THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

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If I had a hammer


...I would be hammering The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and the BBC for bombarding me with nonsense about the late Pete Seeger's 'idealism'. Even his ideological chums over at the New Republic acknowledge he had been a Stalinist stooge.

He and his musical colleagues sang anti-war songs in 1939-41 because, in the Soviet Union, Stalin had decided that an alliance with the Nazis was a good idea; and the order to support Stalin had gone out to every Communist Party in the world; and Pete Seeger was, in those days, a good Communist. And so, he picked up his banjo and leaned into the microphone, and his vocal warblings and his banjo plunks were exactly what Stalin wanted to hear from Pete Seeger.

"In those days" Really?! In an interview in 1995 he said;

I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it.

Of course he backed off a little in his enthusiasm for Uncle Joe Stalin. Gosh darn it, he even wrote a song;

I'm singing about old Joe, cruel Joe
He ruled with an iron hand
He put an end to the dreams
Of so many in every land
He had a chance to make
A brand new start for the human race
Instead he set it back
Right in the same nasty place
I got the Big Joe Blues
(Keep your mouth shut or you will die fast)
I got the Big Joe Blues
(Do this job, no questions asked)
I got the Big Joe Blues . . .

That was in 2007 so Seeger may have been the last to notice that Stalin "ruled with an iron hand". I was living in Russia at the time and - trust me - the news had been out there for a while. He may also have underestimated his ex-idol's achievements. The world before Stalin may have been a "nasty place", but the world after was not "the same nasty place". The nastiness bar had been raised. Maybe, if you are inclined to see totalitarian power as a chance to make "a brand new start", it's best not to look to you for moral judgement?

Mark Steyn, before Seeger's death, commented drily on Seeger's propensity to be on the side of anyone at war with America at the time, but to recant later.

I can't wait for his anti-Osama album circa 2078

Mr Steyn also pointed me to the concise dismissial of Pete Seeger by James Lileks;

"'If I Had A Hammer'? Well, what's stopping you? Go to the hardware store; they're about a buck-ninety, tops."

That's rather Tom Lehrer's point in the video above, of course; "Ready. Aim. Sing".

I also found a highly-critical article by one of Seeger's fellow-leftists;

Who the hell was Pete? He came from a distinguished family of musicians and academics afflicted with self-conscious class-consciousness; his father, Charles Louis Seeger, although from an old Puritan patrician line, joined the radical Industrial Workers of the World in the 1930s, a form of ostentatiously slumming solidarity that predicted much about his son's future. Pete was a professional musician from a young age, Harvard dropout, assistant to folk archivist Alan Lomax, and dedicated political activist. He knew everything about folk music, except what it is.

No rebel then, our Pete. He was as in mindless a thrall to his parents' ideology as the most conventional Tory of the Shires.

The biggest smile I got from the Seeger tributes today was at the Leftist New York Times leaping to his defence by claiming that he had criticised Stalin “at least as early” as 1993. It rather reminded me of the moment a Russian colleague was asked by a client to whom he had complained of "Western exaggeration" about Stalin how many he thought he had killed. When he answered "no more than a couple of hundred thousand", the client paused meaningfully before saying "so that's OK then?"

Trust me, I know idealism when I see it - not least because I am old enough to be painfully self-aware. Idealism was far down the list of Pete Seeger's problems - some way below his lousy voice, poor musicianship and spoiled rich kid leftism. Tom Lehrer was, if anything, far too kind.

In which Tom almost becomes an anarchist

Colin Ward obituary | Society | The Guardian.

I love Guardian obituaries. Usually, they are fascinating accounts of the reassuringly wasted lives of leftist eccentrics. I derive great pleasure from noting the damage deceased Guardian-reading busybodies entirely failed to do in the course of their pointless lives of bickering and writing pamphlets read by no-one. This one caught my eye though, at first for the wrong reasons. I laughed at the idea of an anarchist working for the Town & Country Planning Association. When I read a little more about him, I realised the laugh was on me.

Apparently, famous anarchist Piotr Kropotkin (what was he doing in the Home Counties?) said of the empty and overgrown landscape of Surrey and Sussex after the Industrial Revolution; every direction I see abandoned cottages and orchards going to ruin, a whole population has disappeared...
In his book Cotters & Squatters, Colin Ward observed;
Precisely a century after this account was written, the fields were empty again. Fifty years of subsidies had made the owners of arable land millionaires through mechanised cultivation and, with a crisis of over-production; the European Community was rewarding them for growing no crops on part of their land. However, opportunities for the homeless poor were fewer than ever in history. The grown-up children of local families can’t get on the housing ladder.
His suggested solutions included community land where people could build their own homes;
...and they should be allowed to do it a bit at a time, starting in a simple way and improving the structure as they go along. The idea that a house should be completed in one go before you can get planning permission and a mortgage is ridiculous.

He was quite right of course. State-enforced housing standards are a 3D equivalent of the minimum wage; at the bottom of the social heap, they spare you the indignity of poor housing by first denying you housing (and then throwing you into "social" housing as a solution to your problem). How did such a good bloke make it past the Guardian's editors, even in death?

I could not agree more with his idea that politics is about "strengthening co-operative relations" (by providing legal frameworks for co-operation, not orders from above) though I am not sure if it could ever really be described as "supporting human ingenuity". In my experience politics only ever develops human ingenuity by functioning as a kind of gym. Some of the most ingenious entrepreneurs I have met developed their skills in the black markets of the former Eastern Bloc, for example. Colin Ward, however (as must have slipped the obituary editor's notice) is no Honecker nostalgist;

Can there be social organisation without authority, without government? The anarchists claim that there can be, and they also claim that it is desirable that there should be. They claim that [my emphasis] at the basis of our social problems is the principle of government. It is, after all, governments which prepare for war and wage war, even though you are obliged to fight in them and pay for them; the bombs you are worried about are not the bombs which cartoonists attribute to the anarchists, but the bombs which governments have perfected, at your expense. 

Allelujah, brother! Don't praise the lords!! Before this blog starts flying the black flag however, let's read a little further;

It is ... governments which make and enforce the laws which enable the 'haves' to retain control over social assets rather than share them with the 'have-nots'. It is, after all, the principle of authority which ensures that people will work for someone else for the greater part of their lives, not because they enjoy it or have any control over their work, but because they see it as their only means of livelihood.

Hmm. There it is. The "Property is theft" sign on the gate at Anarchism's boundaries. Not to mention the give-away use of the word "social" to mean "ours, not yours, though you earned it". Still he clearly raised some interesting questions;

Why do people consent to be governed? It isn't only fear: what have millions of people to fear from a small group of politicians? It is because they subscribe to the same values as their governors. Rulers and ruled alike believe in the principle of authority, of hierarchy, of power.

This is a good, if faintly depressing, answer to the question so often posed in the libertarian blogosphere; "Why do we put up with it?" The principle of authority is one we learned at our mother's and (if we were lucky) our father's knee. Ward's obituary led me to this more encouraging passage (by which Old Holborn is currently trying to live);

'The State’ said the German anarchist Gustav Landauer, ‘is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.

Whatever the overall merits of his ideas, Colin Ward lived outside the grim, grey Guardian norms of thought and for this he must be praised. RIP.

Speaking ill of the dead

The eulogies for the late Senator from Massachusetts are disgusting. It makes me sick to read the constant refrain of "the liberal lion." A lion is a noble, courageous beast. Kennedy was a beast, certainly, but neither noble nor courageous. That leftists and liberals admire this coward speaks volumes about them and their unjustified sense of righteousness.

Forget everything about him but this. He ran away from a drowning girl. He did not try to save her. He did not call for help. He ran away and hid until her body was discovered. I could list other faults (cheating on his Spanish exam at Harvard, his support for Irish terrorism, his promotion of the racism known euphemistically as "affirmative action") but beside this defining act, all else pales.

He was a coward. Let that be his epitaph. It is the only one he deserves. One of freedom's enemies is dead at last. He should have died, as his manhood died, on July 18, 1969 at Chappaquiddick.

Death does not dignify him. Nothing could.