Sunday, February 01, 2004

Marx in the coffehouse

My inclinations being more Marxian than Freudian (unless saying that is already a Freudian giveaway) reification rather than transference is my preferred underpinning for trust’s vicarious (inconsistent, non-egoistic) dimensions. Apart from anything else it makes commodity trust and network trust such deliciously powerful things.

Similarly, reading Richard’s links, as an old time Paineite, I don’t put much reliance on Burke. I perhaps don’t know him intimately enough to go along with Goldsmith who called him ‘…an intellectual prostitute…who, born for the universe, narrow’d his mind and gave to party up what was meant for mankind’. (And I wonder, every time I see them, exactly what their adjacent statues outside Trinity College, Dublin, really stand for.) For me Burke is both public-man and the author of publicness. The Thatcherite policy TINA – there is no alternative – and President Bush’s you’re either with us or against us (both entirely trust-free propositions) both owe any political legitimacy they have to Burke. So, generally, I agree with Goldsmith.

I also agree with Richard’s point about people in public life being ‘supposed to know’ and this supposition being more problematic than my concerns with the narrower notion of ownership. I’m beginning to think the difference might be like the difference between Marx and Freud, between reification and transference.

This point was brought home to me on Saturday while reading an article by Max Hastings, a writer of a Burkean persuasion whose work I’d cheerfully lived without reading until that day, but who was writing in my newspaper. He made his point to me after two opening paragraphs in which he declared himself bitterly disappointed by the Hutton report. Tellingly, he then added, ‘I say this with regret. I am more instinctively supportive of institutions, less iconoclastic, than most of the people who write for the Guardian, let alone read it.’

My feeling instantly was that his regret arose from he and Hutton being members of the same (establishment) coffeehouse – figuratively if not literally – and as a result, knowing each other as public-men. The scales fell from my eyes and I saw in flash how the other eighty-odd percent of the population view the world. Hastings didn’t mention trust but I took trusting them to be part of his instinctive support for these institutions. I also took it that he felt his trust had been abused.

For a short while I was once a member of Mensa and once, briefly and uneasily, a member of a secret society whose monthly meetings were held under Chatham House rules. Reading those two sentences Hastings had written I recalled my unease at being in coffeehouses where things were ‘supposed’ to be known. And where knowledge was owned. And while Hastings seems perfectly happy being there, my own trusted principle is yet more Marx, Groucho this time: 'I'd never belong to a club that would have me as a member'.