‘I will not compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. This is my New Year’s resolution, so help me God!’ writes Rowan Williams, in his Moleskin diary for 2017. ‘I also have another resolution. I will no longer write sentences that force my readers to roll a literary boulder up a hill like Sisyphus, only to have it roll back again and again,’ the former Archbishop of Canterbury tells me with that Ancient Mariner’s hypnotic glint in his eye.
I’m his guest at the Master’s Lodge. ‘Attaboy, Rowan! I don’t know what to say,’ I stutter, as Jane tiptoes into the kitchen to brew us a cup of coffee. ‘Why don’t you tell our readers about your resolutions?’ I switch on my digital recorder so you can hear the Prelate in the first person…
‘My esteemed readers, from now on you will no longer run the risk of a cerebral aneurysm when you read 61-word abstract sentences like the one I wrote in my book The Edge of Words:
“If we recognise that every specific act of existing, or currently actual confluence of agencies, is one way in which an eternal act of existing is shared, this reinforces the idea that our linguistic response is a search for transparency to the full range of the active situation in which we are set—and so, ultimately, transparency to the eternal act.”
‘After reading the above sentence, Nick Spencer said that my writing was full of sentences, “coiling round metaphysical propositions like ivy round a tree.” So, for 2017, I have decided to deforest the verbal ivy, although, like Getafix the Druid, I still need to have my eyebrows and beard clinging to me when I go to the druids’ annual conference in the Forest of the Carnutes.’
Jane returns with a fairtrade Mocha and we sip the brew in silence. The Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge twirls his eyebrows and resumes his rumination.
‘In 2016, I wrote an article in the New Statesman comparing Trump to Hitler. It had become a leftist trope. A steady stream of celebrities—from Bill Maher and Glenn Beck to former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters and Jill Soloway at the Emmy awards ceremony—were all comparing Herr Drumpf, I mean Mr Trump, to Der Führer.’
‘So I wrote my pièce de résistance hoping to add some intellectual muscle to the cultural meme. Mind you, I never actually said Trump is like Hitler. In my usual obfuscatory style, I framed the Trump phenomenon between two sections of spiel about Hitler’s rise to power.’
‘I wrote how cultures can become corrupted by the “agendas of damaged and obsessional individuals.” I showed how Hitler was able to identify his society’s problems with the “clearly definable ‘alien’ presence” of the Jews and resulted in “tribal scapegoating.” I pointed out how “Hitler’s regime was a profoundly theatrical exercise” and “offers a master class in executive tyranny.”’
‘Then I hit below the belt. “The extraordinary mixture of farce and menace in Donald Trump’s campaign is a potent distillation of all this…” especially his “rhetoric of what could be called triumphant victimhood: we are menaced by such and such a group (Jews, migrants, Muslims, Freemasons, international business, Zionism, Marxism…),” I wrote.’
‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa! I repent. Why? I was at Waterstones looking for Christmas presents for the hoi polloi when I came across Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. I normally sneer at conservative claptrap. But not wanting to be an intellectual Scrooge at Christmas, I bought the book and started reading it.’
‘I was shocked at what I discovered. I used to think that fascism was a right-wing ideology. But Goldberg demonstrates “how the fascist label was projected onto the Right by a complex sleight of hand. In fact, conservatives are the more authentic classical liberals, while many so-called liberals are ‘friendly’ fascists.”’
‘Leftists wanted to cast Nazism as diametrically opposed to Communism so they cherry-picked the facts to cast National Socialism as a right-wing ideology. Isn’t the very name ‘socialism’ a giveaway? I should also have recognised that Nazism was sui generis in its race-based totalitarianism.’
With a penetrating frown, Rowan picks up Goldberg’s book and reads: ‘“The Nazis rose to power exploiting anti-capitalist rhetoric” and “mounting a revolutionary assault on the forces of capitalism…. Moreover, Nazism also emphasised many of the themes of later New Lefts in other places and times: the primacy of race, the rejection of rationalism, an emphasis on the organic and holistic—including environmentalism, health food, and exercise—and, most of all, the need to ‘transcend’ notions of class.”’
He groans and reads the punchline.
‘“For these reasons, Hitler deserves to be placed firmly on the Left because, first and foremost, he was a revolutionary. Broadly speaking, the Left is the party of change, the Right the party of the status quo.”’
I don’t wish to be disrespectful to my noble host, but I’m dying to ask him if he has heard of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. The Austrian Catholic political theorist shows how Hitler’s 25-point programme of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party “championed the right to employment, and called for the institution of profit-sharing, confiscation of war profits, prosecution of usurers and profiteers, nationalisation of trusts, communalisation of department stores, extension of the old-age pension system, creation of a national education programme of all classes, prohibition of child labour, and an end to the dominance of investment capital.”
I’m about to leave. There’s just one more question niggling at my mind. So I ask His Grace, ‘Who is going to receive Jonah Goldberg’s book as your Christmas present?’ Rowan is slightly surprised. ‘Oh! I had bought it for a first-year student. I’ve changed my mind. I’m sending it instead to my successor at Lambeth Palace. It might help Justin Welby with his New Year resolutions for 2017,’ says Dr Williams as he wishes me a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
(Image: National Assembly for Wales)