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Artillery Row

Should young people emigrate?

Peter Hitchens is wrong about the prospects for right-wingers

If nothing else, Elon Musk’s Twitter amnesty has brought back a lot of people who haven’t gotten into a good online screaming match in a while. Just recently, Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin got into an argument with Peter Hitchens of all people. The subject, as always with Hitchens, was just how finished Britain is, and the necessity for the young to emigrate.

The discussion began when Benjamin responded by arguing that English people leaving “[their] patrimony to communists and foreigners” was unwise. The current tax burden and immigration rates make it hard at least to be unsympathetic to his point. In response, Hitchens questioned whether one as coarse as Carl Benjamin ought to be using a word like “patrimony”. Questions of character and wording are the bedrock of Internet debate; once you reach it you stop digging, lest you invoke Godwin’s Lawwhich Hitchens eventually did.

Regardless, the debate raged another two days, with Hitchens making it clear he had no interest in an alliance against a common enemy of Blairism, and that his hopes died in 2010 with the resurrection of the Conservative party under David Cameron. If one takes Hitchens at his word, it’s hard to see where the scorn for Benjamin comes from. If Britain is truly as Hitchens analogises it, a boat shot through, imminently headed for the ocean, why should he care if a UKIP style party takes the helm? No one cares who the captain of the Titanic is when they’re running for the lifeboats, after all.

His primary complaint about Benjamin appears to be a joke he made about Jess Phillips, comments made before his (brief and disastrous) political era. Regardless of anyone’s feelings about said comments, it’s hard to believe a radical revolution constituting an Abolition of Britain has taken place — when what prevents a dialogue between two people, who agree on most issues, is a joke that wouldn’t be out of place coming from the mouth of Frankie Boyle on the national broadcaster. The only people Hitchens appears to dislike more than those who disagree with him are those who agree with him but for different reasons.

There is a luxury in apathy you are no longer constrained by reality

Take Nigel Farage for example. Hitchens was a Eurosceptic himself, but was displeased with the referendum and its consequences. Instead of a paternalistic Conservative party making it a political (and preferably a manifesto) commitment to leave the EU, we got the followers of the zombie ideology of Margaret Thatcher advocating a referendum. In a referendum, we had a policy without a party to action it. In figures like Lord Hannan, we had people promoting leaving who also couldn’t implement it. For Hitchens, we were not only leaving in the wrong way, but for the wrong reasons, and through the wrong people. We did, however, leave the EU. As a result, Britain today is closer to Farageworld than Hitchensland.

There is a luxury in apathy. If you decide to give up, you no longer have to constrain yourself to practical reality. Brexit was imperfect, but an imperfect way of doing things that people will do is preferable to a perfect way of doing things that no one will do. That’s why most operating systems are Windows and not Linux. Windows is bloated, clunky and collaborates with intelligence services — but it’s easy to use. Linux (can be) smooth, quick, responsive and infinitely customisable — but it’s hidden behind layers of obtrusiveness. Equivalently, it would be ideal to fundamentally change the Conservative party to be Eurosceptic enough to make leaving the EU a political pledge, but the fact the Conservative party does not want to leave the EU is the problem to begin with. Moreover, if people simply abandoned the Conservative party in 2010, that would have been perfect. In truth, we are a nation perennially afraid to rock the boat and change things. It was never going to happen.

Perhaps that is why the more I think about it, the less strange the Hitchens/Benjamin interaction becomes. It marks the ending of one paradigm and the beginning of another. Where Hitchens existed in an era of information exchange through books, publications and the television, Carl is a creature of the Internet and understands its role in the modern political environment. With his outlet “Lotus Eaters”, Carl has a platform that can immerse its members in a media environment that provides its members with a political message via podcasts, cultural pieces, written articles and news. The Gramscianism of the 20th century was successful, as Hitchens himself notes, because people were immersed in constant political messaging from the institutions they interface with every day. The Gramscianism of the 21st century will be successful because information flows are so large, and people’s lives are so integrated with the Internet, that it is possible to create networks that people interface with everyday, removed from those institutions.

Some eschew gerontocratic Britain to earn money in places like Australia

In light of this, Hitchens’ advice to young people like myself to emigrate looks like a statement on his own horizons rather than a statement on our national circumstances. This is corroborated by his own unwillingness to offer any advice on where to go to. The defence is that emigration and getting out is about “going from”, not “going to”. Why one would leave Britain to begin with should necessarily inform where one will leave Britain for. There is no use in fleeing Britain due to escalating crime, for example, only to move to higher-crime California. This lack of consideration for possible destinations for the young belies the fact that Hitchens advice, far from being the practical positive plan he claims, is more a restatement of his grievances with Britain than an attempt to actually help the young people who have inherited an abolished Britain. Anyone seriously invested in the enterprise of leaving the country will be forced to choose between a developed country like Australia, with the same cultural problems but a preferable economic order, and a less developed country such as Poland or Hungary, with fewer cultural problems but a worse economy. In any situation, the world they move to will not be their own — and that longing for a culture that is authentically theirs, which brought so many to Hitchens’ writings to begin with — will remain unfulfilled.

For those who are searching, it is entirely possible to find patriotic circles of young people invested in Britain’s future. I personally have run magazines with them, attended conferences with them, and enjoyed comedy shows with our political bent. Whilst Hitchens assessment that these people have no rescue plan is correct, a plan requires people and assets. These circles provide the base from which to launch such an offensive.

By contrast, the only young people I see taking Hitchens advice are those who have made explicit plans to return in the future, with families they need to come back to. They eschew gerontocratic Britain to earn money in places like Australia. These young people are by no means as despondent about the political situation as Hitchens is. Instead, they understand that the Conservative party doesn’t want them and isn’t getting them. Rather than slog away in the office of an MP in the hopes of a position in CCHQ or on the coveted Parliamentary Candidates list, they would prefer to acquire wealth, resources, connections and experience in order to flex it upon their return. In the meantime, they support alternative right-wing platforms all the way from these other countries via subscriptions, merchandise sales and simple views. These factors can only be discounted by someone who was born in an era where they did not come into play. Whilst we cannot blame Hitchens for being born 71 years ago, neither can we be blamed for refusing to give up over events that occurred when most of us were adolescents.

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