There’s an inherent problem with prophetic writing. Prophecy in a secular framework will always smack of sanctimony no matter how much it is buffered with style and novelty and sprinkled with self-evident truths. Why? Well because making predictions of the future is easily knocked down with a charge that it’s a mark of arrogant subjectivism to forecast. The critique could come from both the righteous and the nihilistic, the religiously humble and the firebrand God Is Dead revolutionary or the meek and the powerful, because let’s face it, nobody really likes a clever clogs and who do you think you are? Mystic fucking Meg? The future’s not ours to see! Que sera sera.
In my opinion, to really understand prophetic writing, we have to go back to the most famous book of all, the Rashomon of the Abrahamic creed, The Bible. Without at least a basic understanding of The Bible (preferably the KJV) it’s easy to reflect upon augural dystopian novels in infinite regress of a left-right paradigm. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard fans of George Orwell claim him as one of their kin in their particular political ideology. Watch Tucker Carlson on Fox News (conservative) and Anderson Cooper on CNN (progressive) both namecheck him on various topics to see how his most famous novel has managed to evade a party-political pigeonholing for seventy years. Both wings would love to claim Orwell as their homie, but in doing so they would be completely missing the point and playing into the very hands of The Controllers Orwell is warning us of.
It is my belief that Orwell understood The Bible implicitly and for one simple reason. Orwell recognised that we are a fallen people and that there is a horrifying truth in this that both allows a respect of the word of Yahweh and a total rejection of it.
This “fallen” state connects us to God as much as it does Lucifer. “Fallen” is the word made flesh, the imperishable mental umbilical cord. It’s that spark of momentary realisation – that often visits upon the threshold of sleep – where we are suddenly reminded that death hasn’t forgotten about us. It screams jocosely, “One day you shall stand on the precipice of total annihilation and suffer the final insult”, because, let’s face it, death is an insult.
Even if you believe in The Word of God and have stored up your riches in eternity, I find it ridiculous to believe that during the final closedown, logic doesn’t go down without a fight. Presuming logic was present in the individual in the first place. On the flip side, for an individual who has rejected The Word during their life and is content to face total annihilation, death is still an insult. There’s nothing remotely natural about death to the psyche unless it is consolidated into a stringently tested philosophy. That philosophy is binary: something or nothing. Even with a grounded philosophy I still find it a stretch to imagine anyone without deranged senses who could possibly not be humiliated to be snuffed out of existence.
If we accept that utopia is never, ever achievable because man – who was given guardianship of the original utopian garden – screwed up and was sacked, it is a lot easier to understand dystopia. Man is fallen, if you want to go down the historical literary route, man is prone to corruption, if you want the political explanation. Whichever way you choose to view it there is no escaping the fact that a Man’s life is usually short, brutal and ultimately disappointing unless they have managed to make personal sense of their existence in whatever classical form that suits them.
If we accept that utopia is not only impossible but that its only point of reference is in The Bible, we reach a ground – that should unite us all momentarily – to start exploring exactly what dystopia actually means for mankind. Boiled down, dystopia is the fact that certain people want to control other people. This culture of “control” could easily merit its own dictionary as we have amassed so many words to describe it and it is unavoidable in everyday life and language to dodge its reach. We are all – whether we admit or not – susceptible to becoming control freaks and I believe this is because we are all mortal. A dystopia is a state (physical, mental, spiritual) where an individual or individuals in concert have somehow managed to position themselves into or create a power structure that controls the lives of other people. The actual control can come in many forms, but the deep-seated psychology is always the same: certain people need to be worshipped and are willing to do anything to achieve this power.
Now you can study all the Foucault, Chomsky, Machiavelli, Freud or Jung you like, but the bottom line is this: fallen human nature dictates that there will always be more who will freely choose to oppress than those who would freely choose to be oppressed. Leaving aside all the myriad forms, structures, games, policies, laws and tactics to control other people’s lives the driving force behind the will to control is fear and the fear is predicated by the fact that the oppressor has no ultimate control over their mortality. There was only one dictator in the utopian garden and his only dictate was to avoid the knowledge of good and evil, lest you realise what it's like to be a God. Once the dictate was defied, Man’s eyes were open to the possibility that he too could become a dictator.
The alternative to this scenario is also very simple. We are animals that evolved from a chemical swamp caused by nothing exploding into everything, ergo there is no absolute morality and oppressing and controlling others is just a natural animalistic expression. Whichever way you choose to view our ascendance – with your free will, the mostly costly gift ever given – it’s without dispute that there is a component in our DNA and antediluvian psyche that leaves us susceptible to becoming oppressors, controllers and dictators.
Dystopian novels, I believe, are attractive because they deal fundamentally in prophecy from an a priori morality. Take morality away from the dystopian novel and you are left with Sci-fi, not that Sci-fi is automatically bereft of moral positioning, but the best Sci-fi is that which concentrates on entertaining in the Joseph Campbell mode rather than ringing the alarm bells in the Aristotelian fashion.
Jack London’s Iron Heel (1908), Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1921), Orwell’s 1984 (1948) and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962) at their core all deal with free will in the face of oppression or near or established totalitarianism.
In John King’s The Liberal Politics Of Adolf Hitler we have the 21st Century’s first addition to this list. Like the aforementioned critically lauded and timeless novels, Liberal Politics creates a unique world by showing that by not paying close attention to the past the future will naturally always be dominated by those whose existential crises manifest into a remodelling of societies that mirror the soullessness of their architects. For a dystopia to emerge, you first have to have a utopia or at least an ideal of one. The eternal recurring corruption needs an avatar and the avatar will always present themselves as an idealist. The ‘idealist’ in Liberal Politics is the body politic form of the EU.
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you are up to speed with the machinations surrounding the behemoth that is the EU and all the attendant noise and hoopla that’s surrounded the people of the UK’s vote to leave its empirical aspirations behind. All you really need to remember about the EU whilst reading the novel is that the “EU elites are not elected”. Use it like a mantra, remind yourself on every page turn, it will make the satire feel less satirical and inventive but it will hammer home to you the absurdity of how sovereign peoples can let themselves slip into comas and be fine with the debasement of democracy in a seemingly progressive era.
For all its inventiveness and cracking pacing, you’ll still come away from The Liberal Politics Of Adolf Hitler with a feeling of angst if you believe in the western civilisational one-man, one-vote right. The novel doesn’t reach in and eviscerate the demagogic bureaucrats of Brussels, King’s far too smart to sink to their level, instead it focuses on what the landscape will look like if we continue to abrogate our freedoms to this fraternity of power crazed, closet Little Caesars. The totalitarianism King paints is of the soft-shoe-shuffle variety, which makes it all the more relatable and ultimately horrific.
It’s back to the utopia again: one man’s heaven, another man’s hell – only we know that these architects prefer to boil the frog slowly, they’re content to sit atop the tower of Babel they’ve built until the incremental dictates add up to a whole lot of misery for the peoples subjected to their reign. This is also intergenerational. The power will be passed from unelected architect to unelected architect under the name of progress and virtue. And the virtue will become excessive, as Aristotle stated, leading to vice.
Hitler wrapped in a rainbow flag and sporting a pink swastika on his arm is still Hitler. The will to power is not doused by the spittle from the mouths of dissenters in the party. Once these unmoored minds are adrift in the corridors of control anything is possible if the whim is presented as “good” for the greater order of things.
What King manages to convey in the story is a classical liberal sensibility evolved from a Judeo-Christian morality. He never has to signpost or nudge you into realising that some things are just fundamentally wrong, and some are just right. Whereas someone like Ayn Rand would impose a philosophy within this type of story, King makes the story a philosophy in itself, a warning, sure, but he manages to detach himself enough to let it play out in recognisable human scenarios. The villain of the piece is not so much the EU as our weakness to resist conforming in the face of the hive mind.
For me, the question I am faced with when contemplating the world that King creates, is whether overt Fascism is preferable to covert Fascism. If Fascism – unmandated state and corporate partnership to write the laws for its subjects – is our ultimate political destiny, would it be more bearable if we were told the truth regarding the hegemonic ambitions of these amoral power brokers? At least then we could stop pretending that progress and prosperity and diverting a future world war are the endgame. We could then get used to our comfortable servitude to a greater cause. King quite rightly doesn’t spend too much time on the economics of the EU in the novel, because, let’s face it, economics is simply a route to power for these hungry men and women.
Another deft move by King is not to fall into the trap of colouring any of these bureaucrats as real socialists or left wingers. As anyone who understands the game that’s afoot can tell you, these people are quiet wreckers of civilisation and want to recreate it in their own images. They care naught for the dispossessed, the famished, the poor and the war torn. Yes, they have to be seen to be championing the disenfranchised and they must constantly rabbit rhetoric that casts them in a morally superior light, but it is just that: casting. These people are acting, if they were genuinely concerned about the downtrodden of the world, they would be helping people instead of conspiring to enslave them in a hopelessly illegitimate future system.
The Liberal Politics Of Adolf Hitler is a work of pluralistic prophesy, but it is never sanctimonious and stays clear of moralising. I reiterate, it doesn’t need to moralise because it’s inherently saying the right thing: man should be free to choose who governs over him and the last people on earth who should write the laws are those who are drunk on a power they believe bestows a kind of immortality on them.
Dean Cavanagh is a screenwriter, playwright and artist who co-writes regularly with Irvine Welsh.
A synopsis of The Liberal Politics of Adolf Hitler can be found here