Did Michael Gove’s scepticism during the Brexit debate, about slavishly following ‘experts’, make him a Holocaust denier? Does the pro-Israeli President Trump take a similarly soft position on Nazi policies of extermination? A recent article in The Times Higher Education Supplement leads its readers in that direction. It publishes a graphic picture of Gove and Trump alongside David Irving. All three are spouting a horrible red bile-like substance over the news-consuming public.
David Irving, of course, is the historian who lost his libel case against fellow-academic Deborah Lipstadt who had accused him of denying the Holocaust. This cause célèbre has now been made into a film. Rachel Weisz, a “sexy brunette” according to Playboy, brings glamour to the role of Lipstadt. A somewhat gaunt, if talented, Timothy Spall is an unlikely choice for the real-life handsome Irving.
The Times Higher Educational Supplement piece by Lipstadt is headed:
“Deborah Lipstadt: the quest for truth in the post-truth era
How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt”
In the name of ‘truth’, presumably, Lipstadt choses to discredit Trump and Gove by linking them to her ‘bête noire’, Irving. The connection is cemented by the newspaper’s decision to place the Hammer horror movie style film poster at the head of the article.
And what case is Lipstadt trying to pin on Trump and Gove by associating them with Irving? It turns out that central to her complaint against Trump is his claim that, in her words, “Muslims in New Jersey danced in celebration on 9/11”. She admits that, “Trump might have seen Reuters’ video of Arabs dancing, but the dancers were Palestinians in Jerusalem.” US news channels at the time, including CNN, made similar claims to Trump.
Perhaps, some of these claims were ‘beefed up’ but so, in turn, were the New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne ‘hushed up’ – a balance to her complaint that Lipstadt chooses to ignore.
As for Gove, he is condemned for questioning the reliability of so-called experts during the Brexit campaign: ‘During the Brexit campaign, Michael Gove, on being challenged that “experts” found his conclusions untenable, infamously responded: “People in this country have had enough of experts.” The fact that Gove was once Secretary of State for Education made his comment stupefying.’
As it turned out, the predictions of experts about recession and related economic collapse in the UK if we voted for Brexit have proved as wrong as the expert opinion advocating that we join the euro.
Gove was right, after all, but that should not come as any great surprise. If Gove was guilty of anything, it was of stating the obvious and of not referencing Churchill. It was Winston who most famously sounded an alarm about reliance on experts, albeit in the context of scientists:
Scientists should be on tap, but not on top.
Quoted in Randolph S.Churchill, Twenty-One Years (1964)
Ironically, the danger of relying in experts can be most clearly shown by Lipstadt’s own story. David Irving launched his libel case against Lipstadt because, however controversially, he was an expert on Nazis Germany. It was Irving the expert, for example, who initially exposed the Hitler diaries as fake even if he did, later, shift his position somewhat.
It is, also, clear that Nazi racial theory was based on the views of ‘experts’ including, as Dominic Lawson has recently pointed out, ‘experts’ from the liberal democracies. He quotes a 1931 editorial in the New Statesman that attacked “intransigent opponents of eugenics”. Amongst the supporters of eugenics it listed liberal-left intellectuals, including Sidney and Beatrice Webb, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell and the Manchester Guardian.
Deborah Lipstadt’s story makes a compelling movie. This does not, however, justify or excuse the shallow intellectual dishonesty that underpins her attack on Trump and Gove. In addition, the Nazi-style propaganda poster that The Times Higher Education Supplement has chosen to introduce the article tells us much about that newspaper but little about ‘truth’.