The Battle of Copenhagen (1801) occurred during the War of the Second Coalition when a British naval fleet commanded by Admiral Sir Hyde Parker defeated a Danish fleet anchored just off Copenhagen. Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson led the main attack. During the battle, he famously is reputed to have disobeyed his senior officer, Sir Hyde Parker’s, order to withdraw by holding the telescope to his blind eye to look at the signals from Parker. The signals had given Nelson permission to withdraw at his discretion. Nelson then turned to his flag captain, Thomas Foley, and said ‘You know, Foley, I have only one eye. I have a right to be blind sometimes.’ He raised the telescope to his blind eye, and said ‘I really do not see the signal.’ Copenhagen is often considered to be Nelson’s hardest-fought victory.
In our own time, much, if not all, of the mainstream media seem to suffer what can only be described as ‘Copenhagen Syndrome’; this involves, putting a metaphorical telescope to their cultivated blind eye and in so doing averting any possible contact with counter-vailing views that might disturb their own narrative. This requires a quite deliberate mental and moral effort at carefully nurtured ignorance and blindness on their part. Yet they have the nerve to call themselves – liberals (sic!)
This form of internal self-censorship is not necessarily even recognised by those who practise it; they will often believe their own views, beliefs and general world-picture, regarded as being ‘common sense’ ‘our values’ ‘everybody knows’, or, ‘the truth’ – all of which, are deemed unchallengeable. This has been a recurrent historical theme, particularly virulent in religious conflict, and, in our own time, political/ideological conflicts often filtered through a religious prism; the Sunni-Shia conflict, and, nearer to home, the conflict in the north of Ireland. Book burning, and the catholic church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum have been egregious examples of this mindset. But the change from religious persecution of the heretic by which the religious order maintained its ideological hegemony, to more modern methods of thought control and abject conformity have reached levels of sophistication not previously the case, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted:
Formerly tyranny used the clumsy weapons of chains and hangmen; (but) nowadays even despotism, though it seemed to have nothing more to learn, has been perfected by civilisation … ancient tyrannies which attempted to reach the soul, clumsily struck at the body, but the soul often escaping from such blows, rose gloriously above it.’ Modern democratic tyrannies leave the body alone and go straight for the soul.” Democracy in America – 1969, p.255
Suffice it to say that this totalitarian approach has little connection with real liberalism; it is in fact the very opposite. Here for example is John Stuart Mill on the subject.
He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”
“Our merely social intolerance kills no-one, roots out no opinions, but induces men to disguise them, or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion. With us, heretical opinions do not perceptibly gain, or even lose, ground in each decade or generation; they never blaze out far and wide, but continue to smoulder in the narrow circles of thinking and studious persons among whom they originate, without ever lighting up the general affairs of mankind with either a true or a deceptive light. And thus is kept a state of things very satisfactory to some minds, because without the unpleasant process of fining or imprisoning anybody, it maintains all prevailing opinions outwardly undisturbed … A convenient plan for having peace in the intellectual world, and keeping all things going on therein, very much as they do already … But the price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind.” On Liberty
Tracing the heroic period of dissenting liberalism associated with J.S.Mill, and later public 20th century dissident intellectuals such as Bertrand Russell, along with various writers, Orwell, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Sartre, Camus, and playwrights such as Miller, O’Neill, Pinter and Beckett, to the professed wisdom of the soi-disant modern liberal class, shows just how far those enlightenment values, as espoused by the above, have been eclipsed by a degenerated form of neo-totalitarianism. Per the postulates of contemporary ‘liberalism’ the subaltern classes are required not merely to act in a manner deemed appropriate by their ‘betters’, but also to believe what is held to be their unembellished wisdom. Like the ideologically homogeneous liberal class, the lower orders must, in the late Gore Vidal’s description of the ruling elite, ‘all think the same.’ Which is to say not think at all.
This attempt to supress any dissenting worldview, was always going to be a tall order. However, it took an economic and political crisis – globalization in its many dysfunctional manifestations – for the true face of the illiberal, liberal class to become apparent. It was like seeing the grotesque portrait of Oscar Wilde’s fictional character, Dorian Gray, hidden in the attic, and comparing it with Mr. Gray’s visage in real life: an unchanging picture of youth and beauty but a personality warped with corruption and vice.
There is, and as a matter of fact there always has been, an area of ‘dangerous thought’ in every society, this much should be common knowledge. Whilst we may agree about what is considered dangerous to think may differ from country to country, and from epoch to epoch, overall the subjects marked with ‘out-of-bounds’ notices are those societies, or the controllers of those societies who believe that some issues and beliefs to be so vital and hence so sacred that they will not tolerate their profanation by discussion. Moreover, thought, even in the absence of official censorship, is disturbing, and, under certain conditions, dangerous and subversive. For thought, as compared with routine and reflexes, is a catalytic agent that is capable of unsettling routines, disorganizing habits, breaking up customs, undermining faiths, and generating scepticism.
Even in contemporary ‘Open Society’ of course, it has always been the case – pace Soros – that there have been areas where any genuine discussion cannot even be mooted let alone allowed. As the Marxist writer/theorist Ralph Miliband (not to be confused with his offspring epigones) once remarked of the UK newspapers’ political coverage he described, ‘‘a spectrum which ranged from soundly conservative, to utterly reactionary.’’ (The State in Capitalist Society’). Such views were regarded as dangerous and extremist.
But now traditional notions of equality, Rule of law, Parliamentary/National, sovereignty, universal suffrage, which hitherto have been taken for granted are coming under attack from the self-righteous inquisitors of the liberal class. The issues of EU, the UK Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump, have been like taking a baseball bat to a beehive. These events seem to have occasioned a crisis in the liberal class verging on an apoplectic seizure. Thought and discussion must, therefore, be closed down. Only one narrative, endlessly repeated, is acceptable, that of the ruling elite. Other narratives either do not exist, or are dismissed as mere propaganda. This is precisely where the Copenhagen Syndrome comes into play. The liberal class, particularly in the media, are operationalizing Nelson’s blind eye stratagem by clamping down and pathologizing dissent; whether it will work or not will be the real test of the west’s putative democratic values and beliefs.
The struggle continues.