Bill Hopkins and the Angry Young Men
7th New Right Meeting, London, April 8, 2006 (audio, transcript; reprinted in Western Civilization Bites Back as “Bill Hopkins: An Anti-Humanist Life”).
9,671 words / 59:34
The following text is transcript by V. S. of a lecture by Jonathan Bowden given at the 7th New Right meeting in London on April 8, 2006. Unintelligible passages are marked as such. Please post a comment below if you have corrections or can fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, the tape breaks off in mid-sentence. If anyone has a complete recording, please contact me at [email protected]. To listen to the audio recording in a player, click here or on the player below. To download the mp3, right-click here and choose “save link as” or “save target as.”
I’d like to talk about Bill Hopkins, who is obviously not a household name, although he was one of the Angry Young Men in the 1950s, which was one of the major cultural groups, or sort of explosions, that occurred in this society after the Second World War. They weren’t a coherent group. They didn’t come together. They weren’t like the Continental intellectuals who form a group and then publish a manifesto where each of them makes a declaration that achieves some kind of a solemn and combined purpose. They were a disparate group of youngish men who were corralled into the designation of the Angry Young Men by the media in the early 1950s. Indeed, they were one of the first stunts or cultural creations of the post-war mass media, because they all seemed to be against the system of sort of Tory-consensual Britain in the early to mid-1950s.
The most famous of them, of course, was John Osborne the playwright who wrote Look Back in Anger. Technically on the Left, who moved in a sort of crotchety, slightly ultra-Tory and Rightwards direction as he got older and ended up denouncing immigration when he’d actually been a pro-CND [Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament] progressive at the beginning. So, he has a certain sort of trajectory across the cultural horizon.
Another member of the Angry Young Men who’s forgotten now but he made a very considerable film was the film maker Lindsay Anderson who made a film called If . . ., which is an extraordinary film about public school life. He also made a very Left-wing film—because he was a fellow-traveler of the Communist Party to a certain extent, but he was also a culturally independently minded Leftist up to a degree—called Britannia Hospital. This was a film from the early 1980s which, because it was released with great fanfare the moment the Falklands War was happening, died a critical and public death almost instantly. This sort of anti-System film from a Leftist perspective went straight down the plug. He had great problems making any films because of the amounts of money that needed to be raised. Indeed, one subtext to all of the Angry Young Men and how they were treated by the society and its culture, was that in the end nearly all of them were broken or pushed to one side or didn’t fulfill their potential or partly weren’t allowed to fulfill their potential in various ways.
Another member of this group, who disassociated himself pretty quickly from it, was Kingsley Amis. And Kingsley Amis was, as is widely known now partly through the literary architecture of his son after his father’s death, a Communist fellow-traveler and more than a Communist fellow-traveler in his early years. He’s another of these ones who has a blue “road to Damascus” conversion and becomes something like an ultra-Tory later in life. You know, he’s a progressive Leftist who’s against the post-war consensus, and even Attlee’s administration, and then switch forward 50 years he’s in the Garrick Club drinking whiskey moaning about immigration and writing to the Spectator saying how dreadful it is. So, there is a sort of progression with a lot of these people.
Another of them was John Braine, who although he wasn’t technically in the inner group that was known as both angry, young and male, there was also a degree to which he really was morally part of that group. Came down from the North, of course, wrote Room at the Top and all sorts of spin-offs, became a bit of a Surrealist in some ways afterwards, wrote slightly surreal, sort of aesthetically projected novels, The Vodi and other things. Nearly all of Braine’s work is about the morality and personal philosophy of sexual relations between men and women, in one form or another.
Braine was an old friend of Bill’s. Braine was another sort of Communist, who later ended up in the Monday Club on the Right-wing of the Tory Party. In fact, when I joined the Monday Club when I was 18, and I was later to be expelled from the Monday Club twice (they invited me back and then expelled me again, just for the hell of it); I still keep the ’70s clip-on Monday Club tie, the big blue one with “MC” on it which people think is the “Magic Circle” or they think it’s “Master of Ceremonies,” but it’s actually “Monday Club.” I keep that because they expelled me twice. John Braine joined the Monday Club and wrote a pamphlet for them called “John Braine: From the Communist Party of Great Britain to the Monday Club, an Essay” [This appears to have been called Goodbye to the Left.—Ed.] So, you see a certain progression with these sorts of people, although some of their opponents and former collaborators, comrades, and associates would doubtless not have perceived it as a progression.
Let’s go down the list of other AYM’s as they were sometimes called. There was Colin Wilson, and Colin Wilson is interesting in certain respects because Wilson now—despite the many, many millions he’s made from writing what might be called popular or middlebrow literature which contains an intellectual element—is despised by the intelligentsia and is despised by the mass culture, even after sort of four hundred books translated into nine languages. And yet, he’s unbelievably productive. Unbelievably. Almost to a logorrheic degree. It’s sort of churned out of him.
Now, when he was younger he was very influenced by Bill and very influenced by his ideas. His first novel, Ritual in the Dark, was dedicated to Bill, and although The Outsider was written in the British Museum’s reading room, but then British Library, when it was based over in the center of Bloomsbury where Karl Marx wrote Capital, of course, he used to sleep on Hampstead Heath in the summer (it was a different era then) because Wilson came down from Leicester. One of 9, 10, 11, 12 children from a very poor working class background, went to work in a bicycle factory when he was 14, had no educational qualifications at all, and genuinely was an outsider which is why his first book was called The Outsider.
Angus Wilson, who was then the chief librarian at the British Library, noticed him scribbling every day between the hours when you come in the morning and leave in the evening and said “What are you writing?” He gave him the first draft of The Outsider, and he went to a publisher and indirectly, through [Angus] Wilson’s advice, it was published.
Now, Wilson was taken up by the cultural glitterati of the time, was praised as a new genius by the Sitwells and this sort of thing and then dumped and trashed for his next book as a working class upstart and arriviste who can’t write a sentence and he’s exceeded his brief and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. So, he was brought forward, embraced, and then slapped and sort of disappeared. But didn’t disappear to the degree that he didn’t write anymore, because he actually became, in Bill’s view (and Colin is one of his oldest friends), a compulsive over-producer who’s churned out an enormous mass of material. Whereas Bill, when he hit a wall around this time, has produced virtually nothing since that has been widely disseminated. So, you have two contrary reactions.
But if we actually look at Wilson’s career, Wilson has been open to the dissemination of far Right views, even though he may not particularly agree with them himself. He wrote for Lodestar, which was a sort of literary and mildly theoretical journal that was put out by Jeffrey Hamm the ex-Mosleyite and continuing Mosleyite for many years. Wilson also defended causes which were ideologically anti-system, illiberal, and very unfashionable.
When somebody using the mild pseudonym Richard Harwood, whose real name is Richard Verrall, wrote a pamphlet called Did Six Million Really Die? Colin Wilson wrote a review, a reasonably neutral review but a totally unhysterical review, in Books and Bookmen which then was probably a much more important publication in that particular era than it is now. This was the internal journal within the book industry that was widely used to target particular books and post-manuscripts that would then get mass distribution in the major chains that existed. Now, Wilson said that this is an important thesis and may cause hysteria in certain areas but needs to be looked at. And for this, he alone became a little marked or a little smelly or was considered to have something about him that wasn’t quite nice or quite right and this sort of thing.
In my view, this openness to discourse which is unacceptable is partly Bill Hopkins’ legacy on Colin Wilson. Colin Wilson wrote, when The Leap! or The Divine and the Decay, which is Bill’s only novel, was reissued in the early 1980s, the Foreword to it. Here it is: Foreword by Colin Wilson. “When this book first appeared,” Wilson writes, “in 1957, it was attacked with unprecedented ferocity. Why did it cause such violent reactions?” Now, we’ll come on to this in a bit, because we’re still going through the Angry Young Men.
Now, the Angry Young Men had lots sorts of hangers-on and lesser people involved. There was also a Scots-Italian writer called Alexander Trocchi who used to write sort of pornographic novels; Cain’s Book is the most famous. He died with a heroin overdose. [Unintelligible.] He used to meet Bill in SoHo and describe his latest fights and this sort of thing because he wrote that an intellectual ought to be able to mix it in the streets and so on.
They came from an era, these people, that’s slightly unique in Britain because we’ve never had a coherent class intelligentsia in the way that many Continental European societies do. When intellectuals go to salons and this sort of thing, which is very much a Continental thing, although Continental European intellectuals and academics and theorists and people in the media and literati and so on have these things often in London and you’re invited to them sort of by osmosis. People hear you’re somebody of interest, often in the most superficial way imaginable and you’re invited into these circles.
I attended one of these sorts of things when I was about 18, and lots of intellectuals were talking about ordinary people. I don’t know what they’re talking about. And, of course, I suddenly realize that this is their own class structure. There were intellectuals and the others who weren’t intellectually minded. And this, of course, is useful because the vast majority of intellectuals, not all by any means, we’re dealing with people that are quite contrary in this talk, but the vast majority adopt Left Humanist, “lovey,” Left-liberal, Communistic, mildly Marxian ideas. The overwhelming majority do. Often just as lip-service amongst themselves although there are more hardcore ideologues even than that.
Yet, when you go to these salons and they’re talking about intellectuals and ordinary people. So, always the hierarchy exists in the mind even if the theory is contrary to it, because people raise it again in their own consciousness and speech.
Who else was associated with the Angry Young Men? When in ’57 several publishers got together they decided because of the media controversy, which reached tabloid proportions, although The Sun wasn’t much of an organ then, the Daily Mirror was essentially its sort of Labourish equivalent, and these people were getting headlines: “Osborne Says He Hates Being English,” because Osborne announced in a party that he didn’t like being English. “I loathe the English!” he said. And therefore, this was . . . so what? A drunken man at a bus stop looks at his reflection and loathes himself and makes a remark, but it’s on the front of a tabloid newspaper the day after. He later said he loves being English, but there’s a difference of 40 years between the two statements, you know what I mean? But then again he was an actor as quite a lot of these people are, in all sorts of wearing of masks and taking them off again in that sort of way.
A publisher called Maschler, who later went on to be head of Penguin UK, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, thought it would be a wheeze to get all these intellectuals who were angry and young and male to write their manifesto. And he called it Declarations: A Statement of Intent from the Angry Young Men. But the first essay’s by a woman! Angry Young Female, you know. And she was Doris Lessing, who also a member of the Communist Party at that time, or at least a fellow traveler to the degree that whether or not she was actually in it didn’t matter. She was only in it because Maschler was having an affair with her at the time. You see how these things work. But all of the other people who were in the volume were angry, were young, were male, and were generically, up to a point, in this group.
The two that I haven’t mentioned who were in this group who have largely been lost sight of—John Wain’s another one who’s largely gone down now—were Bill Hopkins and Stuart Holroyd. There’s a reason why Bill Hopkins and Stuart Holroyd have partly gone down the memory hole. One is that since the ’50s they haven’t really published, although everyone has known who they were. And the reason is that they were open to anger and were essentially youthful, but their politics came from a different direction.
Holroyd wrote an essay and even a book, I believe though I haven’t read this personally, attacking parliamentary democracy. Attacking parliamentary democracy! Which probably is of all things the most heretical thing—certainly in the ’50s, when we’d all fought for democracy of course—that you could possibly do! This really was anger and youth and maleness in a cocktail that wasn’t particularly liked. And he didn’t publish again with a mainstream press beyond his essay in Declarations.
And then there was Bill Hopkins. Bill wrote this essay in Declarations called “Ways Without a Precedent,” which is a Nietzschean sort of manifesto. And he followed it up with this novel, which was reissued in the mid-1980s, called The Leap! This was because prospectively it was to be filmed, and this wasn’t talk. I mean, there were producers signing contracts and so on. But, in the end, as often with these projects, it came to nothing. The real name of the novel is The Divine and the Decay.
This is the original edition actually. I bought it in Hay-on-Wye, where books go to die, for £7, although on the internet they charge up to a £100 for this. It’s a bit smelly, you know. At the front it says, “To Jonathan Bowden, a fellow warrior. From Bill Hopkins.”
This is an interesting book in all sorts of ways, because this is a book which is a fantasy about a man who essentially gets up in the morning and decides that he wants to be dictator of Britain and how will he go about morally, aesthetically, psychologically, intellectually, and ideologically becoming a man who is worthy to be a dictator of Britain. It’s based on the Nietzschean idea that artists of genius should rule, and of course it becomes a little more controversial when you realize that there’s one artist in particular who ruled a particular society at a particular time who was very unfashionable and not especially liked in austerity-ridden post-war ’50s Britain, who might be compared to the ascetic, white-faced, loose-limbed, and black-haired hero of this particular novel.
It’s based upon ideas which are in many ways completely heretical and blasphemous and unacceptable to such a degree as that even many of the partisans of Bill don’t ultimately own up to where they end. Because Bill, who’s been involved in endless shenanigans and scandals throughout his entire life, has lived about—without hero-worshipping him too much, to be frank—6, 7, 8 lives.
The first was as an author. Bill was born in Cardiff in 1928, but as he’ll tell you, “I loathe the Welsh.” He doesn’t like being Welsh, because he associates Welshness with victimhood, and he aligns with the English because they’re the dominant nation within the United Kingdom. He’s like one of these absurd Croats who used to claim that the capital of Serbia was actually in Croatia, you know.
But I know what he means because, being partly Celtic myself, there is at times amongst Celtic people when they gather together a certain whining that we’re minorities. I remember Kenneth Griffith, the actor, once said to me, “It’s all English, you know!” He said, “They’re like jackboots on our throats.” And I said, “Do you really believe that, Kenneth?” And he said, “All my life I’ve been persecuted by these people!” I said, “Why’d you call this house Michael Collins House then, because he’s an Irish nationalist?” And he said, “Why, it’s all the same isn’t it? Those bloody Germans!” By which he means the English. It is a sort of rhetorical nonsense that people get out of themselves when they lose to the Welsh at rugby or whatever.
But he does exist and in a society without mass immigration, actually, it would probably be more prominent as a discourse then it would otherwise. And Bill would say to all these Welsh types coming towards him he’d say, “A rude word. I’m with the English.” And they’d go, “Ooh no, no. Dreadful.”
Adorno, in his theory of fascist psychology, the F-scale as it’s called, has a scale for people who are psychologically fascistically minded. Bill would be off that scale. He’d be so off that scale that the methodology of that scale doesn’t actually apply to him, as an individual. One of the prerequisites, according to Theodor Adorno who was the leading theorist of the Frankfurt group (Western Marxists), says that one of the primary characteristics of “a fascistic mentality” is identification with the violator, which means the victor in any particular consequence. In other words, if you look at the Indian mutiny, the historically normative happening, you side with the British, you side with the English within the British, you even side with Sikh regiments and people who were aligned with the Raj against other groups, you align with that group that wins.
It’s not a very good codex, because everyone would align with Blair, wouldn’t they? If they had that sort of view. Because isn’t he a winner? Isn’t the great peacemaker invading Iraq on a regular basis and making a great mess of it?
But irrespective of all that, this scale would certainly suit Bill, because Bill is an extraordinary example of an intellectual (because he is an intellectual even an ultra-intellectual) who in his own way is highly sensitive and aesthetic. Just like all the people who are characterized as “lovies,” such as in lovies for Labour and so on. But his views are the absolute and totalitarian opposite of those views that convulse the present clerisy.
It’s like coming across a dinosaur or strange fossil or something that’s a spiritual relic from another era because his is the psychology of another era where the West never apologized, was totally proud of what it was, regarded itself as a preeminent civilization, whatever discourse it felt about itself, without any apology whatsoever. At all. All moments of the day. Without the odd bit of liberal hand-wringing and funk and self-denial.
So, in a way, Bill is a sort of shock therapy for many people. He used to go in the ’50s and until the ’80s or ’90s to these salons in West London. I attended a few of them. Run by Jean [unintelligible]. Run by other prominent art dealers and critics and BBC executives and other people. And people would say, “Isn’t the Rwandan genocide terrible?” And Bill would say, “No. I think there’s too many of them anyway.” And people would be horrified. Well, it’s partly a test, of course. He’s doing it because his view is that the liberal Left mind and Zeitgeist is based on an easy and bland sympathy, which is universal, that loves all. But for the concrete individual in front of them they don’t give a damn, and they’ll step over you just like that. What he’s doing is he’s facing them with some of the psychological architecture of their own undignified position.
His other view, of course, is that Western intellectuality is based upon conflict and is based upon dialectic, and all these people who say that thought is free, and we will say anything we want, and if we want to have an article in the Venice Biennale which consists of a crucifix in a large tub of urine and it’s called Piss Christ. And this is an artwork. This is a conceptual, pre-Turner Prize artwork. They wouldn’t say the same about Islam, of course, because they don’t want to get into that, and also they want to live a bit longer, which is something that can’t really be gainsaid can it, really?
But at the same time he is pushing the idea that all this freedom you’re talking about, let’s unpack this freedom. Let’s be Socratic. What is freedom? How far are you prepared to go in order to exclude the possibility of it? What is really a liberal statement where you say, “I will literally die for your right to say anything” while you’re holding your hand over the other chap’s mouth!? Why not push it a bit further and a bit further?
And people will say, “Well, that’s not a very humanist attitude, Mr. Hopkins!” And he’d say, “Well, I’m not a humanist.” And they say, “You’re not a humanist!?” And he says, “No. I don’t believe human life is worthwhile just as an entity, like a slug! And I don’t believe that any life is outside of hierarchy of race, of gender, of civilization, of intellect, of beauty, of spiritual preponderance! Everything is hierarchical.”
He would make a liberal statement, occasionally. He once said, “But then again, even within the superior race, the difference between the higher man and the lower. It’s the difference almost between a near God and a worm!” That’s his concession to liberal, multi-ethnic feeling.
Bill reminds me very much of that essay by Evola which is critical of Fascism and National Socialism from the Right not from the Left and not from the Center. But in a sense it isn’t sort of radical enough. Because his view is essentially—rather like one of these iodine tests—that everything is so weak, so broken down, so syphilitic morally and spiritually that you really need something acidic that is re-barbarative and is repellent. That will repel it. That will appall it. That will confront it. That will break it. Just as in a way his career was partly broken. But then he had another one.
Bill was in the army after the war in occupied Germany. And his wife Carla is German. He’s in Hamburg, and he said during the summer, because they were in the British Occupation Zone, you could hear, feel, and smell the stench of all the corpses under the buildings because all the buildings had been flattened mostly by British Bomber Command activities.
Bill comes from a long line of actors, and his father was a reasonably famous music hall artiste of the period and before. Think Jimmy Tarbuck. Think those sorts of people. They’re well-known in their era, but as soon as they’re gone, almost no one remembers them. But they’re famous names. Pre-televisual, middlebrow, lower middlebrow British comedy names. His father once lived in The Ritz and had endless hangers-on and lay in a bath with his mouth open with people—fellow Welshman, as Bill would say—pouring out liquor down his mouth, and he ended in Streatham with no money at all, in a bedsit, fiddling with a gas heater.
Because these are radical types, you see? It’s all or nothing. You know, one woman, a next, another show, another show, you’re rich, you’re on the floor. They’re radical types. And he grew up in the world of penny-ante carnie and mainstream-to-fringe theater that John Osborne comes out of. Indeed Osborne’s very similar in background to Bill because they’re both Anglo-Welsh in complicated ways.
The second major play that Laurence Olivier played in as a film based upon that sort of world, The Entertainer: that world is incarnated really, that small, slightly enclosed British world of the theater [unintelligible] moment of mock-Shakespearean threnody. When the character of the comedian looks at the audience, and there’s none of them. They’ve all gone! Because they’re watching telly, you see. It’s the ’50s. It’s a dying world. And he says, “Look at these eyes. I’m dead behind the eyes!” And that’s the moment that the entire world shudders to a halt.
Bill came from that world and his mother was a sort of music hall beauty who was paid just to walk along the stage and then walk back again with increasingly less clothing on, as various sorts of blokes’ eyes and goggles misted up, and that sort of thing. So, he comes from that sort of world. He likes a good show. One thing that he would say to me is that it’s all a show. Judges, politicians, royalty: it’s all show business, really! They’re all acting. They’re all performing. Blair’s performing. The judge who sent Irving down is performing. They’re all doing it. It’s how things are run. It’s how things are formatted in front of people who receive power in various circumstances.
The other thing that’s very important about him is that his acting, Bohemian background is, in a way, unique to England and Britain, classless. Because in our very hierarchical society, which of course it obviously still is, although it’s been bent around quite a lot and changed in some of its definitions. But in the era he was born into far, far more so than today and 50 years forward, the beginning of the twentieth century even more so even to the degree that it was impossible for many people to move really. That Bohemian aesthetic strand could go right up and down the society. Because one time in his life when Prince Charles (I hope he hasn’t kept these letters and diaries) was quite a close friend of Bill’s, because he knew all of those people at certain times in his life, because somebody has to.
There’s also a degree to which many people used to test themselves against him, because he’s a sort of secret figure in some ways in British post-war history. He is the intellectual, he is the thinker who represents the viewpoint that no one ever mentions. But he’s there, as a nemesis, as a shadow, as a sort of death’s head at the feast in these sorts of parties. The one that people almost sort of test themselves against in argument and dialectic, because it is a position which is disprivileged.
In France after the war, French radical Right-wing intellectuality, of which there was a very large tradition, went underground. And this was after Robert Brasillach was guillotined [He was actually shot by firing squad.—Ed.] for treason to the French Republic. Intellectual treason, because he’d done nothing but publish a magazine called Je suis partout, and he was guillotined for that, and for his collaboration with Otto Abetz, who was the cultural sort of commanding officer of Germany in France. Contrary to certain things, the Germans’ domination of France was in that war very liberal, very mild, extraordinarily civilized actually. But that intellectuality went underground.
In Britain, we’ve always had a far Right intellectuality. Henry Williamson, an old friend of Bill’s, was one of the people that was going to talked about earlier on, and he represents it. Thomas Carlyle in the nineteenth century represented it. Wyndham Lewis in the beginning of the twentieth century represented it. John Buchan to a certain extent represents elements of it. It’s always been there, but it’s always slightly denied, slightly obscured. People slightly deny what they are. They put up certain masks to face off against it. They go slightly underground. They have a history of never joining any groups because that’s their one way of being demonized and corralled.
Bill is completely against my involvement in the British National Party, for example. He just says, “You’re marching around with a totem of slavery!” he said. “They’ll come down on you with their beams, and you’ll be there and they’ll say ‘Nazi! There he is!’” And I said, “Well, they’ve always said that about you, Bill.” And he said, “Have they? Have they, indeed?! I have a writ here for the first man who dares.”
Now, one of Bill’s friends, ironically, in all sorts of ways, because Bill’s a complicated man, was the screenplay writer for nearly all of the early films, and they’re great films as well, by Michael Powell. And his name, of course, was Emeric Pressburger. He sought Bill out in the 1970s, I think. And [Kevin] Macdonald, who’s a grandchild of Pressburger, wrote a book which has a chapter about Bill in it called something like “The Heart of Intellectual Evil,” something like that. “The Heart of Intellectual Evil.” Not the Heart of Darkness, Conrad’s short novel. He said that Pressburger was a masochist who sought Bill out to be abused and enslaved and whipped and that sort of thing, morally and mentally. He said that Bill was an elitist and an anti-humanist and an anti-Semite.
Bill wrote all sorts of expletives in this 426 pages, and he went down to a lawyer, and the lawyer said for the first part get rid of these expletives, so he cut all that bit out. And he sued Faber, because it was quite a mainstream book, and that book’s never been reissued in paperback. And I said, “Bill . . .” He said, “Yes?” I said, “Everything he said about you is true.” He said, “That’s not the point! You must never allow them to say it!”
He said, “Anyway, I have all sorts of Jewish friends who don’t believe Israel should exist.” He said, “As to class and elitism, I believe only in the class of the mind and of mentality! And all can come from that background and surmount the hurdle of the bourgeoisie!” See, he’s always got an answer.
But he would say that’s the way of being an intellectual. You’ve always got an answer for these people. Because in a sense you’re fighting a war with them and you don’t just sort of Ceausescu before the guns at the end just go down. You put up all sorts of screens, and you engage in all sorts of activities which sort of traditionalist British authors would call “pluck.” Not frontal assault. Not the devastation of our young manhood in the First World War, but tunneling under. Going behind. Having a false friendship with somebody, and then collapsing it and going in. I think the present chairman of my party would like that sort of strategy. There’s a degree to which these strategies are dividing people against themselves when they’re enemies, of not going down in a glorious 7th Cavalry frontal assault type thing, particularly when you’re in an isolated position.
I mentioned French intellectuality earlier. After this novel was published, Bill met Sartre and Camus in Paris. And Sartre had a physical reaction when he met Bill. He went, “Eeerrrrgh! Fascist!” He said, “We fought you in the war!” Bill said, “You didn’t do any fighting. You were busy writing a few plays. And anyway, you studied Heidegger in the ’30s in Germany when you didn’t know anything that was going on, and you were keen on essentialist and primordial and Traditionalist theories, which are close to people like Guénon; Heidegger’s secularized them in the twentieth century, and they’re actually part of the metaphysical system of your most appalling adversaries!” And Sartre says, “We’re not getting on.”
Camus was there as well, because this was early, and Sartre and Camus who end up hating each other’s guts, although Sartre said he liked him after he had a car crash, which of course he was no longer around to receive the plaudit.
Sartre was there. Simon de Beauvoir was there and her other lover at the time, Algren, who wrote the novel about drug addiction The Man with the Golden Arm, was there. Bill used to say Sartre was there reading a [unintelligible] novel and Algren would be on the job. But they’d all be talking about theory, because they were totally theoretical people.
Sartre’s great project was to marry existentialism and Marxism, and he tried it in Being and Nothingness and Critique of Dialectical Reason, which is based on Kant. He tried in a sense to come up with a system that would justify Stalinism in the second volume of Critique of Dialectical Reason, but he couldn’t finish it, because even he couldn’t get through to that dialectical height.
The interesting thing about Bill is that sort of intellectual purity, where he has been in a zone where he has literally met these people and many others like them. Because one thing that comes out is, why is he an outsider? Why are his ideas partly those of a man alone? Well, if you think about it logically, if we had a powerful and proficient and foregrounded and essentialist civilization in the West, his views, possibly with some of the ruthlessness of the rhetoric hived off, would be the mainstream.
And all of these people who say that the mentally ill are sane, and say that white people are guilty forever, and say that criminals are victims of society and say that the only crime is punishment of those who’ve done one, and all of these ideas which are ultra-Left, anarchistic and culturally Marxian ideas, which are everywhere, which are in the mass media, which are in the tertiary section of education, which are in schools at the intermediate and lower level: these are the hegemonic ideas of this civilization. He is a demon, and these views are central.
There was once a time, of course, when those views were demonic and other. People used to meet in little Bloomsbury circles and have little funny handshakes because, you know, you needed to trust somebody. You liked things which were regarded as deviant and other, and they were in opposition to everything. Opposition to patriotism, opposition to imperialism, opposition to a sense of race, opposition to family, opposition to military service, opposition to the death penalty, opposition to the absence of taking drugs in public, and all this sort of thing.
Virtually all of these things are now in the mainstream, and that which was contrary is now in the reverse and meet in rooms with young men outside with heavy jackets via redirection points and that sort of thing. It’s been a complete reversal linguistically, morally, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually. An extraordinary reversal when you realize that the Western superstructure is still hegemonic.
When some little Iraqi’s fighting back with his popgun, there’s an enormous flying tank come over the desert sands towards him, which is what these helicopter gunships are, and he’s obliterated before he’s even got worked out how to get the plastic gun off the side of his shoulder, the West is triumphant!
And yet, its ideas are based upon a moral squeamishness about what some liberal imperialists and globalists are actually doing elsewhere in the world. They’ve created a dialectical situation where they’re against the logic of their own behavior outside this country, and these countries internally go to pieces and fracture to bits under their ideas. So, in the Third World it’s a bit of this, but here we love them all! And they can all come and replace us in our own island!
Bill used to live in North Kensington in an area called Notting Hill. In the 1950s, of course, and all sorts of [unintelligible] things go on in Notting Hill . . . One of Bill’s other lives is he links with various other Right-wing groups. In 1974 or ’75, like J. R. R. Tolkien for a year, I believe, he joined the National Front. Bill certainly joined the National Front, because John Tyndall put it on the inside back cover. “I made the inside,” Bill said to me. “A famous writer joins National Front.” I haven’t seen that edition, but I believe there was one. Now, he joined National Front in ’74, ’75 when there was the possibility of an electoral breakthrough at that time. Henry Williamson told him, “Never join a far Right group. It ruined my life.” There we are. But Bill then left after a while because he didn’t think that particular model would work. There’s an entrepreneurial side to Bill. A sort of starter-upper and then drop aside as he goes on to his next project.
When he published The Divine and the Decay, the reaction to it, that this was a novel that was apologetic of inhumanism, that was against the Enlightenment, it was a novel that was not even appeasing but supporting, a post-collaborationist novel, it was called. It’s only a novel, but the idea is that theoretically it is aligning itself with that which we defeated. In fact, there’s a book called The Angry Decade in which it said that Hopkins is a demonic man that people shouldn’t listen to, and he shouldn’t be published either. MacGibbon and Key, who are obscure now but were a tributary . . . Jonathan Cape, is a conference of publishers of which MacGibbon and Key was one, so it’s quite mainstream and then they go to be Penguin as these people buy themselves out.
He wrote a second novel, which was about the concept of the Doppelgänger in German and other literatures, called Time of Totality, I think. He said to me, “Is the title too portentous?” And I said, “It never appeared anyway.” And Bill said, “It hardly matters, does it?”
Another thing I’d like to talk about Bill is his spiritual and intellectual views. Bill came from a generation that appears superficially, even in its own propagandistic terms, to be militantly atheistic. And at one level, Bill is a militant atheist. If a Jehovah’s Witness came to his door—he wouldn’t want to basically; go to the next one.
But in a strange way, as Wilson said in one of his criminological essays commenting on a book by a Bulgarian I think called Progoff, who wrote a history of psychology, a discourse which for many people has replaced theology in the twentieth century. Psychology began with the idea that God was absent from men’s lives. This is my paraphrase of the first line. But as psychological investigation has proceeded during the 19th century, it has come to the conclusion that man is definitely a spiritual being.
And Bill’s view, which is always dialectical, is materialistic and/or atheist in one sense. Because like most moderns . . . And Bill is a modern. Bill is not a Perennialist or a Traditionalist. Bill is a Right-wing modernist who accepts modernity post-Renaissance and later than that. But believes that the modern world can be other than it is. So, if you like, he wants the absolute inverse of the great [unintelligible], Tony Blair world that we now live under and the absolute inverse of all forms of Communism that lie to the Left of that. So, he wants a modernity which is based upon radical, total, and pitiless inequality as he would say.
Because he loves this fury of language. And this is partly in some ways a Protestant inheritance. If you notice, Paisley, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard: they love this Old Testament language, which partly has a pagan element to it. There’s almost a degree to which—it’s a sort of line I’ve invented for my own purposes from the Edda. You can imagine one of the goddesses saying to Odin, “Are you a god of love?” Freya or somebody. And his reply would be, poetically, “No. Fury. Fury is love!” And that’s Bill’s view really.
But in a sense, love is not enough. Christianity, a religion of course he’s always been opposed to, although he’s not opposed to Christian aesthetic culture—it’s language, sculpture, buildings, statuary. But he’s opposed to the ethics of the religion. Because you cannot build a world, as you’re throttling Third Worlders in Iraq and so on, on pity and love. Because you are dishonest at the very core of your being. You can keep the sculpture, but you must be correct about your morals. In his view, of course, a crusader would be a pagan with cross on. You had a rhetoric that said it was different.
But if you look at it, it’s a key dialectic which is explored in this novel which is about the future of Western Civilization because it involves a relationship between a man and a woman on an island, in other words in a magical realm, where the woman represents, broadly speaking, feminist-leaning, liberal-minded, Christian and mildly humanist values. That sort of reflexive mixture of liberal humanism backed with a degree of Christianity. As Irish Murdoch, the novelist who knew Bill well, said, “What we need to do is dump Christianity and keep the liberal ethics.” Which, of course, is what they’ve done.
The other character, the demon, Plowart, is will, power, becoming, intensity of religious process, the will to dominate, the will to structure. They have endless arguments about meaning and purpose. Because Plowart says you can’t base anything on love solely. Love contains, is energy and contains hatred and destruction within it. But you need to sublimate that and go to another level because the purpose of life is transcendence.
That is the moral irony which dialectically and intellectually isn’t really one at all, whereby a man is perceived as an atheist and even perceives himself as one, writes a novel called The Divine and the Decay. Because, of course, in this novel Plowart isn’t a human. He’s a force. He’s coming towards destiny. All the other characters, and because it’s a novel that’s obscure in a way and hasn’t been read by that many people, in the novel are people who are in decay. There’s a cripple in this book (it’s a disablist work) who in some ways signifies post-war Britain. He lives on Vachau, which is his version of Brecqhou, this tiny little island that the Barclay brothers now live on; irony of ironies, which, rather like Sark, had a feudal structure so he can go from Britain as it is now to a sort of idealized Britain that’s narrow and minimalist enough to make intellectual play with.
Because, like all artists, you take reality and you change it, and you transmogrify it. It’s Vulcan. You work on the material. You take people. You put things together. You cut bits off. Because art isn’t about being humane. There’s a strongly objective element to art. The idea that art is a sort of liberal prerequisite when nearly 9 out of 10 artistically-oriented people have liberal ideas is false. A real artist is closer to a surgeon who works upon reality. It’s like the coffee table bourgeois view that some of Michelangelo’s late sculptures are not nice. Not nice!? Who cares whether it’s nice or not! Because it’s about glory and power! And if you don’t like it—this would be Bill’s view and mine—get out of the way! Get out of the way or be trampled under!
But people say, “Well, that’s very inhuman, Mr. Hopkins. What about people who are weak? What about people who want to drink all night? What about people who just want to lie down and have no drive, no push?” He said, “We’ll look after them. I need servants. I need slaves. When I walk along, I want people wafting things behind me to take the sunlight off me. In a hierarchical society, everyone has a place, and everyone has a purpose. When they made the great cathedrals, each craftsmen had his place, signed his bit of a gargoyle with his own image, saying, ‘I was here.’ Now, youth write ‘Kilroy was here’ or some rude word was here. Then in those cathedrals, they wrote ‘somebody contributed to glory.’”
Of course, what he’s really saying is that the liberal humanist idea that you can base all of society on the view that we’re all educated, that we’re all well-balanced, that we’re all refined, that we all think out every decision before we make it, that we contract with society as Rousseau said, and bear upon us obligations and responsibilities, the Blair view; obligation, responsibility, the respect agenda. It totally voids biological reality: that some humans are geniuses, that others are sub-human virtually, that others are in the middle, that most people don’t give a damn about anything.
Remember the Hollywood film Twelve Angry Men? Where they’re deciding a man’s fate, and one says, “Come on, I’ve got a baseball game on the telly. I want to get back for that.” And the liberal is outraged! This is a man’s life you’re talking about! And he says, “Awww, who gives a . . . !” The majority of people in democracies are like this. It’s shopping and something else. They shouldn’t have, in Bill Hopkins’ view, any power, and they shouldn’t even have the vote because they don’t know anything about anything, at all!
He said what you need to do with a democracy is like in Iran. You structure it before you have one, and you allow people to vote for this Monday Club type and this BNP type and this Third Positionist type and this National Democrat type and this Freedom Party type and so on. They’ll all have disputes, and they’ll say, “Oh, I hate him,” and “He scorned me in this meeting,” and that sort of thing. The usual stuff. But in the end, the basis behind it all is patriotic. So it’s censored from the very beginning.
If you have a democracy that says all values can trundle forth: [unintelligible] My candidate says, “I want to marry children” and that sort of thing. Another candidate says, “A European state? No!” Another candidate says, “All class must be abolished.” Another candidate says, “There must be a totally class-based hierarchy.” In other words, just a babble of conflicting voices. In the end, you won’t have that anarchy. What you’ll have is a tendency to the crepuscular middle, whereby in reaction against the possibility of such weird fauna and flora you have a centralization of everything around middlingness, around mediocrity, around that which is unheroic.
If America comes to us and says, “We want you in Iraq.” “Well, uh, do we have to?” It’s like Wilson in Vietnam, “We don’t really want to.” “We want you there.” “Right away.” Because we have an establishment that leans with one wind that comes upon it and then leans with another. It does it culturally. It does it in every other way.
In the National Theatre, I once went to see The Merchant of Venice in which one of the characters, Beatrice, gives an apology for the Holocaust at the end. I don’t remember that in the play, actually, considering its 500 years before. Why did they do that? Because somebody on the committee at the National said that there may be a group or a lobby or even an individual, even an obsessive Guardian reader, who will object. We need to cover ourselves from the prospect out there that somebody might be offended by introducing something that isn’t in the play in the first place so we’re safe. We’re safe! And, of course, they’re not safe at all because they’re frightened of their own shadow from the very beginning.
There are many, many other examples. There are examples from plays by Marlowe and plays by Webster and this sort of thing from our great period, when Bill would say “When we were as great as the Greeks, when we had a theatrical culture here that was equivalent to them.”
Now, somebody will say, “Oh, Beatrice the heart of my whiteness does go out to you.” And he’s a Rastafarian. He’s sort of gently trying to remember his part. And that is what is called multi-racial casting. The idea is that we’re all human. We should be blind to these things. It’s a universal culture that just happens to be placed on an island off Europe. Da de da. You’ll be sacked from a mainstream theater if you say, “This play was written in an all-white period.” “Really!? Really, is that your view, is it?” “Well, the Jacobean period was an all-white period.” “We don’t like that time. We don’t like that attitude.” You see where it goes. It begins there, but it’s out there door pretty bloody quickly.
Richard Eyre, I think, was head of the National when many of these things were going on. He now says he was persecuted by Leftists at the National and was holding the line against decadence by doing what he could and that he banned a play by Edward Bond which makes it alright, you know. Because these people are fighting their own wars, of course, bureaucratically and institutionally.
Certainly, the Workers Revolutionary Party was very powerful at that period. Had no power anywhere else. But inside the state arts institutions, because of the influence of the Redgrave family and elsewhere, they had a lot of influence. This is the sort of minority Left elitism that’s chiseled out many of the cultural monuments of the society from the inside, that people don’t think about. All this croaking about democracy in the street when in actual fact it’s sort of vanguard Left elitism of its own sort deep inside these institutions.
They still do it, actually. They still do put on plays like The Jew of Malta and so on, but wrapped around with endless excuses and endless procrastination. The latest thing is actually to have a white Othello. So, you don’t actually black up the character. Because the play is so irredeemably racist in its language and structure that you admit your guilt and your racism beforehand by having a white actor to foreground your absence of pitilessness and your totalitarian racism. This is the sort of cultural studies beyond Political Correctness view. You basically crucify yourself beforehand, before the show goes on. And then give a fringe white actor a bit of employment in Birmingham Rep or something. It began with a white actor blacked up. Then it began with a black actor. And now it’s back to a White actor, because the theories about it and how you deal with it have changed, perceptively. If somebody makes the wrong decision, say, “I thought that old production was not too bad, actually.” They’re out!
It’s a sort of interesting terrorism in a way, intellectual terrorism. Of course, Bill’s an intellectual terrorist, but the other way around. Because he responds to all of that with a sort of power and intellectual aggression of his own. One thing I’ve noticed about very liberal-minded people is that on the whole that spiritually they’re very weak. There are hardcore Leftists who are real believers. But the bulk of the liberal vanguard, if you go down from the sort of perceived apex, are very flabby, and as soon as something which is contrary is placed before them they will be a recession and a bit of a retreat. Because it’s a force that they haven’t heard.
They particularly haven’t heard the intellectualization of Right-wing ideas. People would say, “Hopkins, that statement was sexist.”
And he said, “Men and women are biologically different. They’re for different purposes in life. Everything is based upon biology. But, out of that comes the mind that soars towards spirituality!”
“You’re admitting the fundamental nature and essentialism of biological difference.”
“Well, I am!”
“Well, that’s a sexist statement!”
He said, “I don’t care! I’m a totalitarian! I’m sexist.”
And they say, “Right,” tugging at their collar a bit, “But, but haven’t you read Andrea Dworkin?”
“Andrea Dworkin is a fat, ugly, obese, obscene, arrogant, ex-hooker, quasi-lesbian, and Jewish nutter that we shouldn’t listen to!”
“But you’re a monster! You’re a monster!”
He’d say, “Well I am a monster!”
They almost have a physical injury.
I met Tony Ben once in some Tory related thing. And Ben had a physical reaction to the prospect of illiberalism. Somebody in the room said, “Well, I don’t like the EU, really.” Ben would go, “Oohh!” Almost like a physical shock, which is odd actually because Ben’s campaigned against the EU because it’s not integrated enough. Because it’s just Europe! We need the whole world together! Skinner once said that to me. He said, “You’re a Nazi. I can’t be on a platform with you.” I said, “I’m in the Tories.” He said, “Don’t give me that. I’m against the EU though, because I want a world proletarian state.” Right. But Skinner will come out with it, so there’s a streak of honesty there.
But in a way, the use of this sort of psychic and moral terrorism, the facing of it down . . . The fact that Bill after he was blocked, because they wouldn’t publish his second novel and so only one appeared, basically. He’s written lots of things himself. He’s never published them since. I tried to get him to do it, but he won’t. You know, pearls before swine and all that.
He then decided, “I need some money.” So, he became a millionaire, which of course sounds just like that.
Bill once had a humiliating experience. He was on a tram. There were trams in London then. And the bloke came down the corridor, and he thought, “Oh, I haven’t got any money.” He’s about 28. And it’s a long way back to Streatham or Avery or wherever the family home was. the bloke said, “Off.” Bill said, “I’m an artist who’s trying to further our civilization.” The bloke said, “Off. Off!” So, he got off and trudged home in the rain.
He said, “I’m an intellectual, and the Daily Mirror is throwing mud at me, but I’ve been shoved off a tram because I haven’t got the fare. This is not how things should be.” So, he decided, “How do we work this out?” So, he noticed that all these beautiful Georgian houses were being wrecked, and all the fireplaces are being ripped out, and the stairways were being demolished. It’s all being chucked in the street. Old Britain? Tat and garbage! Out in the street!
He thought, “Somebody will want to buy this.” So, he bought what today would be called a skip, and he went ’round late at night with a few lads who he gave a bit of money to, and he got all of these things that somebody else despised. BHe realized that in a short while, pre-internet and so on, he could find people who wanted it. Then collectors from the United States used to come over and see him and say, “Oh, I do love that fireplace.” And Bill would say, “Thousand quid.” “Pardon?” “Thousand quid. You know the meaning of money.” And they went, “OK!” That was the start.
Bill is a modernist in many ways because of elements of primitivism and barbarity and fury in it, which essentially accords with his partially demonic nature, and that’s just a fact. He’s a champion of the movement which in a sense would end modernism by proving some of its antecedents. It’s a movement called Art Brut, which technically comes out of André Breton’s surrealist movement.
This is a movement where people like Dubuffet, who founded it, would do an outline of a red child with a big eye. “Oh, I like that.” Then he’d get some pink paint, and he’d throw it on! And he’d get a big blue roller. “This is really good.” Then he’d get a big sponge or maybe some acid or something, and he’d put it on the sponge and chuck it on and have a good scrub ’round. Then he’d stand back and say, “God, a maniac and a child could have done that. It’s marvelous!” They sell for £85,000 each at Sotheby’s. I kid you not. I’ve been at the auctions when they’ve been sold.
Bill thought to himself, “This is interesting, isn’t it? The art of a maniac. The art of the ultimate outsider. Lunatic! Crepuscular. He hasn’t got any arms. He’s lying on the ground, but he can paint with his mouth!” So, what do we do? He’s part of this movement of sort of anti-artists, which is interesting actually because a significant part of modernism is based upon mental interiority. It’s based not on representing that which is outside, which of course cinema has done in the twentieth century, but going inside the mind to sexual imagery, to fantasy, to internal discourses, sort of sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-Blake, if you like. And he’s made a fortune from this sort of stuff. And he’s not even that fashionable because there are elements of modernism that [breaks off]