On Liberty

On Liberty

Sometimes I scribble down thoughts on books I’ve read. They’re not reviews, they’re just thoughts

Ok, so I’ve read John Stuart Mill’s classic On Liberty. When I studied at Middlesex University many years ago, John Stuart Mill was compulsory reading, for natural reasons – the ideas put forth in the book is the culmination of hundreds of years of thinking on the subject of freedom, and they constitute the very ground for having political discussions at all. And so I’ve revisited Mill, because the times we live in seem to call for it.

I don’t know whether Mill is still compulsory reading at British universities, or if he’s been replaced with some intersectional slam poet, but either way I won’t be trying my hand at reviewing it.

However, the following quote leapt out from the page when I read it and so I thought I’d share it:
“A civilisation that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy [barbarism], must first have become so degenerate, that neither its appointed prists and teachers, nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up for it. If this be so, the sooner such a civilisation receives notice to quit the better.”

That is, a civilisation doesn’t descend into barbarism unless its representatives let it happen. This quote by Mill made me think of a recent event in the media. A few weeks ago we were told that Dutch author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld would not be translating inaugural poet Amanda Gorman’s work into Dutch, as originally planned. The choice of Rijneveld as translator had been criticised because the translator in question … is white. And, for those of you who don’t know, Amanda Gorman is black.

Yes, you got that right. The translator had the wrong skin colour. The publisher (and the translator) gave in.

What’s strange is not that there are people who believe it is wrong for a white person to translate a black person’s work. Such people have always existed, just as there are people who believe they are Napoleon. The strange (and sad) thing is that otherwise respectable institutions listen to the demands of the intersectionally possessed and give in to them.

Why should they?

The media don’t report “new and shocking evidence” surrounding the JFK assassination just because a reporter happens to pass a random homeless guy ranting something about the grassy knoll. When it comes to race and identity, however, it’s as if editors and principals and publishers and politicians invite the truly insane as experts and authorities. In other words, the “priests and teachers” of our time do not take the trouble to stand up for its civilisation. It is precisely these sorts of things – judging people by the content of their character, as an individual as opposed to a representative of a real or imagined group – that make up the foundation of our civilisation.

It may seem like a trivial thing, a translator who lost a gig, but it is a bad omen. All possibility of compromise, negotiation and ultimately of conversation, is shut down if we are to follow the path set by this precedent. It is a serious matter. As Salman Rushdie notes somewhere in his book Fury: “Rome didn’t fall because its armies were weakened but because Romans forgot what it meant to be Romans.”

It seems our civilisation has received notice to quit. The question is: how will the downfall of Western civilisation be characterized in a thousand years?

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