In campaigning for Britain’s 2016 European Union membership referendum, Michael Gove claimed that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’.
Gove’s assertion heralds the existence of an alarming trend in British political culture. Though hardly new, rising levels of anti-intellectualism signal the proliferation of deep, anti-political sentiments.
The outcome of the referendum itself was further evidence of such sentiments: an ‘out’ vote driven by simmering anger against ‘big politics’, re-directed against institutions that most voters barely understood, by manipulative elites offering a compendium of impossible promises. Perhaps most worrying was the generalised scapegoating of immigrants as a threat to Britain by the ‘leave’ campaign, which played so undeniable a role in determining the referendum’s end result. A highly unspecific culture of fear manifested itself in the run-up to, and immediate aftermath of, the vote – via a substantial rise in hate crime. This development was disquieting because it reflected a bubbling hatred of ‘others’ – but also because of its direction against immigrants in general (not EU migrants in particular), and the public media’s undignified role in stoking it.
All these patterns – crystallised in Britain’s Brexit moment – reflect in potent ways the darker moments in Europe’s recent past. Anti-intellectualism, hatred of politics, imagined threats to the Self, and the machinations of nefarious elites: these are the hallmarks of a social climate that leads inexorably into the political abyss.
Such times present an opportunity, however – just as much as they do a menace. An opportunity, that is, to critique idées reçues about the world around us: using widespread disenchantment with the existing political settlement to re-shape our discursive environment.
The essays and commentaries offered by this blog are written as a response to that opportunity. Above all, they refute the notion that expert views ought to be disqualified for the very fact that they are expert. As such, they attempt to provide informed and critical perspectives on a range of issues. Informed, as the author limits themselves to subjects about which they feel qualified to comment. Critical, because they reject the systematic re-articulation of unchallenged tropes by mainstream media.