Rees-Mogg, Habakkuk and their values

Habakkuk & Jacob Rees-MoggBritain has been the laughing-stock of Europe for a couple of years, but I write this at a time when it seems in complete disarray, with government ministers campaigning like fury against each other.

The presenting issue is Brexit, but Brexit alone cannot explain the depth of hostilities. Most of the debate is about the practical questions – Irish border, tariffs, EU citizens. Behind the practicalities lie people’s underlying values, which are harder to explain or even notice. To illustrate this I compare an article by Andy Beckett about the Rees-Moggs with the ancient Hebrew prophet Habakkuk.

The article saddens me because of Hettie Tresidder. Hettie is no longer alive, but I owe her a lot. She lived in the same Somerset village where I spent my childhood. Her day job was a couple of villages away in Temple Cloud, where she was housekeeper to William Rees-Mogg. She supported me greatly during my childhood. No doubt she supported young Jacob too. I would hate to think she had any part in the things Beckett describes.

William was Editor of the Times back in the days of that memorable advertisement:

Top people take The Times. Do you?

Beckett describes William’s changing evaluations of future chaos. He wrote two books in the 1970s, forecasting social disorder and proposing old-fashioned remedies like reverting to the gold standard. His main concern, at that stage, was to restore order.

By 1987 things had changed. He co-authored a book entitled Blood in the Streets: Investment Profits in a World Gone Mad. The title echoes a quotation from Nathan Rothschild:

The best time to buy is when blood is running in the streets.

His 1997 book The Sovereign Individual, again co-authored, prophesied that digital technology would cause major changes. Society would become more competitive, unequal and unstable. It would become increasingly common to avoid taxes. Government would ‘gradually wither away’ and welfare states would ‘simply become unfinanceable’. In such a harsh world, only the most talented, self-reliant, technologically adept person – ‘the sovereign individual’ – would thrive.

If this is a fair account of William’s publications, the direction of travel is clear. His consistent theme was forecasting disorder. We might plot his changing proposals like this:

1) Old-fashioned ways to restore order. The perspective is that of a traditional aristocracy. Order meant retaining the advantages of the rich.

2) Ways for the wealthy to protect themselves against disorder. The focus narrows. It is not society itself that needs order – just the wealth of the elite.

3) Ways for the wealthy to benefit from disorder. By this stage disorder is no longer something to be lamented. The question is how to make money out of it.

4) The next stage was not, as far as I know, recommended by William Rees-Mogg, but is a logical corollary. If the rich can get richer by disorder, why not deliberately go about creating it? Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine describes the rise of right-wing theorists developing this theme with enthusiasm. Is this what Jacob Rees-Mogg is up to with his enthusiasm for Brexit? I don’t have access to the deeper recesses of his mind, but it is easy enough for his political opponents to suspect something like this.

What is missing from this whole discourse is any concern for the vast majority of the population. The ‘sovereign individual’ is precisely the kind of person who doesn’t care about anyone else. Do we really want to be governed by people like that?

I may be the only person who responds to this by thinking of Habakkuk, but there is a reason. Habakkuk lived around 600 BCE. After winning a battle, for eight years Chaldean horsemen raided Judea every year and did immense destruction.

The Judeans were powerless to stop them. They built towers and took it in turns to stand at the top, their eyes peeled for any sign of the Chaldeans approaching. They would then warn the population.

Why did the Chaldeans do it? They weren’t the first. There had already been many marauding gangs who would much rather attack farmers and eat their crops than do their own farming. It was more fun. They didn’t have to do the boring stuff. They made themselves powerful and important. They just didn’t care about the misery they were causing other people.

This is why I made the connection. The ‘sovereign individuals’ who rule us today are the successors to those Chaldeans: out for what they can get for themselves, for a life of fun, without any sense of responsibility for the common good, completely lacking in any concern for the people whose lives they are ruining.

Habakkuk, like most of the Bible, saw it from the perspective of the victims:

Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed,

and found a city on iniquity!

He looked forward to the day when

the earth will be filled

with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,

as the waters cover the sea.

His book ends with a song and an instruction to sing it to stringed instruments. Here’s the song:

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.

If the Chaldeans had killed all their victims, nobody would have grown food for them to steal. They would have had to settle down and do some farming for themselves. Or some of them would, and then they would fight among themselves.

In the same way, the ‘sovereign individuals’ determined to benefit themselves today can only do so as long as there are other people with resources they can take. Eventually their only way to maintain their parasitic lives will be to attack each other.

Over the last few decades we have seen this individualistic self-centredness increasingly promoted as though it was a virtue. Fuelled by neo-liberal economic theories, it has become a substantial part of mainstream government thinking. So far, most British people are not suffering as much as those Judeans did; but increasing numbers are.

The Judean victims weren’t perfect, any more than the homeless and penniless of today are; but they had better ways to keep society going. It is true that they were helpless, and many of them died without seeing any improvement in their desperate circumstances; but still, in retrospect we can see that the future lay with them, not with the raiders.

Therefore Habakkuk ends on the right note. Anybody who has been on a protest march knows the importance of singing songs of hope. The worse the situation is, the more important it is to retain faith that things will change.

Though the trade deal collapses
and no food is in the shops;
though the factories close
and nobody is paid;
we shall pick up our guitars
and praise the world’s goodness;
the sun that continues to shine,
the rain that continues to fall,
the babies that continue to be born
and the happier future that awaits them.

When we retain hope we look out for opportunities for change, so that when they come we are prepared to seize them. It is always possible to believe the world is designed so that eventually, even if long after we have died, good can prevail.

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5 Responses to Rees-Mogg, Habakkuk and their values

  1. Robin Wilson says:

    This is a good piece, Jonathan. You may be one of a very few people who instinctively contrast Jacob Ress-Mogg with Habakkuk, but you idea is powerful and well put.

    I very recently read a book called “Against the Grain” by JC Scott. It discusses precisely this problem, the parasitic behaviour of people who prefer plunder to toil. Being a sociologist, he tends to describe problems rather than prescribe solutions. I have obtained a copy of William R-M’s “The Sovereign Individual”, but have not yet read it.

    What can we do to be saved? I suspect that quoting Habakkuk will not resonate well with the average voter.

  2. David Emmott says:

    Thanks for telling me about this Jonathan. Excellent, but like most of the recent news it is very depressing. ‘Project Fear’ it might be, but it is a very well-founded fear.

  3. Sophie Johnson says:

    Very readable, Jonathan, and your point is brilliantly made. Yet: I am glad for Jacob Rees-Mogg. He and his ilk are our much-needed Habakkuk. Unlike the Chaldeans, he and his do not conqueror at all, let alone for booty. But he is a nationalist, he is a champion of Christian values, and he has challenged the Brussels appartchiks who have nothing but deep derision for those values.

    Naomi Kline is right, in her resentful lefty way. Her kind have been in command for far too long now, screeching all the lefty themes that scoff at nationhood, Christianity, White man — anything and everything that is not good for them: They will brook no dissent; they call it ‘hate speech’ when they hear it. And they get it jailed. They need the EU to make the laws that let them do that. They, the sinister destroyers of our nationhood and others’, are now agitating for a European army to give them real clout.

    Enough of that. God protect us from their likes. Their voice is not only spent, shrill and jarring now, but it had us crying, sore and often bitter, resenting them for trampling the values of our fathers. Then, all at once, Jacob Rees-Mogg appears. Did you not hear the accollade?

    ‘If the rich can get richer by disorder, why not deliberately go about creating it? … Is this what Jacob Rees-Mogg is up to with his enthusiasm for Brexit?’

    No. This is not what he is up to, nor, indeed, were his forebears. Brexit is the confrontation of the internationalists, those vultures with a long post-WWI history of crushing nations and making themselves richer than Creosus and masters of life and death. (Remember Lenin, Stalin and their minions who had Great Russia and Eastern Europe on their knees, and were financed by the Western bankers: Rothschild, Schiff, et al?)

    Disorder was always of the making of these internationalists; they thrived on it, destroying traditional values, forcing rougly cobbled-together artificial ones on their captive peoples, shooting or imprisoning them if they dared question their internationalist masters. It is the many Naomi Klines who are into that, Jonathan, not the few until-now-submerged Jacob Rees Moggs.

    ‘Project Fear’ it might be, but it is a very well-founded fear.’

    David Emmott, the real fear is the internationalists’. They sense their demise and our liberation from them. So they are inventing and megaphoning, by their international[ists’] mainstream media, scenarios that are supposed to make us run in terror from Brexit. But we the people are not falling for that; we know that their yoke, i.e., the yoke that the international bankers and their parliamentarian servants have burdened us with, is about to be lifted off us.

  4. Good to hear from you again Sophie.
    I read your response just before leaving for Evensong.
    I had no idea you’d feel like that. I don’t really understand it.
    You say
    Naomi Kline is right, in her resentful lefty way. Her kind have been in command for far too long now
    Where are they in command? I can’t think where you would be thinking of.
    When it comes to internationalism, there are different sorts. Rees-Mogg may talk about nationalism, but in his financial dealings he moves money round the world without regard for national borders. The hedge fund he founded, Somerset Capital, has been advising investors to move money out of the UK because of Brexit. He has done the same with his own money. Those who think he’s just in it for his personal benefit can point to this as evidence that his support for Brexit is motivated by positively wanting chaos in the UK so that he can make money out of it. If you don’t think so, why do you think he’s being a nationalist in public but not in his own financial affairs?
    When you refer to
    those vultures with a long post-WWI history of crushing nations and making themselves richer than Croesus
    what evidence can you point to that Rees-Mogg isn’t one of them? To my mind, he’s a classic case of it.
    I believe in local economies, with fewer lorries pounding the motorways. Still, I consider myself an internationalist because the whole human race has been created by God, and is loved by God, equally. All national boundaries are artificial constructs, usually produced by wars. On average, I have no reason to think British people are better than foreigners. Nationalism, unfortunately, is used as a motive to encourage people to hate foreigners and fight wars against them.
    Evensong was a special service at the Catholic Cathedral to commemorate the end of World War I, with attendance by a group from Cologne, our link city. We prayed for the armed services of both Britain and Germany. The final prayer was:
    Almighty, ever-living God,
    it is your will
    to unite the entire universe
    under your beloved Son,
    Jesus Christ, the King of heaven and earth.
    Grant freedom to the whole of creation,
    and let it praise and serve your majesty for ever.
    We make our prayer through our Lord.

    Would you disapprove of that?

  5. Sophie Johnson says:

    I acknowledge your very valid points, Jonathan. Even so, I should prefer to be led by Rees-Mogg than by the likes of Ms Kline, whom I think of as the Hillary Clintons of this world. I know both only by their rhetoric and public faces. Clearly, you and I have come to radically different conclusions about the moral integrity of each of them. Oh, well! 🙂

    I love your prayer. But then, I do not think of nationalism as somethng that disunites: It is instinctual for people to live in clans, in the geographies that best suit their racial types. And that is well and good. We are not thereby disunited. Indeed, our being one in Christ does not require us to physically live together. But, of course, it does require us to not kill one another, but instead, to strive for the welfare of all of us.

    So no, Jonathan: I do not think that the internationalist/multicultural/national-identity-loathing ‘left’ has got it right. And presumably, if Rees-Mogg salts his ample funds all over the world, then that’s good: he is supporting the economies of the countries in which he invests, presumably with a view to increasing his wealth. And his increased wealth comes home to roost. Remember, he is a devout Catholic. I would imagine that, like his class and kind, he is a generous giver to charities.

    Anyway, he has a delightful sense of fun. And that makes him a lot nicer than the furrowed-browed, sententious, ‘I’m right your wrong’ , agree with me or I’ll shout you down’ lefties.

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