Some of the hostile responses to Andrew Anthony's book exemplified the very attitudes the author aimed to exposeby Bella Thomas / December 22, 2007 / Leave a comment
You might think that political arguments stand or fall according to their intrinsic merit. Increasingly, however, there is a tendency to bring biography into the fray. Much of this reduces arguments to an emphasis on people’s origins, or their sex, or race. Politicians make much of their own story in their speeches, and all too often commentators make oblique use of an individual’s origins as if it were enough to trounce their argument. As if a person’s predictable class values were being unthinkingly acted out; as if an outlook could be explained by experience alone.
Echoing this, there is a new genre of political autobiography, conceived long before the individual concerned has grown old, but whose story “thus far” embodies a wider argument. This may stem from a particular British fascination with biography, and in the practice rather than the theory of life: a reversion to the personal being an accessible way to navigate the heavy waters of contemporary politics. And in many cases, for good reason. The devastating accounts of eastern European émigrés who had experienced communist regimes for themselves were inevitably more persuasive critiques of the communist exercise than those which exposed the overwhelming shortcomings from the sidelines.
Andrew Anthony’s book, Fall-Out (Jonathan Cape), is a political memoir in the tradition of Chateaubriant, where the author looks back on former views with a cold analytical heart, and wonders why he never seriously questioned them. Anthony’s book ranges across the mindset of the contemporary left. He deploys an assured irony to point up the stranger elements of his own denial—and, by implication, that of others. He explodes the weaknesses of multiculturalism by explaining that not only is it replacing class as a way of building new walls between groups of people, but that the celebration of difference has become a means of enforcing group conformity; and that those who choose to speak for certain “communities” in fact, in the end favour monoculturalism. Tolerance of intolerance will eventually, as he puts it, “create the conditions of its own destruction.”
Anthony’s is in some ways an ordinary story. But one can see why he chose to write it as autobiography rather than as an elongated comment piece. It is the ordinariness of his story, his analysis of liberal guilt, combined with his judicious take on class and race and his debunking of his former self that make his book so…