Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg Lionizes the Victorians in Heavily Criticized New Book
I should begin today with a note in passing about the passing of Stanton Friedman, the UFO researcher who devoted more than four decades of his life to researching—and failing to find—evidence of an alien presence on Earth. A familiar face on the UFO circuit, the 84-year-old Friedman supported the authenticity of the hoax Majestic-12 documents and thus helped to promote a culture of conspiracy in the UFO community by dressing it up in scientific garb.
Meanwhile, I read a funny but compelling review of the new book by conservative British Member of Parliament Jacob Rees-Mogg, best known for his outdated fashion sense and unwavering support of Brexit. Rees-Mogg has written a new volume, out next week, on the Victorians, whom he celebrates as morally steadfast supporters of Western civilization, individualism, and capitalist values. He has, of course, never met Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, and a whole parade of Victorians (both British by birth or resident in Britain) whose Ayn Randian bona fides are less than stellar. Instead, he selects eleven men and one woman whom he dubs the “Titans” of Victorian Britain and imagines them to stand for the whole of the complex, morally divisive, and contradictory Victorian world.
“The Victorians knew how to run a country properly,” Rees-Mogg said on Twitter the other day, apparently praising the Victorian politicians’ deft handling the Irish Potato Famine and their policy of conquering other countries in order to use their labor and resources to prop up the economy of the Home Counties.
As Kathryn Hughes writes in her review of Rees-Mogg’s The Victorians, the book is less a history than a hodgepodge of secondary sources cut together to stack the deck in favor of the book’s real purpose, to create an origin story for Rees-Mogg’s own conservative political philosophy:
The real purpose, then, of The Victorians is to reflect Rees-Mogg back to himself at twice his natural size. This must account for some of his more unexpected inclusions. He names as one of his Titans Albert Dicey, a man whom you might generally consider as belonging to the Victorian second 11. Not so, Rees-Mogg tells us sternly. Dicey was a great legal brain, the Vinerian professor of English law at Oxford, who in the 1890s dared to champion the practice of holding referendums to avoid the great questions of the day being held up endlessly at Westminster. He called it “the People’s Veto”. Always anxious that we might not pick up on the modern parallels, Rees-Mogg finishes his portrait with a ringing “thank heavens for Albert Dicey” since it is his “understanding of referendums that provides the constitutional authority for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union”.
I am eager to see for myself how Rees-Moggs corrupts Victorian history into a political manifesto, but it’s disturbing to see a politician attempt to lay claim over the whole of Victorian period in the name of conservatism. Across the Western world, it was a period marked by strong clashes of ideology, with conservative and progressive ideas leading to an instability that eventually resolved itself into World War I and the extreme ideologies—communism, fascism, etc.—of the interwar years. The Victorian period was one that saw the push for greater constitutional democracy and racial and gender equality, the end of slavery in Britain and America (and serfdom in Russia), limits on the power of employers to control workers’ lives, and a push for universal education. But it was also a period that saw the oppression and repression of the colonial enterprise, including the genocidal tyranny of King Leopold II’s Congo Free State, a literal war in the United States to prevent the end of slavery, and authoritarian monarchies whose power only seems weak because of the fascists and communists who built on their models.
To declare any single segment of the Victorian experience to be the “true” or “pure” Victorians is to impose a modern reading on the past that is little different from the fantasies we have examined among the fringe historians who want to recreate the past in the image of their spirituality or ideology.
5/16/2019 09:01:36 am
Francis Dashwood knew how to enjoy life
5/16/2019 11:57:00 am
The power of history. Here in Newark I am dealing with the attempt by the Ohio Historical Society to write the Shawnee out of history, Cultural genocide following on physical genocide.
The British Empire
5/16/2019 12:28:57 pm
Hitler lost the war and now we've got the German United States of Europe through Federalism, a group of countries governed by one currency and one parliament devoid of independent sovereignty.
5/16/2019 04:48:33 pm
“The European people represent a family in this world. … It is not very intelligent to imagine that in such a cramped house like that of Europe, a community of people can maintain different legal systems and different concepts of law for very long.”
5/16/2019 10:35:27 pm
Indeed, all politicians are the worst possible category of rubbish people on this planet - witness all of their docile supporters - devoid of any sanity whatsoever.
5/16/2019 01:55:29 pm
"Stanton Friedman, the UFO researcher who devoted more than four decades of his life to researching—and failing to find—evidence of an alien presence on Earth."
5/29/2019 06:34:25 pm
Considering that he bragged of being part of that idiotic plan to make nuclear fuelled rockets, this is credible.
5/16/2019 03:03:05 pm
I always got the impression that a significant portion of British (with heavy emphasis on the English) society like to romanticize the late Victorian era and the Edwardian era in the same way that some Americans do the period from the mid-40s to the mid-60s. Maybe some Americans too given the popularity of the Steam Punk subculture among some folks this side of the pond. But that is just an impression based on my limited knowledge of British. Would like to hear some British perspectives on this. The kiddie table faking an English accent doesn't count.
5/16/2019 03:40:35 pm
Not so romantic in UK - special foodbanks are established during the school holidays for children. Bitter Dickensian stuff.
5/16/2019 05:35:08 pm
I tend to associate bleak Dickensian imagery with early Victorian. I can see where that image could hold for some for the entire era, but I'm thinking in terms of the people who dwell on glass half full representations.
5/16/2019 10:45:08 pm
Ah, the idealistic that ignores the realistic. Boring.
5/16/2019 04:44:39 pm
Slavery was done and dusted in Britain in 1798 and the colonies in 1834. Victoria took the throne in 1837.
5/16/2019 06:42:00 pm
My understanding is that it wasn't until the 1840s that some "fine print" exceptions to the Abolition legislation of the 1830s were eliminated. I'm unclear if this dealt with stamping out remaining pockets of legal chattel slavery or if it was more an issue of eliminating more extreme forms of coerced labor. But calling it the Indian Slavery Act gives some indication of how the Brits viewed the situation.
5/16/2019 09:17:35 pm
That was in INDIA, enacted by the British East INDIA company which at the time ruled INDIA. Nothing to do with Britain. Technically. But still a cracking good catch!
5/16/2019 09:33:08 pm
Yeah, "technically," until the British government decided to crack the whip.
Hey, Doc Rock
5/16/2019 11:16:49 pm
You need a reality check - you need to infiltrate undercover the working class environment of 21st century Britain because you are living in a bubble. You must get all your info from some upper class rag.
5/16/2019 11:33:31 pm
The British East India Company literally kept the spice flowing, as well as the silver and the opium and what-have-you.
Hey, Lytton Strachey
5/16/2019 11:38:31 pm
You need a reality check as well
5/17/2019 12:22:27 am
Please point out where I am wrong.
5/17/2019 12:29:50 am
Yes, the company was quite powerful but this came from a royal charter and the company was under the control of Parliament. During the Victorian era the company's power was initially reduced to that of a "managing agent" in India in the words of one source, and it was pretty much finished in terms of power and influence by 1858.
Hey, Lytton Strachey
5/17/2019 12:32:33 am
Slavery still exists and especially since the end of industrial revolution, but in a different way. Speeding up now. Your historical references are academic. Media like newspapers and television are not reporting things as they should because they are equally guilty of using employment agencies and exploitation.
Doc Rock "Not Out of Touch"
5/17/2019 12:37:01 am
What's happening now is criminal.
5/17/2019 01:36:08 am
I have a copy of "Queen Victoria's Little Wars" and have actually read it.
Please point out where I'm wrong
5/17/2019 09:09:06 am
You're not wrong - you're just putting the telescope into your blind eye, like Nelson, that's all.
5/17/2019 09:53:22 am
Just to note on British attempts to suppress the slave trade across the Atlantic, the West Africa Squadron was established in 1808 and when it was permanently absorbed by the Cape Squadron in 1869 it had captured 1600 ships and freed 150,000 slaves with a 5.5% annual mortality rate among the crews. Somewhat later a force was established on the east coast to suppress the trade with Arabia.
5/17/2019 10:04:28 am
>>>captured 1600 ships and freed 150,000 slaves<<<
5/17/2019 01:15:23 pm
5/17/2019 03:50:14 pm
"Early in August the British outside Delhi..."
Ghost of Bill W.
5/17/2019 06:09:15 pm
One marvels at Doc's perseverance in the face of getting his ass handed to him time after time after time infinity.
Doc Rock & Lytton Strachey
5/17/2019 07:11:42 pm
Doc Rock & Lytton Strachey are not on wages
5/17/2019 07:41:55 pm
No need to be so snobby about wikipedia. It is a decent sort of resource if one knows that they should be looking for.
5/17/2019 09:53:04 pm
5/16/2019 10:43:13 pm
Try telling the Working Classes who are on the receiving end of employment agencies that slavery does not exist in 21st century Britain. Try doing that.
British Prime Minister
5/16/2019 11:07:26 pm
It's going to take the Government 10 years to spend 10 Million on Homelessness.
5/16/2019 11:08:25 pm
Hey Working Class, slavery does not exist in 21st century Great Britain. If it did I would own a 19 year old version of Elizabeth Hurley complete with bill of sale.
5/16/2019 11:10:48 pm
Should see all the plastic bottles of urine in working class environments because not allowed to go to the toilet outside of official break periods.
5/16/2019 11:26:57 pm
Hey, I bet the senators and all other top people will be getting abortions in Alabama - the ban on abortion will only affect the common folk.
Doc Rock & Lytton Strachey
5/17/2019 07:09:16 pm
Doc Rock & Lytton Strachey are not on wages
5/16/2019 08:55:34 pm
I will miss Stanton Friedman. He made the world a more colorful place.
5/16/2019 09:02:04 pm
Lie still and think of the Empire.
5/16/2019 09:27:54 pm
It's too bad she waited until 1917 to change the name of the House to Windsor. If you can name a black Mountbatten ancestor who was not also an ancestor of Victoria that would be interesting.
German Brit Royal Family
5/16/2019 10:38:47 pm
They still think of themselves as Germans.
5/17/2019 11:03:27 am
Why strip me nekked. I never did understand why them varmits had to put a dash betwixt their names. Then they always proceed to pontificate as to how they are forever pining to go back to the days of eighteen double ought. Well i'm off to the south forty to polish my Jaguar. Toodle oo now.
5/17/2019 02:11:33 pm
Thanks ever so much for all of your insights into British colonialism and Hitler's political thinking.
5/17/2019 02:34:16 pm
You seem to be the offspring of Laurel & Hardy
5/17/2019 03:58:19 pm
Pay no attention to E.P. He has the beetees and is rarely coherent. Like Wolter and the Smithsonian, the Ohio Historical Society is constantly plotting against him.
5/17/2019 07:02:08 pm
Thanks ever so much for sharing your insights into archaeology in Ohio and your knowledge of comedy.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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