Monday, August 12, 2013

Reflections on William Morris

I went with friends to the William Morris Gallery on Saturday. It was a lovely day, the gallery had lots of beautiful things to look at, and items from Morris's personal and business history. Morris was for the most part a top bloke - against anti-Semitism in the left at a time when it was mainly acceptable, an opponent of authoritarian tendencies in the SDF and a genuine democrat, with awareness of the ironies of his position as a supplier of fancy furnishings to the idle rich.

So what is it about him that gives me the creeps? Partly I think it's the whole Merrie England thing. There is a long tradition on the right of celebrating a pre-industrial time of harmonious, organic community, before capitalism and industrialisation. Philip Blond, the 'red tory' and sometime advisor to David Cameron on 'big society', is one of the latest manifestations of this, but it has a long pedigree among both the mainstream right and the far right. Sometimes these people call themselves 'Tory Anarchists'. It's mixed up with a preference for Medieval art and craft alongside imagined Medieval social relations. Chesterton is a very articulate spokesman for this ideology.

The trouble is that there are those on the left who are attracted to this - they like the idea of small communities, simple life, self-sufficiency, localism, craft work rather than industrialisation. Of course there are left-wing versions of this too...and some versions that are just not too picky about who they hang out with. I don't have a problem with localism; I do have a problem with those who can't tell the difference between friends who advocate it, and enemies who affect to for entirely other reasons.

I think that my problem with Morris is that he is just too close to all this - the medievalism, the preference for craftwork over industrial production; even though he is himself a decent sort he acts as a sort of gateway drug for reactionary ideas within the left.

No comments: