Magazine article The Spectator

Why Left-Wing Intellectuals Hate General Pinochet So Much

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Left-Wing Intellectuals Hate General Pinochet So Much

Article excerpt

The real reason why left-wing intellectuals hate General Pinochet so much has little to do with the people he has allegedly murdered or tortured. Most of our intelligentsia know by now that these stories have been grotesquely exaggerated by the communist-Castro propaganda machine, and that Pinochet's human rights record is far better than that of their hero 'Fidel'. No, the source of the extraordinary venom directed towards the elderly and now quite harmless general lies elsewhere, and springs directly from the system of priorities which distinguishes intellectuals from the rest of us.

An intellectual is someone who puts ideas before people. I was reminded of this by rereading De Quincey's essay on William Hazlitt, who might accurately be described as the founding member of the UK branch of the intelligentsia. Hazlitt was so attached to abstract ideas that he pursued them at the cost of his own family, not only of his two wives but of his only son, the one human being he really loved. Asked why he would give the boy a large coin at the beginning of the day and insist he should not return until he had spent it, he replied, `Sir, it is to train him in liberal notions.' Needless to say, the boy turned out badly, but for Hazlitt that was irrelevant.

De Quincey tells an anecdote about Hazlitt which makes the point still more strongly and brings the parallel with Pinochet to mind. De Quincey was once walking along Pall Mall with Hazlitt when they saw the Duke of Cumberland, the most reactionary of George III's sons, emerge from his house. Hazlitt viewed the Duke with peculiar hatred not just on general political grounds, but because he believed that he had murdered his valet and got away with it, the coroner's jury (Hazlitt maintained) having been suborned. In those days when a member of the royal family passed in the street, it was the custom of gentlemen to uncover and ladies to curtsy. In return, the royal personage raised his hat to mark each gesture of respect. Thus the Duke passed along Pall Mall, receiving and reciprocating these salutes, and watched by the two writers. Then, as HRH approached the point where he had to cross the road to turn up St James's, Hazlitt clutched De Quincey's arm and said, `Aha! Now we shall see!' For at the crossing was a diminutive crossing-sweeper, rather like Jo in Bleak House. He was covered in mud, but not sufficiently so as to conceal the fact that he was a little black boy, thus making himself doubly untouchable. He duly saluted the Duke with his broom. `Now we shall see,' repeated Hazlitt grimly, `will the monster raise his hat to him?'

The monster did no such thing. Instead he took out his purse and handed the boy a half-crown. The usual fee for a crossingsweeper was a penny, even in Pall Mall. Twopence was generous. Sixpence was a fortune. So the weighty silver coin dropped into the little black boy's outstretched hand was truly a princely gesture, and he could scarcely believe his good fortune. But Hazlitt snorted, `He did not raise his hat!' The Duke had brutally distinguished between the rich gentry parading down Pall Mall and the poor child - a black to boot - who served them. Hazlitt's case was proved. It was game, set and match to the Left. As De Quincey noted, it did not occur to Hazlitt that the Duke could not raise his hat and take out his purse at the same time. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.