Francis Wheen’s Mumbo-jumbo meter syncrhonised with Troppo’s

fwheenbw.jpgFrancis Wheen

Francis Wheen was fun to listen to on LNL, though his targets are pretty easy ones. Targets are more fun when shared. I posted on Demos a while back and here is Wheen on one of its most prominent alumni on whose book I also commented.

Thin air is solid

Charles Leadbeater’s book Living on Thin Air (1999), a starry-eyed guide to the “weightless economy”, was described by Peter Mandelson as “a blueprint for what a radical modernising project will entail in years to come”. The dustjacket also carried a tribute from Tony Blair, hailing Leadbeater as “an extraordinarily interesting thinker” whose book “raises criticial questions for Britain’s future”. Three years later, after the pricking of the dotcom bubble, industry secretary Patricia Hewitt admitted that “industrial policy in [Labour’s] first term of office was mistaken, placing too much emphasis on the dotcom economy at the expense of Britain’s manufacturing base…The idea of Living on Thin Air was so much hot air.” Tactfully, she forgot to mention that the chief hot-air salesman had been her own leader.

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James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

This is worth one comment before it vanishes. I had a lot of fun reading Mumbo Jumbo. Perhaps the targets are soft taken individually, but the book’s power is in the way so many phenomena are woven together in a convincing thesis about the preeminent role of herd behaviour in the realm of ideas. Peudo science, Deepak Chopra, new-ageism, postmodernism, the End of History, Jihadism, Thatcherism, New Labour, and scores of other such fads and manias, are all made doubly ridiculous by being shown to have so much in common.

Wheen’s biography of Marx is also a delight. It’s a vivid and believable portrait, with just the right balance of admiration, understanding, pity and disgust. He steers well away from any extremes of idolatory or condemnation. The book is also just plain funny, with a good belly life every three or four pages.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

I meant to add to the last paragraph that the Marx biography is a great crash course in Marx and related strands of intellectual history – Hegelianism, 19th Century socialism and so on – with some great Marx quotes and helpful commentary on them. All this with no jargon.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Thx James,

Maybe I’d better get hold of it. Better still, buy it for me mum for Chrissie – Kill a few birds with one stone. Buy a bit of Jumbo for the Mumbo.

Robert Manne says that Australian intellectual life lacks ‘anti-bodies’ and that fashions go through it like a dose of salts. But then Mr Wheen seems to show that it’s not just us.