Bite the Hand That Feeds You: Essays and Provocations by Henry Fairlie

Here are some highlights from the late essayist at The New Republic:

* Parliament still unites freedom and order in a way which is the envy of the world, and probably its hope.

[LF: Does parliament unite freedom and order or does it reflect it?]

* He accepts Bagehot’s definition of the real function of the House of Commons as being to “express the mind of the people,” to “teach the nation what it does not know,” and to make us “hear what otherwise we should not.”3

[LF: I don’t buy any of this.]

* It works because, as he says, the members of Parliament are “ordinary people with a fair slice of ambition…. What the democratic system does is to harness a man’s ambition. . . .” Sir Ivor Jennings says that this is the worst that can be said about the members. It is also the best. The enduring virtue of the House of Commons, through centuries, is that it has been composed largely of ordinary people: drab, honest, foolish, bumptious, confused, worried, happy, unhappy, ordinary people.

[LF: Ordinary people who just so happen to be lawyers.]

* Sir Isaiah Berlin: “It is one of the stratagems of totalitarian regimes to present all situations as critical emergencies, demanding manding ruthless elimination of all goals, interpretations, pretations, forms of behaviour save for one absolutely lutely specific, concrete, immediate end, binding on everyone, which calls for ends and means so narrowly rowly and clearly definable that it is easy to impose sanctions for failing to pursue them.”

* I am extremely doubtful whether we have anything to learn from either the Fifth Republic in France or the Federal Republic in West Germany about the manner of ordering and sustaining a free society; I am not even sure whether we have much to learn in the matter from the French and Germans as peoples.

* [Churchill] was, remained, and proclaimed himself to be a Zionist. Few of his attacks on the Labour government that succeeded him were more brutal, more contemptuous, than his criticism of its Palestine policy. Ernest Bevin, the great trade union leader brought forward by Churchill during the war as secretary of labor, and then dramatically made foreign secretary by Attlee (one of Attlee’s soundest judgments)-a man who had fought communism all his life in the unions was unlikely to back down before the Soviet menace-was unquestionably pro-Arab, even anti-Semitic. Churchill, with all his admiration for Bevin, made Bevin look like the scoundrel he was over Palestine, which was, in Churchill’s mind, the historical entity of Israel. Why? Churchill chill loved the rowdiness of the Jews. He welcomed members of Parliament banging the lids of their desks in the chamber; and the best desk-lid bangers in history are the Jews.

* The old man, Hodge related, liked to watch old movies in a private cinema. Like all old men, he nodded off in the middle of it. And like all old men, he would wake up with a start, and say to young Hodge, “Tell me which are the baddies and which are the goodies, and then I can work out the rest for myself.” Which, of course, was more or less what he did with Hitler and Stalin.

* As the barge progressed down the Thames, the dockside cranes all dipped as it passed. The sight of these bowing cranes moved a nation (and me) to tears. For dockers, stevedores, are a nation’s most Bolshie workers. In Britain, certainly, none of them ever could have voted for Winston Churchill. Yet they, these proud proletarians, by their own bidding, on a day off, and not on the orders of their employers, lowered their cranes like guardsmen making an arch of their swords over the passing of a monarch.

* But television is only a step to the real goal, the lecture circuit. There is the big money for utterances that require a minimum of thought or creative work. The fundamental principle of the lecture circuit is simple: to make much the same speech to organizations nizations that wish to hear much the same thing. The system would break down if the lecturers suddenly made new speeches with original opinions. George Will addressing the National Soft Drink Association, David Brinkley addressing the Mohawk Executive Forum or the National Pork Producers Council, James J. Kilpatrick addressing ing the Potato Chip/Snack Food Association-they really do not have to think very hard in deciding what it is that their high-paying paying audiences wish to hear, and what kind of undangerous speeches will keep them on the lecture agents’ lists.

The lecture circuit today is a continuous road show in which the star performers are the media creatures, each of them projected by television, their essential instrument of self-advertisement. Thus we have the newspapers tolerating columnists who use their space to get on television, and television then tolerating the use of its political programs as a way onto the lecture circuit. Is there no editor or producer who will clean the stables of these pious self-advertisers and self-seekers? Is there not one who is aware that in such performers there is a conflict of interest?

* It gives me no pleasure to say that George Will’s columns, which promised so much seven years ago, have significantly deteriorated, in quality of writing, in force of ideas, in range of interest, since he began to devote so much time first to television, vision, and then to the lecture circuit. Lecturing from 8o to roo times a year is a time-consuming, intellectually debilitating exercise. The common criticism that one hears made of his journalism now, often said more in sorrow than in anger, is that it has become predictable; and this surely points to his surrender of time to being a performer.

The repetitiveness and predictability of most of the columns on the op-ed page of the Washington Post are directly related to their unimportance in the eyes of their authors. They are hackwork, work, which, if their authors were not media stars, any self-respecting respecting editor would drop.

* Take not a crust of bread from a politician. Take not a cab fare from a corporation. The effect on Washington is that, trading in celebrity, the media trade also in the wealth surrounding the celebrity. The very profession that should be the acid, relentless critic of the affluence and cynicism of Washington is now the most ostentatiously tatiously affluent and cynical profession in the city.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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