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I wrote a piece on Marine Le Pen – sexy gauleiter of the French Far Right – on Monday morning that attracted a lot of comments. A lot of comments. They ran about 100-1 against what I wrote, which is to be expected. In case you haven’t read the original post, I’m anti-Le Pen. To me that’s as inoffensive as being anti-acid reflux, or the Massacre of Amritsar. But a lot of people seem to disagree.

Unlike some bloggers, I’m not against a spot of vitriol in the comments and I’m not worried about email abuse.  I’ve had it all: in fact I’ve been called everything from a Nazi homophobe to a boy-hungry communist – with paradoxical allusions to evangelical zealotry and unnatural relations with a tree. My hair (which entirely my own) is a frequent target of abuse, as is my age (I’m older than I look, which is the right way round to have it). I am often called “Timmy,” sometimes "Timbo." Might I suggest, as an alternative, a play on my middle name of Randolph? In the US “Randy” is a perfectly acceptable boy’s name, but in the UK it has sexual connotations (“Switch off the electric blanket, I'm feeling randy.”) If people are going to insult me, may it at least be Chaucerian.

None of this bothers me. But I am surprised that I should have to defend myself because I came out against a nationalist.  Let me clear something up for those who left negative comments: no one told me what to write. I do not receive orders from the politically correct lobby over a morning conference call with Jesse Jackson, the King of the Freemasons, and Israel’s press officer. Whatismore, I’m not a “liberal,” as was suggested by some people. In fact, of all the terms of abuse you could use against me, that’s the one I actually find offensive. To me, “liberalism” is the summation of everything wrong about the last two hundred years of history – all of the ineptitude of Marxism, the interference of petite-bourgeois conservatism, without any of the Romanticism of either. “Liberal” is interchangeable with “secularist,” “eco-friendly,” “politically correct,” and “Dr Who fan.” Please don’t use it again.

In fact, I sympathize with some of the policy positions that Marine Le Pen holds. Just because her philosophy is wrong doesn’t mean that she’s incapable of stealing a good idea or two from here or there. Protectionism? Yes, I could protect a few British enterprises that face unfair competition from China. Curbs on immigration? Yup, a country has the right to at least know who goes in and out. Death penalty? I hate it in the abstract, but recognize that it’s necessary to maintain some semblance of  law and order. In fact, my traditionalism probably convinces most liberals that I, too, am a nationalist authoritarian.

So why come off against Le Pen? Two reasons. First, her brand of communitarianism isn’t volunterist – it’s coercive. It accords with a strong state tradition in France that conflates the needs of the individual with the will of the nation. Hence, her economics is far to the Left and her social policies smack of authoritarianism. Her desire to tear the burqa off the heads of Muslim girls is a fine example of muscular liberalism turned into fascism, along with its disregard both for the ability of the individual to chose to wear the headscarf and for the strength of religious belief found beneath it. A truly Christian voter cannot endorse Le Pen’s statism because it rejects free will on every level - and a coerced faith is valueless. She is Robespierre in high heels.

The second problem I have with the Front National is the whole racism thing. I despise it. Sorry to get all holier-than-thou here, but racism is loathsome, contrary to ethical standards of human behavior, and a barrier to the kinds of relationships that keep our society and species ticking along. So long as we hate, we cannot love. And the highest commandment of God (and man) is to love. I do not privilege myself above Jews, African-Americans, Asians, or even the French. I don't even judge them by their character as the Americans are want to do: I regard them as fellow sinners and souls of equal value. I love them, insofar as my personality will allow.

I wrote this in the post: “The FNP’s underlying concern is not the preservation of secularism, feminism or La Revolution. It is that little white babies not be outnumbered by little brown babies. It is racism, vile and simple.” That sentence received a lot of outrage, with many people arguing that what I am describing here is not an attempt at racial preservation but cultural preservation - that I was wilfully misrepresenting Marine's politics as racism. As a cultural conservative, I take that challenge very seriously. And here is my answer.

Culture is not rooted in race. Some of us believe that it has a spark of divine will, but for the most part it is the product of environmental factors, intellect, tradition, trial-and-error, and change. Over time, culture matures like a fine wine to the point when it can be enjoyed by all. It is not limited by geography or race, which is why European Christian culture was able to spread across the globe, adapt, and survive. Very few faith-based cultures have accepted race as a determinant because it contradicts the universalism of faith and it places artificial boundaries out its message.

Hence, whenever you see a self-described nationalist (a term not necessarily racist), ask yourself what “culture” they are trying to preserve. If it is a system that can survive a little dilution of the blood – a culture that can be communicated through ritual or language – then you have someone genuinely trying to preserve a cultural tradition that they believe makes meaning of the lives of those who live it. If, however, a nationalist determines wellbeing by birthrates and closed borders, you have something else. You have biological determinism masquerading as social identity. I reject it, I hate it, I will have nothing to do with it. And Timbo will continue to condemn it so longs as the Telegraph employs him.

 
 
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John Carpenter is a man of diminishing talent. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he made some truly great movies: Assault on Precinct 13 (LA gangs make life Hell for a guy just trying to find a smoke), Halloween (chap in a William Shatner mask kills teenagers who largely have it coming), Escape from New York (eye-patched bandit rescues Donald Pleasance from Manhattan hospitality), and The Thing (big blop of goo does what we do every night and tries to take over the world). But by the late 1980s, Carpenter’s abilities were fading. Memoirs of an Invisible Man was so bad it starred Chevy Chase, and Ghosts of Mars made the cardinal error of telling you the end at the beginning (zombies take over Mars, but the good guys shoot their way out). The world waited with bated breath for his 2010 feature The Ward, which promised to be a return to form. Alas the story of a girl being chased by demons in a mental hospital was about as frightening as an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

What went wrong? It’s probably not a case of choosing bad scripts – Carpenter’s early efforts were just as silly as his later ones. Nor was there a shift in theme, because all of Carpenter’s movies are about a cool dude getting harassed by some bad asses (leading to tons of gore and violence).

What did alter from 1980 to 2000 was Carpenter’s once consistent and personalized style of production. He lost his small gang of loyal actors, along with their 80s haunted eyes and sexless bodies (for an example of which, see the scarily beautiful Meg Foster). For example, no one is going to claim that Kurt Russell is sexy or believable in anything. But in Escape From New York, he embodies the classic Carpenter antihero: someone who doesn’t want to do what they have to do, but does it anyway and entirely on their own terms. No one is good or evil in early Carpenter, just trying to survive. 

Carpenter’s amoral dynamics were completed by minimalist electronic music and the use of soft, dark light. These gave every scene the aura of dusk, the moment when bad stuff starts to happen. Dirty, grainy film combined with stylized acting and sound created an image that is, perversely, naturalistic. Because that’s what the West was like in the 1980s – a world trying to define itself between the pressures of 1950s conformity and postmodern liberation. Substance matched style. Hence, Halloween is set among the middle-classes in the middle of America (Illinois) in a neighborhood that has only every known peace and plenty. It is shattered by the faceless, mad terror of urban violence (killer Michael Myers) as he senselessly chops up the local teens. If Carpenter couldn’t replicate the complete vision of Halloween in the 21st century, then it’s because it’s a movie that could only be made and appreciated by an audience living in the late 20th. 

The same is not true of the film that might prove to be the most culturally significant one made by Carpenter (although it’s artistically inferior to much else). They Live (1988) is a dystopian romp which postulates that the world is controlled by aliens whose true identity is disguised by a powerful satellite signal. When our hero (yet another gritty guy just trying to do his thing) picks up a pair of magic sunglasses, he’s suddenly able to see the world as it really is. Adverts contain subliminal messages such as “Consume” and “Don’t Think.” Around one-in-ten people are exposed as alien monsters, all the more repulsive for the fact that they dress and behave much like humans. At one point a human is making love to her boyfriend when his true likeness is suddenly revealed in ugly Technocolor. The monster – unaware that he has been unmasked – innocently asks, “What’s the matter, baby?”

The movie has cult appeal for two reasons. One is its abominable script, which feels like it was written by a teenager trying to imitate Raymond Chandler. Hence: “Life's a bitch... and she's back in heat,” “The world needs a wakeup call, gentlemen. We're gonna phone it in,” and my personal favorite, “I ain't Daddy's little boy no more” (cue the pounding of a shotgun). Throw in the longest fight scene in history and you’ve got a good movie to get drunk by. My theory with the fight is that it started out scripted but then got real about five minutes in, and Carpenter kept the camera rolling. It turns nasty about the time that the white guy elbows the black guy in the groin, and the black guy cries out, “You dirty motherfucker!” Watched at two in the morning with a crate of Corona, it sounds like Shakespeare.

But the movie also touches upon a lot of late 1980s paranoia that’s still relevant today. The US economy started a post-Reagan dip towards the end of the decade that was most pronounced in manufacturing. Our meathead hero used to work in a steel mill but, like thousands of others, is driven into the cities in search of casual labor. As the Cold War ended, conspiracy theorists graduated from blaming everything on communists to blaming everything on the emergent New World Order. They Live was a little ahead of the curve – the movie makes no mention of international bankers, secret societies or the NWO. But the idea that both the government and the free market are controlled by an elite (whose orders are carried out by greedy quislings) feels very current. At one point the protagonist channels Ron Paul when he quotes, “The Golden Rule: He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

They Live doesn’t belong in the ghetto of conspiracy movies – as do Red Dawn or The Ninth Gate – partly because it’s so self-consciously funny that it defies being taken too seriously by the usual crowd of numerologists and alien abductees. But the movie also encompasses every partisan obsession, to the point that its politics are universally batty. On the one hand the subliminal messages tell everyone to consume (surely a Left-wing critique), and on the other hand the movie is concerned with both state power and the decline of the American middle-class (a Right-wing obsession). Everyone is ordered to conform, yet they are also told to put themselves first. The aliens simultaneously encourage monogamy and polyamory. The movie attacks the capitalist class in theme, but its style is redolent of the 1950s B-movies that warned of Reds under the bed. In short, The Live is open to a myriad of interpretations, which gives it a much longer shelf life than its production values really deserve.

Then again, maybe that speaks to the eternal desire to find answers to complex problems in diabolic plots. Sometimes life is so confusing and weird that the only way to order it is to imagine a conspiracy. The reason why They Live feels more contemporary than any other movie by John Carpenter is that it is the only one with a socio-political theme that extends beyond its years. It shifts the blame from humans to monsters; which is foolish, because the only real monsters in this world are human beings.

 
 
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This is a brief post to wish everyone a happy Easter. It’s been unusually sober and religious for me. I had hoped to stay with friends in South Carolina but work commitments kept me in Washington. Everyone I knew in DC was out of town, so it was just me and Netflix for most of the weekend. I ended up going to church every day, culminating in an Old Rite Mass on early Sunday morning (I got up at 7am!). Now I feel rested and happy. The ordinary Lent-ending binge – with its associated regret and paranoia – has been averted. This year I have walked the straight and narrow path without a single tipsy trip or turn. Heck, I might be a candidate for sainthood.

I love the fact that this year Passover coincided with Easter. I doubly love how the American media covered the events differently according to the religious profiles of the staff. In the Huffington Post, it was all about how Moses was a proto-trade unionist and the message of Passover is to stand firm against The Bankers. In the National Review, Passover was all about the importance of the alliance with Israel against the al-Qaeda hordes. On Fox News, one segment ran, “Today is Passover, the day that Jews were liberated from Egypt. Let’s talk to Father Patrick McCarthy about the importance of this to Christians.” 

I like living in a society where religion is comfortably and openly discussed. I’ve written many times before about growing up in a Baptist home in England and how that set me apart from my peers – I always felt perfectly comfortable talking about faith, whereas they saw it as a subject best reserved for Christmas holidays and the death bed. Outside of England there are two varieties of Christian country. One is where faith is externalized and cultural – somewhere like Italy, where there’s a church on every corner and the constant chime of bells. The other is where faith is internalized and part of a private discourse. That would be like America. Here in the USA, the Calvinist principle that salvation is to be achieved on one’s own terms predominates. But because the Americans are so terribly extroverted, something that should be a private monologue is invariably turned into a public conversation. Faith buzzes around one’s ears like radio waves – never materialized in physical form, but a constant fizz of chatter in the air.

Religion is the invisible architecture of America. Where Italy has Cathedrals and monasteries, America has television missions and mail-order Bibles. In Europe, Christian identity is a given because it’s physically actualized all around you. In America it has to be constantly verbally reaffirmed, precisely because you can’t touch it or see it. The unique genius of the American civil religion is its blending of medieval faith and Enlightenment reason. It is hammered out mid-air between interlocutors. The battleground is everywhere – and that mad fellow screaming Armageddon on the doorstep of Safeways is just another of our glorious foot soldiers. Do not shun him. Next week he could be the Republican Senator from Kentucky.

Happy Easter!

 
 
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I’ve spent Sunday on my knees, vomiting. I came down in the morning with what I misdiagnosed as flu but now suspect was food poisoning. Cue a good few hours on the bathroom floor, hacking the very essence out of me. Once you gain a rhythm, throwing up can become rather exhilarating – “pant, pant, heave, yak. Pant, pant, heave, yak.” Did I start to enjoy myself? Perhaps. I’ll let my neighbors be the judge, for I forgot to lower the sash on the bathroom window and my journey to the dark side was both audible and visible for miles around. Next door were having a barbecue on their balcony. They gamely got through their hot dogs, despite my wild sobbing and occasional cry for the sweet release of death.

The one good thing about illness is that you can’t do anything. It’s like an enforced holiday. So in-between barfs, I finished two good books, watched every episode ever made of The Thick of It, and even got around to throwing out the empty Pellegrino bottles that litter my floor. One other thing I did, which I now regret, is I went on The Guardian’s Comment Is Free website. For Americans who are unfamiliar with it, I always describe The Guardian as a Pravda for public sector workers. And it’s a damning indictment of everything wrong with the modern Left.

The Sunday “edition” of Comment Is Free offers the following articles:
1. A priest who simply refuses to wear a dog collar tells us that the super cool redevelopment of South London is unnecessary, because the beautiful deathtraps and plague hovels that the residents currently live in are just in need of a bit of “maintenance.”
2. A South Korean gentleman explains that his fellow countrymen are unhappy because they have to work for a living (I feel their pain).
3. A bizarre woman – with literally no facts to support her case – writes that grammar schools are on the increase and are some sort of threat to community cohesion because they help bright poor kids to get into university. [By the way, the total number of new grammar schools being built? One.]
4. A fellow who says that the police are at war with the communities they serve (in legal jargon: "arresting criminals").
5. And, because The Guardian is keen to break into the shrinking market of American liberals, a hit piece claiming that Rick Santorum burns crosses for fun.

The overarching message that everything is broken, everything is awful, and unless the government spends a lot more money soon, we’re all going to be going to Hell in a handcart. Every piece is leaden with melancholia. And they are least excited about the mean-spirited aspiration of the working poor. Don’t go to a grammar school because you would be betraying the people you grew up with. Don’t redevelop London because that will upset the integrity of the ghetto. Don’t study or work hard because, as the South Koreans will tell you, it just makes everyone sad. Because life is so much gayer in North Korea.

At the top of the page is an article asking what the Labour Party must do to win back the confidence of the British voter. Here's one answer, and it was at the heart of the hugely successful New Labour experiment: admire, embrace, and promote aspiration. 

The British Left is at war with the ambitious working and middle classes. They seem to regard them as traitors to the class struggle – selfish snitches because they want to raise and elevate their families on their own dime rather than the government buck. Day after day, this is the message of the Guardian. There is no solution to problems beyond the material largesse of the state. If the money dries up, then we’ll beg, borrow, or steal to keep it rolling on out. And if we must have poverty, then let us all be poor so that no one feels excluded.

But what is worst about The Guardian’s website is its predictability. You know what every article is going to say before you read it. And this isn’t just a facet of the Left’s intellectual authoritarianism, it’s a reflection of the Left’s obsession with endless political campaigning. Never thinking, or discussing, or simply creating good art – no, campaigning. Everything a good Left-wing writes is propaganda for the cause: another blow against the elitist Right. They all think they’re revolutionary journalist Camille Desmoulins (pictured above).

But the difference between Camille Desmoulins and Polly Toynbee is that Desmoulins had a genuine revolution to win. He was the spokesman for a happening movement that would change the world. In contrast, Comment Is Free is an archive to dying and dead thought. It writers are agitators for the past, guardians of mediocrity. No one would bother to guillotine the editor of The Guardian - that's why dear Desmoulins stands head and shoulders above him.