Copenhagen Syndrome

by Frank

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.


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Dec 18, 2016 7:31 AM

Very good, thank you – ‘Copenhagen Syndrome’ will now enter the popular lexicon.
For some time now I have been saying – We live in a one-party corporate fascist surveillance state.
But i see now now that it’s much, much worse than that.
Damn that Emmanuel Goldstein!

Dec 14, 2016 11:46 PM

When considering liberalism it is always useful to recall what the ‘liberals’ did for a living. JS Mill spent most of his professional life in an extremely important political job at the East India Company. It was the job that his father had had before him. Both were at the centre of the development of liberalism, both regarded Indians as incapable of self-rule.
Their mentor Bentham was a great admirer of Catherine the Great (for whom his brother worked). He regarded enlightened despots as the best bet for ‘reform’ until disillusioned by governmental neglect of his Panopticonprison designs and proposals for turning convicts into a slave labour force, for profit.
The conversion of the Bentham/Utilitarian/liberals to extending the franchise was tactical- they saw the democracy as an ally against paternalist Tories. Their enduring monuments, outside of the Empire, were the New Poor Law (of Oliver Twist fame) and the strand of authoritarianism which has dominated British politics ever since.

Dec 14, 2016 10:25 PM

Excellent post! Thank you.

Dec 14, 2016 10:06 PM

Our “putative democratic values” and the Rule of Law itself may just have been severely curtailed.
If you take the dictionary definition of the Rule of Law as “the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials.” The latter is what the UK government has just enabled for itself, in potential.
So much for #FakeNews; now we have #FakeEvidence.
I’m talking of Section 56 of the Investigatory Powers Act that has just become law, not so much with a bang, as a whimper. Not content with collecting bulk data sets on every individual in the country; accessing, searching and sharing our data at will; should it come to court the Prosecution is compelled to lie or fabricate its case to conceal the source of the data. Should your legal counsel demur, they may find themselves in contempt. Or worse.
Bye Bye cross-examination. So long to a fair trial by a jury of your peers. Hello Pentonville.
The liberal class saw no evil, heard no evil and spoke not of the evil. This would tend to confirm Orwells definition – “liberal: a power worshipper without power.”
Our main opposition party (that is the party that is terminally in opposition to itself – the social undemocrats) voted it in. 166 of them, McDonnell included. That is no great surprise, for most of them mass surveillance was the darling of their newly resurrected and beloved leader, Bliar the Messiah.
Corbyn did not vote. Not so much turning a “cultivated blind eye” as abandoning the sinking ship.
The UK is now a de facto one party state. That party has just granted itself a world leading surveillance, censorship and control apparatus. How it chooses to exercise its incipient despotism remains to be seen. As does the impact on the independence of the Judiciary.
The struggle goes on – but if your government can potentially single you out, hack your data, label your views as dissent and fabricate a case against you – that struggle just got a whole lot harder. Thanks Labour.

Dec 14, 2016 7:55 PM

Whatever happened to liberals? How did they change so much, ditch virtually all their values and principles and lurch so far to the right? It’s odd and fascinating and not without importance. I thought one could base an entire academic career on it, but then people told me that kind of thing was all over, today money is so tight anything as potentially controversal as that subject which aims for the heart of the culture of liberal democracy, perhaps revealing its dark and hollow centre; is off limits. You won’t get the funding and you won’t get the support. The very basis for academic study… enquiry, is being shut down. Shame, I suppose I’ll have to opt for whatever happened to academic freedom and the Universities instead?

Dec 17, 2016 9:00 PM
Reply to  michaelk

‘Whatever happened to liberals’. The fortunatate thing about that question is that you do not have to dig very deep to find an answer. So you also do not need much funding for it. It is unlikely that you will be rewarded with an academic career once you answered the question. But that is kind of tradition in the social sciences. Spinoza sharpened lenses, Hume was historian, Schopenhauer ignored (for most of his life), Chomsky is a linguist and only people like Hegel, Huntington, Barber, Friedman, are or were ‘true’ academics.

Dec 18, 2016 12:20 AM
Reply to  michaelk

“Whatever happened to liberals?”
I found this discussion very interesting and enlightening. Chris Hedges and John Ralston Saul. “Neoliberalism as Utopianism.”

Dec 14, 2016 7:31 PM

It would appear that full frontal attack on Russia is now underway. World bobsleigh championships removed from Sochi, UN drawing up war crimes in Aleppo.
It is mildly surprising that that the UN did not draw up similar lists in Iraq and Syria and put some UK and US warmongers in the dock.
In international law seeking justice in a passport-independent manner, a Dirty Dozen would have received their just desserts by now.
Strangely, US exceptionslism exempts it from ever being held accountable for war crimes.
It is the single philosophical construct which renders the US utterly bereft of moral authority in international relations……

Dec 14, 2016 8:04 PM
Reply to  rtj1211

I don’t know about a full-frontal attack on Russia, but I can see what you mean. Most of it has little real significance. It’s lashing out in bile inspired anger because soon there’s likely to be someone else in the White House with a different approach and an alternative agenda. The hysteria linked to events in Aleppo is part of this. The Syrians, Iran and Russia have not just held their ground against the west’s proxy army, they’ve pushed them back and back and back, and this is infuriating. So they’re hitting out rhetorcially anyway they can. Power in the United Nations is on her way out and her legacy is one of absolute failure, so she’s incandesant with rage to the point where she seems completely deranged. Lots of this rhetoric and actions are irritating and unpleasant, but I’m not sure they have a wider or deeper significance beyond the spite of people who’ve lost, big time. People who want to smash the house to pieces before they are forced to vacate it and the new owners move in.

Dec 14, 2016 6:48 PM

It’s a little known fact, given Nelson’s reputation as a symbol of the nation, that the British fleet bombarded the defenceless city of Copenhagen itself after the Danish fleet was destroyed. This was, arguably, the first terror bombardment of a city, setting it on fire, full of civilians and without military significance… in the modern era. At the time it was seen as an extraordinary attack on civilians, not what civilised military commanders were supposed to engage in, especially ones known as heroes. I hope this add a bit to ones understanding of the Copenhagen Syndrome.

Dec 14, 2016 10:23 PM
Reply to  michaelk

“civilized military commanders “? Now that’s funny!

Dec 14, 2016 11:35 PM
Reply to  michaelk

I may be wrong but I think that you are confusing the attack on Copenhagen in 1807 with the Nelson/Parker battle referred to here.
Not that Nelson, who massacred Neapolitan revolutionaries, was not capable of the action. He was just dead.

Dec 15, 2016 8:44 AM
Reply to  bevin

No, although there were definitely two Battles of Copenhagen, 1801 and 1807, the one referred to involved Nelson in 1801, and he was not involved in the second battle since he died at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805

Dec 15, 2016 9:50 AM
Reply to  bevin

Frank’s quite right bevin, you’re thinking of the 2nd Battle of Copenhagen, when the British seized and burnt the Danish fleet at anchor to stop it falling into Napoleon’s hands and maintain naval dominance.
Nelson was quite, quite dead by then.

Dec 15, 2016 5:13 PM
Reply to  Kit

I know he was dead-see the last word is my post. What I am questioning is whether it was Nelson who bombarded the city itself, or whether the bombardment referred to, took place in 1807, whilst Nelson (and Parker) simply sunk the enemy ‘neutral’ ships.
I don’t want to look it up but perhaps I will have to.

Dec 14, 2016 4:46 PM

Denial is usually masked with presentation of justifiability or plausible deniability – because a direct attack attracts counter attack – unless in overwhelming power position – in which delay awaits opportunity.
Operating from a blind-sided sense of personal investment has to internally or privately deny honesty to persist in what seems like justifiable defence – for everyone expects their own private or even denied intent to come back at them – or be the ‘mind of others’.
In a society of some willingness for trust and communication – which is necessary to even survive at all – there have been conditions for cultural discovery and expression of life that is not operating attack, exploitation or getting, but a sense of worth and the extension of that worth to others as an act of recognition and opening to communication. However, all forms of socially accepted validity become used as masking for those who want to pass off as valid in order to get something or get away form something.
When all forms of thought and behaviour become corrupted to one-eyed opportunistic gratification – or hollow manipulated emotionalism passing off as living, the foundational insanity can no longer be masked, denied and projected out onto others and so the blind is revealed in light.
I just wrote something on denial here:

Dec 14, 2016 2:52 PM

The Mill quote is brilliant – basically ‘don’t rock the boat’; don’t pursue the truth – the truth is almost always uncomfortable; stay in the middle ground, proclaiming freedom and democracy but doing little or nothing to protect their reputations when they are being traduced everywhere; stand on the sidelines like most historians and political scientists, commenting cleverly on the decline but carefully avoiding saying or writing anything that might have you labelled a radical, or – perish the thought, a ‘communist’ (honourable exceptions brave and principled people like Daniele Ganser). What’s that French expression that fits? … le trahison des clercs.