‘In what turned out to be the last year of his life, Roger Scruton often mulled on the nature and techniques of twenty-first century denunciation. For Roger, like others who had seen totalitarian societies up close, knew what intimidation and officially-imposed forms of thinking were actually like.
Which is not to say, of course, that modern Britain or America are totalitarian societies. Only that we have people among us who act with precisely the same techniques as those did in totalitarian societies. In modern Britain, as in communist Czechoslovakia and elsewhere, the habits are the same. A member of a profession comes into their workplace in the morning to find a letter of denunciation signed by all their colleagues. An organ of official opinion castigates someone for having fraternised with the wrong elements. Almost all of this is done by people who think they are doing good. As it happens I have spent the first part of the year reading Vasily Grossman, and this last notion has been particularly striking of late. Bad things are rarely done by people who think they are doing bad things. They are almost everywhere done by people who imagine that they are acting for the common good.
Which brings me to Laurence Fox, or rather the response to Laurence Fox in recent days.
The actor appeared on Question Time last week. And for social media – and some denizens of the real world – it was as though the space-time continuum had ripped. As it happens, actors are quite often asked onto Question Time, where they sprinkle star-dust and disappointment in equal measure. The disappointment comes from the fact that when actors speak in public with words that have not been written for them, they tend to demonstrate a number of mental deficiencies. One is their holding to the core fallacy, that some politicians such as Jess Phillips also tend to display, which is a belief that the problems of the world would be largely solved if other people were more like them. This belief extends to the idea that if only there were more ‘empathy’, ‘sympathy’ and general niceness in the world then questions like how to curb China’s exploitation in Africa would solve themselves.
Last week Laurence Fox did something unusual. He did not play the game that – cynically or sincerely – most actors and actresses play. He appeared, on live television, and appeared to think for himself.
Naturally he was offered precisely the same traps as every other public figure is now offered in lieu of discussion. Lady (Shami) Chakrabarti, to Fox’s right, tried to play the game of ‘Let’s pretend that all men are misogynists unless they prostrate themselves to prove otherwise.’ On this occasion she tried this by pretending that Fox’s casual suggestion that Keir Starmer might be best placed to lead the Labour party was in some way anti-women. Fox dealt with this typically underhand little Chakrabarti-ism in a rather deft way, as well as politely.’