Other writers responded as did Dostoyevsky, viciously, in Notes from the Underground (Записки из подполья), published in 1864. This was a protest against the soulless materialism of what he perceived to be the modern age but, in particular, it was a sarcastic attack on Vera Pavlovna, Chernyshevsky's heroine and her interminable dreams, particularly the last one in which people appear to live in some sort of a crystal palace.
The great novelist Tolstoy wrote a pamphlet with that title in 1886, which is a description of Russian social conditions, presumably as seen from Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy's mansion and estate. What was required, he thought, was change within people themselves.
The best known work is, inevitably, V. I. Lenin's. It is as boring and badly written as Chernyshevsky's but it is shorter and there are no dreams in it. The book is the most important one Lenin wrote as it gives a precise, if badly phrased, idea of the "need" for a revolutionary elite that would impose its own views on the people. There are also reasonably clear instructions on how that elite is to be formed into a coherent and disciplined party.
The reason for these musings is an internet conversation I have been having with no less a person than Gawain Towler (name published with his permission and encouragement), Head of Media at UKIP who linked to this story in the Telegraph.
If you were a Brussels bureaucrat and David Cameron dumped a cheque for a few billion onto your desk to spend on foreign aid, what would you do with it? Would you spend it (a) on poor people or (b) on cocktails and dancing for white European socialists, and on some vanity projects to promote the power of the EU?Foreign aid or international aid, as we are supposed to call it now, money spent on parties and fashion shows is not precisely news. My response was that at least money spent on a party and fashion show in Brussels would not go into the coffers of evil, bloodthirsty kleptocrats who use it to fight nasty wars and oppress their people. I was accused of being ultra-cynical.
Well, if you were a genuine Eurocrat, you’d probably have gone with (b). Thanks to the EU – which takes a fifth of our international development budget – a chunk of our aid isn’t spent on fighting global poverty at all, but on promoting the EU’s own political goals – which is why so much of it ends up in states that don’t need it, such as Russia, Singapore, India and China.
Last week, however, the Eurocrats decided to spend our money a little closer to home by hosting a major conference in Brussels. Along with providing lots of European Leftists with cocktails and a dance floor, this promoted “the key role of the European Union” in international development and helped to “improve European cohesion”.
To top it all, as Martin Banks and Gawain Towler report, the conference spent aid money to host a fashion show, showcasing seven European designers and one Moroccan. Apparently, this helped the delegates understand the Millennium Development Goals, but it strikes me that it was just an excuse for a jolly at the taxpayer’s expense.
(In parenthesis let me add that I have been accused of cynicism many times, though not by Mr Towler, but I have never until a recent exchange on a particularly ridiculous forum, been accused of being a do-gooder and, by implication, a bleedin' heart liberal. This was not a person who knows me; nor had he bothered to read anything I write. There is a first time for everything.)
Anyway, moving right along, the discussion between Mr Towler and me then developed into the usual one of "well, what should we do to get people interested". As many times before I maintained that producing silly stories and yet more examples of corruption gets us nowhere. They produced two reactions: people either 1. shrugged their shoulders and said well what do you expect, yawn, what's on the tele, or 2. started getting worked up about the need for reform, control, supervision and transparency. When 2. did not produce the necessary results because they could not, people would revert to 1.
Well, what would you do, asked Mr Towler quite reasonably. Should we start swinging from the Cenotaph? No, I pointed out, as, apart from anything else, it achieved nothing beyond annoying very many people.
It is time, I continued, to start assuming that most people are adults and capable of assimilating serious ideas, such as international aid does not help poor people but keeps bloodthirsty kleptocrats in power and the EU is a state in the making that has already destroyed Britain's sovereignty and constitutional democracy as well as being economically, politically and environmentally regressive and destructive.
Ah yes, said he, but the media does not want that - the media wants silly stories. How well do I know that and how well do I recall being press officer for the Campaign for Independent Britain (CIB) and getting calls from journalists who wanted really stupid European stories. All right, I'd say, how about the really stupid common fisheries policy. Nothing doing. We want something our readers can easily understand. Square strawberries, for instance. Those stories kept appearing as did stories of corruption and wasted money and where has all that got us? We are ever more integrated in the Project and have a non-Labour government that is fully as bad as John Major's Conservative one was (which is when I became involved in all this).
When I say that we should accept that most people are adults who are capable of assimilating serious ideas I do not mean journalists or politicians. Sadly, I probably do not mean people who are involved in party politics either but those are ever fewer in number as we keep being told. But I do mean others - the electorate of all ages and social positions.
There is no question in my view: while it is quite a good idea to produce those stories of wastage and corruption, what we really need to do is go for the central problems, whether it be the EU, international aid or, for that matter, education in this country. Nothing else will get us anywhere. We do miss the likes of the old IEA that changed economic thinking in this country and there seems to be no money around for a eurosceptic think-tank as money tends to go to useless campaigns for referendums or to perestroika organizations like Open Europe or the Taxpayers' Alliance. We do have the internet, of course, and the American example of a blogosphere that became enormously powerful.
So here is my first response to the question of what is to be done - concentrate on the main issues and assume your audience is capable of understanding them and fight through the new media, whether it be the blogosphere (as Mr Towler does as well), other websites or, let's accept it, social media. That might get there somewhere. Anyone has any better ideas?