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How far a society has degenerated can be gauged by looking at those it chooses to venerate. The country which in loftier times boasted of John Stuart Mill, Thomas Carlyle and Charles Dickens in its pulpit of social commentary, now has markedly lesser standards, and this descent corresponds necessarily to a decline in popular acuity.

That one of the most popular political thinkers of our day is a comedian should itself communicate the point. More disquieting still is the light load carried by the man in question. 

Once a lowly television presenter, Brand, 39, now communicates daily on his YouTube channel in the manner of an Eastern prophet. He calls this broadcast the ‘Trews’ (a portmanteau of Truth and News). At their peak, episodes can reach an audience of over 500,000 people. The other day I took to watching a few of these myself and so here are some thoughts.

Politically, Brand’s point of orientation seems to be an extreme form of universalism. He repeatedly calls nation-states ‘meaningless concepts’ and ‘arbitrary lines on a map’. All cultures are apparently equal to him, including those which violently condemn this very worldview. Immigration is never a crisis meanwhile, but simply a means the rich use to distract the poor from the imperatives of class warfare.

These are old ideas indeed, many of them soaked in old blood.

From Stalin’s nation-destroying grip on Eastern-Europe, through Mao’s war on China’s ancient diversity, universalism has been roundly discredited by every possible moral measure. ‘Cultural equality’ meanwhile is a plague of illogic directly responsible for the tensions of the modern world.

On economic affairs, Brand’s anti-corporatism is absolute. No enterprise can be successful without simultaneously ‘oppressing’ or ‘keeping down’ other elements. He communicates a kind of ‘socialism without the details’, knocking the system whilst refusing to endorse a specific party or movement and often calling into question the very notion of voting.

Of course, wherever there is Leftism of this potency, one will also find hypocrisy, and Brand provides no exception to this rule. span>

In a video boldly examining the ‘hidden’ agenda behind television commercials, Brand mocks the inclusion of Native Americans in Coca Cola’s notorious multi-lingual Star-Spangled Banner ad. “Don’t take the piss.” he barks “You stole their fucking country.”

But what is that strange word he uses here – ‘country’? It seems to me a euphemism for ‘nation’, something which – as Brand has already informed us – is nothing more than a ‘construct’ of the mind. By the same stroke then, no ill truly befell the Native Americans, and if the notion of a ‘border’ has always been a nefarious restriction on human liberty, Sitting Bull was simply being xenophobic in resisting the path of the Yankees.

Brand repeats the same mistake on the subject of Israel. During the Gaza war, Brand consistently sided with the distinctly un-universalistic claims of Palestinian nationalism; a tendency of thought quite obsessed with ‘borders’ and the ownership of land.

But this freewheeling hypocrisy is part of the warp and weft of utopian thinking. And utopian Brand decidedly is. In the course of his pontifications, he has gone so far as to call for ‘revolution’. He doesn’t explain exactly for what end this rebellion would be, but perhaps he doesn’t need to.  

A more sensible British comic, Robert Webb, bravely took issue with Russell’s childish incitement in the New Statesman. In a letter addressed to Brand, Webb wrote the following:

“I understand your ache for the luminous, for a connection beyond yourself. Russell, we all feel like that. Some find it in music or literature, some in the wonders of science and others in religion. But it isn’t available any more in revolution. We tried that again and again, and we know that it ends in death camps, gulags, repression and murder. In brief, and I say this with the greatest respect, please read some fucking Orwell.”

A drug addict for most of his youth, Brand ascribes his newfound sobriety to the positive influence of Transcendental Meditation – a dippy, new-age excuse for light-headedness that became a hot product in Hollywood during the 1980s.

Perhaps political sobriety is a more difficult concept to master. Give him time.

D, LDN.

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