Originally Posted by Philidor
* Hell freezes over *
I see Melanie Phillips as a professional controversialist, like Julie Burchill or Camille Paglia. Her career's built on adopting positions designed to antagonise one side of a sensitive political argument, and if those she antagonises make the mistake of engaging with her, she's won. She can then refine her position, antagonise them some more, get more publicity, and the circle continues (while her career advances).
She's also politically highly promiscuous, having made the journey from old Labour to the libertarian right..
That's very interesting company to put her in! I find Julie Burchill immensely readable, despite the fact that she is clearly mentally unhinged and has some revolting opinions (for example, her passionate support for the death penalty and her undisguised admiration for mass-murderer Joseph Stalin). I read Camille Paglia some years ago, and found her exhilarating but ultimately absurd (although there is inevitably some
truth in her scattergun polemic).
Melanie Phillips seems a different sort of writer to me. Burchill and Paglia are both exhibitionists, even entertainers. Phillips seems uninterested in presenting herself as an interesting personality per se
, and is only interested in articulating her opinions, in an atmosphere of considerable moral earnestness quite different from the jokiness of Burchill or the flamboyance of Paglia.
She is more consistent in her core opinions than your remarks suggest, although it is disappointing to see her blindness to the moral idiocy of George W. Bush and the Neocons. Reiner is certainly correct in pointing out her unfortunate tendency to drop claims or opinions without comment when they become embarrassing, rather than to retract them publicly. For example, she has soft-peddled her formerly wild support for Tony Blair's WMD justification for the Iraq war rather than just admitting that she was wrong all along. (It is strange that, despite her general hostility to Blair, she should have supported him in perhaps his most egregious political error - an error which I regard as an indictable crime.)
I would also hesitate to characterise her as "libertarian". She is, in fact, profoundly hostile to libertarianism, whether of the left or the right. I think that she is a small "c" conservative (as many Old Labour people were) who has utterly failed to grasp what the Neocons really stand for, so dazzled has she been by their very ostentatious support for Israel. Nor is she really politically promiscuous. Rather, she is a lonely, unattached soul who - rather like someone desperately in search of religious faith - is trying to find a political belief-system in whose lee she can shelter. (The trouble is, she is an outsider by nature, rather than a joiner.) About 12 or 15 years ago she was very enthusiastic about Amitai Etzioni's rather insipid Communitarianism. She even took Tony Blair's pretended social conservatism at face value for a while (until he actually came to office), and was naive enough to believe that he might reverse the baleful educational trends she documents in her All Must Have Prizes
Israel is her Achilles' heel, and distorts all of her political judgements as a journalist and broadcaster. She turns a blind eye to the iniquities of the Neocons because of their support for Israel (and turned a blind eye to the specific iniquity of Blair over Iraq because of his support for the Neocons), and she has adapted her world-view to reflect the genuinely Conservative American audience (and not merely the small "c" variety) whom she now largely addresses. This explains why she is hostile to secularism in general and Darwin in particular. I think that this is a great shame, because her criticisms of society and the education system remain largely valid and unaddressed, and she is also right to see a resurgent Islam as a dangerous force (although here she is wrong on many of the details and some of the generalities).