Don't give a Shnittke about cancel culture? Read on

Don't give a Shnittke about cancel culture? Read on

by Ewen Stewart
article from Wednesday 7, October, 2020

ALFRED SCHNITTKE saw the future. His First Symphony, five years in the making and premiered in Gorky in 1974, having being turned down by numerous Soviet orchestras too afraid the piece would not meet the sensors’ requirements, is a masterpiece of Discordia.

Schnittke, of German and Jewish ancestry, composed the piece at the height of the Cold War as a Soviet Citizen but it outlines a politics and philosophy that perhaps predicted the intellectual confusion we, in the West, are in.

If you have the time I challenge you to listen to the entire piece (here), appropriately performed by the Soviet Union Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra. It is a 65 minute roller coaster of emotion, absurdity, Discordia and genius. If time is sparse listen to the first 20 minutes or so – you’ll get the picture.

Schnittke’s masterpiece is a metaphor for our times. A jumble of notes, anti-harmony, monstrosity, enormous sound – but critical hints of the Great Western Tradition remain. Snippets of Shostakovich, Haydn, Beethoven, the Baroque and even some jazz emerge through his deliberate Discordia reminding us with poignant beauty of what we have lost and a remembrance of what, in our recollection and our knowledge, is still true.

The Western Tradition, of which Britain is a key component, has for good or ill, largely shaped the world. This broad cannon of ideas, without exaggeration has dominated the intellectual, artistic, cultural, scientific and commercial understanding of the world. That is not to decry other traditions in any way, but it is the West, that has been the pre-eminent intellectual powerhouse, certainly for a millennia.

Today we are at an intellectual crossroads. The Judeo-Christian foundations of the West, which were accepted at least by lip, for centuries, lie in near ruin; the basis of our morality and authority questioned, and what was considered good and a point of pride now derided by an all-powerful unelected elite who command the airwaves.

Be it a semi-exiled Prince of the Realm, our major Universities, the emasculated established churches, or even the National Trust, consistent attacks to make us feel guilty for the alleged sins of the past reverberate. There is an attempt to reboot the clock, unwind our history and make us repent. But for what?

It may seem odd to talk about Brexit in the context of crumbling western civilisation but there is a connection. For many Brexit was about reclaiming a branch of Western civilisation while still being connected to the continuum. A cry back to community, locality, individuality, self-reliance, loyalty and peculiarity against an overarching, centralised and bureaucratic state that increasingly dictated a dull conformity, forgetting the lessons of competition and creativity from Renaissance Italy. The EU vision of Western civilisation was and is a contradiction in terms.

But now those who profess to govern us, thwarted over Brexit, are determined to rub the belligerent peasants’ noses in it with a new morality and code so far removed from our understanding of the western tradition as to render it almost meaningless. Exported from campuses in America, our establishment unquestionably seeks to virtue signal supporting the latest desecrations.

In a European context the trends towards this new morality are perhaps most advanced in Britain, but, excluding perhaps the Visegrad nations of Eastern Europe, there are also echoes across the continent. Perverse ideas of conformity, control and command are embraced by the EU and firmly embedded in Whitehall, our Universities and the media – despite having relatively little popular support.

I don’t know about you but for twenty years I would religiously listen to the Today programme on radio 4. Yet eighteen months ago I tuned-out for pretty well the last time. Brexit bias was part of it, but only a small part. Listening at 6.30am in the morning to an agenda whose relevance one could barely recognise had becomes tiresome in the extreme. Dominated by a tediously worthy and preachy one sided discussion on one version of environmentalism, or wealth redistribution, or poverty, as if it was of Dickensian proportions, is simply too much.

Now we face a new and even greater onslaught that seeks to re-write our very history and culture, creating through cancel culture avirtual year zero.What exists is our very essence and is not for sale. We are told we were and are bad people. Our wealth was ill-gotten, in Empire, we were slavers and extortionists. We had unjustified privilege and exploit that today.

This new philosophy is invasive within the public and semi-public sector as the greats of the past are cast aside for some alleged sin. We all have examples of this perversity but perhaps one of the more extraordinary is the cancelling of arguably the University of Edinburgh’s greatest philosopher, David Hume.

The rather bleak tower that bore his name, ironically a 1960’s monstrosity, now re-named 40 George Street, for Hume, an anti-slaver, is now alleged to be a racist and once lent a chum some cash to buy a plantation in the West Indies. Hume is not my philosophical bag, but surely we can recognise he was a great, warts and all and a retrospective trashing of such an illustrious character is perverse? Even more so from a seat of learning which should be engaged in critical enquiry not modish virtue signalling.

At one level these absurdities don’t matter. At another they absolutely do. For twist, bend and distort our history, philosophy and culture and truth loses its meaning. It creates a void, a relativism and distortion cutting the next generation off from their and our heritage. To judge our forbearers by the mores of today is mad and bad. Perhaps Plato should be toppled? He was not much in favour of democracy after all.

We are living through an age of Discordia where the very fabric of our house is being torn down. The moral, cultural and philosophical basis of the very western tradition is being challenged from within and a very loss of nerve from those who profess to lead us like never before. But in the distance the bedrock of the Western tradition still resonates. The echo may be becoming fainter, but it is our inheritance to reclaim and reclaim it we must.Remember Schnittke. In his consciousness his music warned of a coming Discordia but at the same time he helped to bequeath us the Great Western Tradition with glimpses of beauty, harmony and order.

Ewen Stewart is a City Economist whose career has spanned over 30 years. His consultancy Walbrook Economics specialises in the interaction of macroeconomics, politics and capital markets and advises major pension funds, asset managers and hedge funds. He is Director of the think tank Global Britain and his work is widely published in economics and political journals. 

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