The Strange Case of Andrew Roberts and the Liberal Anglosphere

“There is a kind of stupidity among the drunks, particularly when they are sober…”

― John le Carré

Oh dear. The New Cold War is having a very particular effect on the Right, just as it is on the liberals. But between these two neo-nostalgias, there is a confluence of interests. On the Right side, let us take one Andrew Roberts.

According to Roberts’ obit of the recently deceased Soviet spy, George Blake was ‘profoundly evil’, ‘an evil traitor’. It is as if Blake killed off some 80,000 citizens of the United Kingdom by purposefully ignoring Covid and gutting the health care system over the last forty years, assisted by that infamous Marxian Khan, Vladimir Putin—who is Totally Evil. Liberals also believe in Evil, but on their lips it retains a certain colloquial irony. Roberts’ Evil is Mordred, the mutant offspring of Arthur, sired by incest and Magian splendor. That is—Russia and China.

Andrew Roberts is a bad-boy Victorian apologist, obscure here in the States and probably also at home beyond the war-buffs and hero-worshippers. He combines a soft David Irving-like approach of glossing over corpses with the drunken rascality of the late Christopher Hitchens. As well as dashing off Op-eds for old Tory mouthpieces like The Telegraph (to be fair, the paper is now slightly to the left of The Guardian), he has been fraternizing with more outré elements of the Far Right. A staunch defender of Apartheid like his friend David ‘Hang Nelson Mandela!’ Cameron, he was detected in 2001 giving an ‘historical’ speech to a group of mostly expat South Africans called the Springbok Club. The group’s secretary is Alan Harvey, a former member of the avowedly fascist National Front; the ‘club’ is also connected to a Far Right Tory pressure group called the Swinton Circle, where Harvey also played a major role, until a sectarian war erupted in 2008 and he declared his own faction. Subscription lists for Harvey’s racist SA Patriot publication give Thomas Mair as one of the earliest subscribers. Mair is infamous for shooting and stabbing Labour MP Jo Cox on the street in 2016, which gives some idea of this rag’s readership. The Springbok Club brazenly flies the old apartheid-era flag and yearns for a time when the darkies knew their place (Here the flag flies, next to former Tory MP/UKIP ‘guest of honor’ Neil Hamilton). They exemplify a conservative theory of time: the reactionary past sits and waits for the present to return, wagging its tail like an obedient spaniel that has brought a juicy pheasant to the feet of its Purdey-bearing master.

Perhaps this lot is just another lonely gang of neo-Nazis and crumpled AWB paras rubbing each other off. But for decades, a matrix of ultras like Springbok have infested British politics to various Cold War ends. Some of them are straight creatures of MI5; some are naïve believers; others are entry points for fascists trying to steer the machinery of the State (parts of the Conservative Party itself have shown some squeamishness about using these more extreme elements), and most are a poisonous mix of all the above. The British intelligence community uses these groups for information gathering but also for field operations, much in the same way it courted and employed the Islamists in the 1980s. The whole mess, with its SAS connections, money laundering systems, CIA money and media psyops has been covered extensively by Lobster magazine and makes for dark, engrossing reading. The rise of Thatcher and the advent of Thatcherism would have been inconceivable without this constellation of state and private forces, which constitutes a true far right in all its operative contradictions.

In this murky underbelly of Monday Clubs, spooks and irregulars, Mr Roberts, the Churchill fanboy, floats free and easy, occasionally coming up for air as Chair of the Cambridge University Conservative Association and scribbling for Tory mainstays such as The Spectator. Roberts’ other home is in the respectability of Thinktankland. His ties to the Hoover Institution show another eccentric turn—his fervent obsession with America as the New Albion. Roberts is George Bush’s favorite historian (!), and luncheoned with Dubya and Cheney in 2007 during the run up to the Gulf War: “Roberts was so fawned over that his wife, Susan Gilchrist, told the London Observer, “I thought I had a crush on him, but it’s nothing like the crush President Bush has on him,” as journalist Johann Hari reported. The New York Times Book Review picked Roberts to review his friend and fellow Neocon (and Scots quisling) Niall Fergusson’s authorized bio of Henry Kissinger, with no conflict of interest and with predictable results. According to Roberts, he was himself Hank’s first choice, but Fergusson has more than risen to the occasion. Roberts fits into a run of the mill neoliberal net, but certain eccentricities show an ideological variation that is of some interest.

What is this ideology? It is the Anglosphere, the living expression of English civilization through three great imperialist language nodes: Great Britain, the United States and Australia. Who is the enemy? Asia, Russia, Marx, and capitalisms that do not, for whatever reason, follow the Washington Consensus. It is well known that after the Second World War, the US imported thousands of Nazi collaborators for various uses in the new war against the Soviet Union. Policy was clear: Old Nazis, such as Wehrmacht General Reinhard Gehlen, are best at going after New Commies, especially in postwar Europe. A creature of Cold War sentimentality like Roberts is fully able to fawn over Churchill while holding no real grievance against National Socialism (like Churchill himself, who cited Schiller and German culture as what he hated, not fascism). Churchillism, with its construction of a ‘British People’, its white supremacy, and nostalgia for one of the most inept and short-lived empires on earth, is rather egalitarian. Was not Churchill, who constantly pushed for an alliance with the Soviet Union against Chamberlain, in his glorious self occasionally subject to the forces of mere history? If there was a National Socialism without Hitler, without all that genocidal baggage—and one of Roberts’ missions is to shift this embarrassing fact onto the Soviet Union, who smashed the Reich while Churchill made bombastic speeches and the US pussyfooted around for years before sending in a single man—then an historically-accidental antagonism disappears. Where does this antagonism disappear: in the mystic realms of the Anglosphere.

Roberts’ visions of the past substitute a hungover dizziness for imagination and excuses for razor polemic: Eden’s disastrous moves during the Suez crisis were actually desperate defenses of civilization against the Egyptian wogs (Roberts is a sleazier Barbara Cartland here, with his loopy ideas of an eternity of ravishing imperialists and dashing Boys’ Own martial heroism. Just dig the bodice-ripping title of his 2001 biography of Lord Hallifax—The Holy Fox). His defense of mass internments in Kenya, India and Ireland show an essential love of martial law—a statist attitude that may give his American Libertarian admirers pause. State atrocities are invariably desperate humiliations and outrageous massacres usually signal the end games of gloomy empires. Yes, you can kill, starve, maim, batter and rape, but you must never, ever humiliate. Promoting the most extreme responses indicates a magical blindness to the forces these acts will eventually unleash. I imagine Machiavelli turning over in his grave at the mention of the Raj—and at Roberts’ suburban defense of the Amritsar Massacre and the pitiful Lord Dyer, not that the master would stoop to read such things.

General Haig’s insane annihilation of his own class—we’ll skip the working class in deference to Roberts—in a World War fought by a technology the Victorian Brits had absolutely no understating of shows that colonial butchery eventually comes home to roost. Provincialism is deadly for empires, just like colonial import imbalances. Provincialism is deadly for historians too, but it’s what makes a nouveau Tory like Roberts able to appeal to other provincials—Britain First, ‘Labour’, Lib Dem, and otherwise.

All this is damned hard cheese for the beautiful Anglosphere. Roberts’ heroes start to resemble bejeweled Jack the Rippers, and the fact that English is a degenerate German—which is itself degenerate Sanskrit—is positively tragic. Unsurprisingly, Roberts also pens speculative What If? style essays, the most adolescent tract of military history and something of a tip-off to Andrew Roberts’ real intellectual core, which is of course H.E. Marshall’s Our Island Story 1905 kids’ history of Old Albion.

Obsessed with an English upper class which he idolizes and which in many ways his petit bourgeois heroine, Maggie Thatcher, had utterly destroyed, Roberts’ histories of these vanished lords are a mythical dream of fantastic resurrection at the hands of their own mercantile assassins. A committed snob and nationalist, Roberts yet envies the coarse and unruly Americans, particularly men like Bush and Cheney, these romantic figures making history and reality in line with Carlyle’s Great Men. Given that his father, Simon Roberts, owned the UK contingent of Kentucky Fried Chicken, perhaps this is purely autobiographical and shows a paralytic fear of curry. He has breathlessly added to the mountainous literature of WW2 in English—almost all of this cottage product industry was written for the post-war war of ideologies—with a revisionism stolidly of the Far Right that dovetails neatly with the liberal concept of a ‘double genocide’ committed by Hitler and Stalin and arrested by the plucky median capitalist element of the Allies. This theory is a product of American and European sympathy for post-war fascists and their groupuscules, shown with material support for Pinochet and Suharto, Franco and Condor and SOTA, Operation Gladio and the Vatican Rat Line. Russiagate has given it new life and the liberals are coming around: The Guardian ran a photo op for Ukrainian neo-Nazis, in 2014, complete with a very pretty young fascist in glaring wolfsangel (then took it down online after they got busted), and the luckless Juan Guaidó got enough liberal love until liberals realized no one in Venezuela knew who he was (he has since been dropped by Trump and the EU). Perhaps Luke Harding can impress Roberts with his awful Russian—heez no Stierlitz— and judging from Harding’s increasingly rare and disheveled, rambling public appearances, maybe they have been going on benders together.

Roberts likes to pick fights to downplay the record of Britannia’s terrorisms, most notably with Caroline Elkins, author of the Pulitzer-winning expose of British atrocities in Kenya, Imperial Reckoning (2005). Its subtitle, The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, must really have gotten his goat. He has charged her with fomenting ‘blood libels’ against the British ruling class and its ‘decent’ administrators, which is where we find the most clandestine aspect of Roberts’ eccentric ideas about history: his use of Blood Libel suggests that Roberts is something of a British Israelite. But the Empire itself is eccentric, occasionally moving outside its own mythology and customs. Isn’t Roberts’ championing of Lord Salisbury’s Boer concentration camps at odds with his pals in the Springbok Club? These inconsistencies are reconciled in the mystical Anglosphere, an all –encompassing white supremacy which admits of minor differences but will end in a fascist teleology in which warring pale gods unite. Thus, Roberts’ Churchill and Hitler will meld in a superfront in the face of the hordes of Asia (The title of one of his books is Hitler & Churchill, which title betrays his fantasies). Toryism and rude America can combine in Bush and Blair as co-defenders of the Anglosphere against the infidel Arabs and hidden Marxists lurking all over the Third World. Opposites are fused together in an overarching race theory whose massive contradictions can be explained by the mythical work of its dynamic personae, Fisher Kings whose mistakes are examined and redeemed by the able historian-warrior. As such an ‘historian’, Kentucky Colonel Roberts entered the hallowed gates of Kings’ College Cambridge likely thanks to his middle-bourgeois class and old Cranleighan tie (though he was finally expelled for drunkenness and a dalliance with Trotskyism), his degrees and scholarlish books a cover for a chameleon Neoconservatism which is able to make allies out of the R2P droids as well as ghoulish Afrikaans leftovers.

Roberts also moves on Twitter. His recent defense of Churchill’s statue in the face of BLM vandals shows the shallowness of his understanding of history, not to mention plastic. Reply: We are not interested in arguing with apologists for genocide; we are interested in making history, which is a product of actions in the present just as much as the past. History is full of the erasure of old customs, reliquary, religious monuments, all pulled down and devastated by the Germanic invading armies Roberts now calls ‘British’. The young black guy singled out in his tweets is also part of the Anglosphere, is he not? Well, perhaps not.

Traitor is an easy word. During the Cold War, men like Blake and Kim Philby could claim they were loyal to humanity via Communism, which would free all people from the yoke of puppet nationalism and wage slavery and thus, free the land from its internal parasites—the same parasitical class which Roberts’ idol, Baroness Thatcher, ironically removed to make way for another internationalism: Neoliberalism. That the great patriot Thatcher sold off the patrimony of the British people to Chinese and French concerns was the price she had to pay to smash the unions (whether she knew it or not) – Is that not traitorous? Blake and Philby could claim the deal they made to work for the Soviet Union was the price to be paid for opposing Capitalism worldwide and its rapine at home (a Manichean price, but necessarily paid). A nation can tolerate, must even promote, its traitors for its own ends. A traitor is excellent at reminding a country that the idea of a ‘nation’ is fluid, a hanging mobile that can accommodate new ideas about what it means to be part of it and who must be excluded from it. To be a traitor is to settle on a price—which is the same demanded of patriots.

Roberts’ own cheerleading for the Gulf War is particularly traitorous. Fully supporting Blair, he sold out his own party as a stateless neolib must do if he is serious about Lord Hayek, bowing before that Pax Americana which has relegated his own imperialist country to quivering pissboy status before former colonials (victorious traitors to King George, but equal members of the Anglosphere). Convinced that most of the chemical weapons the Anglosphere cheerfully sold Iraq in the 1980s would be found littering Iraq, Roberts was disappointed when they were not, but unbowed because Saddam Hussein was ‘evil’. Free market fundamentalism must be defended against any element of whatever stripe that rises to oppose it. Evil is the one hokey concession to folklore that the sober defenders of ‘Western Values’ on the right, and ‘democracy’ on the liberal side never get sick of.

The conservative view of Good and Evil is that Good is the initial apparition—transparent reality is exactly what is appears to be, which is how Good confounds illusion. Evil is powerless; Good is powerful. The conservation of Good is the concentration of a force that may sometimes be severe, but has the majority on its side (the majority of Creation that is, not the majority of people). Good is manifest while Evil is subterranean (the latter is manifest in opposition, while Good opposes nothing because it is not Evil). To see the manifest, the world as light, is to see Goodness and naturally to be of it. Hence the concept of decency down here on earth. Both the liberals and conservatives traffic in the decency model.

It remains to be seen what Roberts’ kind might do in the face of a populist Right that loathes banks and attacks austerity, an unruly fascism which emerges when we take the failure of the Left as a fact. Johnson’s Trumpism is at loggerheads with Roberts’ Reaganism, but this romance seems to have conveniently ended at the clownish siege of the capital building in DC. For the liberals, it is ‘Enlightenment Values’, for the Roberts strain, the Anglosphere. The confluence of energies of these forces—in the press, in political action, in pressure groups and thinktanks—merges for several objectives, whether these ‘intellectuals’ know it or not. One of them appears to be outright war with Russia and China. The war freak Roberts is apparently unfamiliar with Monty’s famous dictum: “Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: “Do not march on Moscow”. Various people have tried it, Napoleon and Hitler, and it is no good. That is the first rule. I do not know whether your Lordships will know Rule 2 of war. It is: “Do not go fighting with your land armies in China”. It is a vast country, with no clearly defined objectives.

But back to Roberts’ obit for George Blake and the Jewel in the Sea. There is precious little clarity or defined objectives to be found in his abject pining for a “robustly self-confident country that was proud of its own superior values.” This is a cheerleader shaking his flaccid Empire 2.0 pom-poms as the UK launches another (possibly leaking) aircraft carrier towards the South China Sea, thus sabotaging any chance of a “mighty prosperity” trade-deal with either the Middle Kingdom or anywhere in between, as the sea lanes become littered with sunken freighters. In excoriating Blake, Roberts attempts to set himself up as a true patriot but the global stats suggest his panacea for the Sceptered Isle is but “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

The liberal-conservative combine is a mood of power based on a hidden awareness of its own powerlessness which can be mapped through connections solid or theoretical, theatrical or aesthetic. More than any real influence a member of the arriviste retail management class like Andrew Roberts might have, perhaps the lesson is that such intellectual use values are adaptable, available and, despite their reactionary velour, constitute part of an imperialist avant garde easily compatible with liberalism. Once this is grasped, the racist Anglosphere and the war against ‘postmodern dictatorships’ decried by liberal elites align with no trouble at all.

Notes.

1) Joe Biden was apparently able to sense the Russian Premier’s lack of a soul through occult processes, which shows that such a ‘liberal’ is also susceptible to right-wing mysticism, whether he meant this as a folksy turn a la ‘Corn Pop’ or not.

2) From their website: “South Africans are at last waking up to the truth regarding the evil nature of “Nelson” Mandela”. The site is amateurish in the extreme and clearly states their positions. http://www.springbokclub.org.uk/

3) Mr Hari’s articles were among the first to autopsy Andrew Roberts and are a must-read, for example: https://newrepublic.com/article/61052/white-man-the-job-bushs-imperial-historian

4) If the Magna Carta opened the way to seize Royal lands and destroy the Commons, then the sacrifice of the churches and the kings was needed in order that a new vision of Jerusalem in England may supplant the old, guarding against the threat of socialism centuries later, creating a fairy tale land of disparate peoples under one hallucination. Reactionary determinism in history and the literal valorization of myth.

5) For the liberals, see the increasingly rightist Timothy D Snyder’s 2010 pop hit, Bloodlands.

6) British Israelism is a cranky pseudo-theory which claims the Brits are the true lost tribe of Israel. The notorious anti-Semite and Hitler apologist Nesta Webster—the mother of modern right wing conspiracy theory—was one of its most notable proponents. The Blood Libel, a piece of especially nasty racist propaganda dating back to the Middle Ages and given new life in the Nazi period, maintains that Jews murder Christian children as part of Satanic ceremonies bent on undermining the Christian West, with Muslim help. Since the British are the real lost tribe of Judah (the Jews are imposters), accounts of their atrocities are blood libels dreamed up by Marxists, Asiatics, and bleeding-heart liberal pawns to tarnish the holy image of God’s chosen Anglo Saxons and their generous rule. The Masters are persecuted by the dead they have created. Roberts’ historical revisionism is necromancy.

7) Roberts is neatly savaged for his incompetence and personal vendettas disguised as history by that infamous Marxist organ, The Economist, here: https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2006/11/02/going-out-in-the-midday-sun

8) On the right, for example, Peter Hitchens, brother of neocon Christopher, who wrote some fine articles against the war. On the Left, great men like Tariq Ali—but since Roberts is a devout racist, the few voices of the Left that really mattered can be easily dismissed as foreigners and alien agents.

9) Addressed to the House of Lords, May 30 1962. (Hansard Col 227)

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