s philosophical world of Burkeans, Straussians, Hayekians and so on, because many of these people are so ignorant that they genuinely believe that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher sit closely on a political continuum with Adolf Hitler. Hence, here in the UK, Labour activists burned effigies of Thatcher when she died and also draped a sign saying “HANG THE TORIES” over a bridge in Manchester, without any of their moralistic cheerleaders batting an eyelid. The left generally revels in its own distasteful behaviour not only without critique but also as still further confirmation of their righteousness. When you see your enemies as pure evil as opposed to trying to understand the merit of their ideas, bigotry becomes inevitable.

My main doubt about this piece is that its author, Neema Parvini, maybe attributes to “the left” rather too much of the same ignorant unanimity of thought that he accuses “the left” of attributing to “the right”. I agree that “the left” is more unanimous than “the right”, but there are still distinctions to be made within “the left” which are worth acknowledging.

But, Parvini makes many good points, especially in the small spreadsheet he offers, where he describes leftist definition hopping with words and phrases like “outmoded”, “here to stay”, and (a particular unfavourite of mine) “progress”.

But now for the really interesting bit, the bit where I was both very surprised and where I learned something seriously new to me. It comes right at the bottom of the article:

Neema Parvini is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Surrey. He is the author of five books, the most recent being Shakespeare and New Historicism Theory (2017) and Shakespeare’s Moral Compass (forthcoming 2018). He also presents a popular podcast series called Shakespeare and Contemporary Theory.

And there was me thinking that the literature departments of all the Anglosphere’s universities are now just swamps of leftist unanimity and sub-Marxist, post-modernist obfuscation, with all seriously dissenting voices silenced. Not quite so, it would seem.

Neema Parvini is clearly a man worth attending to. Especially by me, because I have long been a Shakespeare fan.

19 comments to What Neema Parvini thinks and what Neema Parvini does

  • Paul Marks

    Good post.

  • Michael Jennings

    Neema Parvini is clearly a man worth attending to. Especially by me, because I have long been a Shakespeare fan.

    Indeed. At a party in my home late last year, one of my guests was an Anglo-Franco-Pakistani friend who didn’t know most of the other people in the room. Towards the end of the evening, I found him happily in the middle of a long and erudite conversation about Shakespeare with Brian. It was most charming.

  • Watchman

    Humanities departments in most places (i.e. not the University of Sussex) tend to favour variety of opinion over ideological conformity these days. It gets better research rankings (Marxist theory journals aren’t high impact and most high impact journals have little time for Marxist theory nowadays) and makes for more interesting debate.

    Also post-modernism need not be Marxist, regardless of its roots. I happily use it to attack the existence of class systems for a start, and if you want to focus on individual rather than collective experience then postmodernism is a useful bit of intellectual baggage. Anyway modern socialism (which is frankly a lot stupider than even the most pessimistic Frankfurt School member could have feared) relies on modernist thinking: we want this so we spend this money/make this law. Postmodernism allows you to explain why this doesn’t work (unintended consequences having apparently been enlisted into postmodern thinking at some point). It’s a rather vacuous set of theories, but like any tool it can be wielded by anyone who wants to pick it up.

  • Sam Duncan

    What stood out for me was that it’s the first time I’ve seen someone else say something, in more or less the same terms, that I’ve been banging on about for years:

    Indeed, one of the ironies of Ridley’s piece is that he is forced to use the term “right” for “opponent of the left,” but I am not convinced that the “right-wing” exists except as a weapon of ridicule for the left to wield; it is a smear-word, another linguistic kill shot, a way of dismissing any counterpoint without the burden of engaging with the substance of what is actually being said. The left exists as a unified utopian vision built on abstract ideals that are deemed so pure they must never be tested.

    As I’ve always said: The Left exists; the “right-wing“ is simply anyone who isn’t part of it, conveniently allowing it to, for example, portray every Republican president and every Conservative Prime Minister I can remember as the second coming of Hitler. Which, to anyone not of the Left, isn’t just incorrect; it’s completely barking mad.

    As for his definitions, I don’t think he’s hard enough on “social justice”, which is in fact the complete inversion of the principles of natural justice, but he’s spot-on about “public service“.

  • My main doubt about this piece is that its author, Neema Parvini, maybe attributes to “the left” rather too much of the same ignorant unanimity of thought that he accuses “the left” of attributing to “the right”. I agree that “the left” is more unanimous than “the right”, but there are still distinctions to be made within “the left” which are worth acknowledging.

    I know that it’s easy to assume that the other side is all alike, just like it’s easy to mistake things that are far from you as being close to eachother.

    That said, I think there is a subtle structural difference between the various philosophies/strategies/ideologies/etc. allied on the left and those allied on the right. They’re both too broad to simply call them a single coherent philosophy (“leftism”/”rightism”) and the various sub-philosophies have about as many contradictions between them on each side. However, if my observations are representative, the various philosophies on the right acknowledge the existence of the other philosophies as allies, although they usually insist that their personal philosophy is the “true” one. By contrast, the philosophies on the left refuse to acknowledge the contradictions for as long as possible, and when they can’t ignore them, they simply insist that the opposing philosophy is really on the right, no matter how long practitioners of said philosophy supported other leftist endeavors.

    I think lately the various philosophies on the right are starting to move to the leftist structure. I can’t say I’m a fan of the phenomenon, but I can’t say it hasn’t been an effective organization plan for the left, either.

  • lucklucky

    Language of the Media and the Left:

    Fidel Castro,Assad, Kadhafi* etc: Country Leader Pinochet, Franco, Salazar etc.: Country Dictator

    Leftist : Activist ; Non Leftist: Extremist

    Leftist: Passionate ; Non Leftist: Controversial

    Leftist: Democratic ; Non Leftist: Populist

    Leftist: Indignation ; Non Leftist: Rage

    Leftist: Investment ; Non Leftist: Spending

    Leftist: Protest ; Non Leftist: Gathering

    Leftist: Refugee ; Non Leftist : Dissident

    Leftist: Killed ; Non Leftist : Died

    Leftist: Consistent ; Non Leftist: Inflexible

    Leftist: Denounced ; Non Leftist: Exploited/incited

    It was amazing seeing how suddenly Kadhafi turned from Libyan Leader to Libyan Dictator in a couple of weeks in the Media.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Sam Duncan @ June 5, 2018 at 2:36 pm:
    but I am not convinced that the “right-wing” exists except as a weapon of ridicule for the left to wield…

    William F. Buckley thought it did. His newspaper column (which ran for about forty years) was called “On The Right”.

  • Alton Benes

    ‘Left-wing’ and ‘Right-wing’ have until lately been useful terms to define degrees of appetite for tax-rises or -reductions, or for increased or decreased levels of government spending, and if we’re careful with our words we won’t cast them casually about to stand for ‘all that stuff I hate’. Making fine distinctions between factions at the extreme high-tax / high-spend end of the spectrum is a sport that repays considerable energetic practice for affiliate and opponent alike, of course, and the United Kingdom is currently enjoying something of a renaissance in this noble pastime that may in time rival the glories of the 1930s. Let’s hope without the finale.

    Regrettably, however, ‘Right-wing’ is now used very seldom in the non-emotional manner many have found previously useful. When the higher-tax- / higher-spend-inclined conflate Adolf ‘Small Government’ Hitler, Donald ‘Free Trade’ Trump, and Tony ‘No Bank Too Big to Fail’ Blair under the same ‘Right-wing’ header, you notice their refusal to admit the existence of a viable economic alternative to throwing more public money at the NHS / failing banks / supra-national quasi-governmental institutions / commuters whose home-to-workplace transportation-choices have proved excessively optimistic.

    The Right/Left distinction was explained to me quite objectively when I was aged 10, by someone who was aged 12 and who, I believed, and still believe, had no axe to grind. But the process of Hitlerising people who define a government spending-cut as something which might have generally beneficial consequences may well however see an end to the distinction. The general non-use on most internet search-engines of the term ‘Left-wing extremist’, – for which ‘Hard-left activist’, as lucklucky suggests, serves as a much more savoury alternative – further illustrates the process. There can be no gradations of moral rectitude or degeneracy for some people – and the free political discourse from which we should all benefit suffers grievous harm as a result.

    (historians of this site may remember my last post, some 13 years ago, when I queried how a voter could lobby for a change in international law. My Nom de Blog remains just that.)

  • Sam Duncan

    Mr. Buckley was entitled to his opinion, Rich.

    But it’s the Left which has decided that “right-wing“ means both respectable anti-Leftists and also socialist heretics such as Nazis, rendering it meaningless, not me or Patel (whose words those actually are, by the way). I see no benefit in pretending that it’s anything other than a term of abuse. We only become smeared with guilt by association. As, indeed, Buckley frequently was.

  • James Strong

    Shakespeare: 37 (?) plays.

    A handful are great: Macbeth, King Lear, Othello. Some are good/very good: Hamlet (some think it’s great), The Tempest.

    What about the rest? The Winter’s Tale – dire, The Merchant of Venice – two deep veins of nastiness running through it.

    In polite ‘educated’ society we are supposed to say that Shakespeare was a great genius – I hold a different opinion.

    Good technical work in his sonnets.

  • Eric

    I don’t see how Romeo and Juliet doesn’t make the list of all-time greats written in English.

  • Mr Ed

    I find Shakespeare’s plays to be universally unwatchable. Perhaps it is the pompous affectation about them in which I was raised, perhaps it is the weird, unlistenable dialogue, the excruciatingly laboured discussions. Perhaps it is the subsidies that theatres keep getting.

    Generally, if there is a play, it is simplest to read it and let your mind create the characters’ voices, as with a book. Granted an actor can put on a character that one might not have imagined, but that’s like a Diesel glove at a garage, it has to fit all.

    Whereas, with opera, the music is not something that one can create in one’s head, barring exceptional talent, but hearing a recording one can still imagine the scenes properly.

    The whole notion of the study of literature as an academic subject strikes me as absurd, it’s just comment or a branch of archaeology.

  • Paul Marks

    You astonish me Watchman.

    I welcome your news that university humanities departments welcome a diversity of opinions.

    Please name some British universities (other than Buckingham) where academics who, for example, openly denounce Social Justice and/or Islam (the doctrine NOT particular Muslim individuals) are to be found. Would there be any university humanities departments in the United Kingdom who would (for example) extend an invitation to Dr David Wood to give a lecture, and answer questions, in relation to Islam (or would “diversity of opinion” actually fall to the “Diversity” agenda? are people allowed to be AGAINST “Diversity” and multiculturalism in society?). Or to extend an invitation for any person to give a lecture, and answer questions, denouncing Social Justice?

    I am NOT mocking you – I have been out of the university world for many years, these places may have changed for the better since my day.

    I remember the late F.A. Hayek being invited (many years go) to the University of York to give a lecture – and Hayek was a noted opponent of Social Justice (although he bizarrely praised John Rawls, the leading Social Justice thinker, even though Hayek did NOT read “A Theory of Justice” – the main work of the late John Rawls). And my late friend Antony Flew was a university professor.

    Antony Flew was a foe of Social Justice – i.e. the doctrine that justice is NOT to each their own, but is (rather) a certain “distribution” of income and wealth by the state in relation to what the state thinks is “fair”. As John Rawls put it “justice as fairness” – we must all have equal slices of the pie given to us by mother-state unless we can prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that “giving” us more of the “social product” will help the “least favoured” in the longer term.

    I suspect that someone with the opinions of Antony Flew would have a hard time getting a university position today – but I may be quite wrong, indeed it would be a good thing if I was wrong.

  • Paul Marks

    Professor Putnam of Harvard did extensive research on what is now called “Diversity” in society (not diversity of opinions – but rather “Diversity” of ethnic and cultural groups) – and found that increasing “Diversity” in an area led to a decline in trust in society, not just between individuals in difficult groups but also between individuals in the SAME group. In short that it led to people being “atomised” and tending to regard other people (even people in the same group as themselves) with fear and distrust – undermining voluntary community (Civil Society).

    Professor Putnam had made his name (at least in the public mind) by his work “Bowling Alone” – not just about the decline of Bowling Leagues in America, but the general decline of clubs and societies voluntarily engaged in cooperation with each other (i.e. the massive decline in “Social Capital”, for example mutual aid fraternal organisations – that America has seen in recent decades). Now he had found a possible contributing cause (most certainly NOT the only cause – but a contributing cause) of this decline in Civil Society, this decline of “Social Capital” – the rise of “Diversity”.

    So far, so good – an academic (of impeccably left-liberal credentials) doing research and coming up with conclusions. However, then Professor Putnam sat on his own findings for YEARS – only publishing them after repeated calls to do so, and even then only with an introduction which said (essentially) that people should ignore his own research findings, and follow the policy of mass immigration and “Diversity” anyway.

    This does not indicate a great tolerance for diversity of opinion – not when such a diversity of opinion includes dissent from the idea that “Diversity” in a city or town is a good thing. But, perhaps British academia (and the British establishment generally) is more tolerant of facts and opinions it does not like, than the American establishment is.

    However, there is (for example) a distinct lack of television output in Britain OPPOSING “Diversity” in British towns and cities. It is easy to find television output supporting “Diversity” – much harder finding television output giving the opposite point of view.

    It is difficult to have a conversation when only one side of a debate is allowed – the other side being punished. Hat tip to the late Mr John Stuart Mill for this point.

    For the record – my own view is that rise of the Welfare State (not just at the Federal level – but at State and local level to) is a more important cause of the decline of voluntary cooperation (the decline of mutual aid – the decline of social capital) in the United States than the rise of “Diversity” is. However, I suspect that Professor Putnam (or a British academic) would be even more outraged by someone (such as myself) questioning the consequences (not the good intentions – the CONSEQUENCES) of “Social Reform” than they would be at someone questioning the consequences of increasing “Diversity” in towns and cities.

    The very idea that “Social Reform” (i.e. the replacement of Civil Society by government spending and regulations – progressively over time) might be a BAD THING would (I suspect) get the entire establishment (including Professor Putnam) to blow a fuse.

  • NickM

    Not long since I saw a thing on the BBC about the Grenfell fire. There was a guy (utterly unchallenged) who made the point that the council or government or whatever ought to have helped the survivors rather than their neighbours who rallied round having to help.

  • Mr Ed (June 6, 2018 at 8:24 am), except as regards “Perhaps it is the subsidies that theatres keep getting.”, where I sympathise with your point, I’ll just note – chacun a son gout – that I’ve watched a lot of Shakespeare in my time and enjoyed much of it.

    For Shakespeare (and the King James Bible) as for e.g. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, a lot depends on being able to get the dialect – to follow it as naturally as it was at the time it was written. In that respect, acting can outperform reading for many people.

  • Paul Marks (June 6, 2018 at 9:31 am), Hayek was the the antithesis of lefties in his manner as well as his theory. When lefties swore he was Hitler, he would respond by praising their good intentions and idealism, before going on to explain courteously that the effects of their aimed-at-heaven approach would take them hell-wards.

    – His ‘praising’ of Rawls (which I have not read, so am guessing here) may only be in that sense.

    – He may also have noticed that Rawls provides lefties with a first step away from strict communist equality. With aching reluctance and many absurdities, Rawls ‘difference principle’ does say that lefties’ egalitarian goals might sometimes be attainable by enduring a departure from the very strictest egalitarian commandments. It would be like Hayek to praise this as a step forwards – like babies whose first fumbling steps should be encouraged in the hope they will learn to walk one day.

    As regards Rawls Theory of Justice (which would be more accurately titled A Theory of Social Justice, since that is very precisely what it is), Hayek said (long before it was written IIRC) that the concept of ‘social justice’

    belongs not to the category of error but to the category of nonsense

    He could probably have predicted what was in that work of Rawls without the necessity of reading it.

  • James Strong

    ‘justice as fairness’

    But what is ‘fairness’? What does that mean?

    Does anyone think it ‘fair’ that a supermarket shelf-stacker should have the same as an air-traffic controller?

    Economic equality is both impossible and undesirable.

    The only equality, or ‘fairness’ that matters is equality before the law.

    Neither the UK nor the USA has that.
    Over here Tommy Robinson is in jail; over there Hillary Clinton isn’t.

  • Paul Marks

    Niall – Hayek praises Rawls in “Law, Legislation and Liberty” (volume 2 – but I can not remember the page number, it will be in the index if you have a copy). But in the very next paragraph (which the “Bleeding Hearts” ignore) he admits he has never read “A Theory of Justice”.

    Nick – yes, it is awful. People really do not think they have any PERSONAL moral obligations to anyone – the state is “all in all” (to cite Edmund Burke and his son about the French Revolutionary state). But we must not blame people for such an attitude – it is the attitude they are TAUGHT to have. “Social Reform” means the state is responsible for more and more – till it ends up responsible for everything.

    And we (Alt Right please note) certainly can not blame the decline of moral capital (of voluntary association and mutual aid) in a society such as West Virginia on “Diversity”. West Virginia is the WASP place it has always been (although “Anglo Saxon” is a bit wrong – the people are Celts, Protestant Scots-Irish, wonderful in many ways they have fought every American War and in the Civil War they provided the best fighters on BOTH sides), but the society is clearly in terrible decline and has been for many years. How can dark skinned people be to blame where there are hardly any dark skinned people? It is the rise of GOVERNMENT that has undermined Civil Society – including Social Capital.