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The Liberal Politics of Adolf Hitler

By Max Dunbar.


The Liberal Politics of Adolf Hitler, John King, London Books 2016

On some early evening in the last decade, I was sitting in the Cornerhouse on Manchester’s Oxford Road, enjoying a pizza, a pint of San Miguel, and a book. This reverie was interrupted by a bluestocking type woman in late middle age, who appeared at my table, pointed to the book – it was Headhunters, by John King – and told me in a tone of self-satisfied confidentiality that it was very popular at her place of work.

Where is it you work, then, I asked.

The lady named a well known local prison… and then disappeared into the early evening Cornerhouse crowd.

If she hadn’t scurried away immediately after delivering this punchline, I might have told my bluestocking friend more about John King. His evocations of white working class London life in the back end of the twentieth century. The very texture of that life, of male friendship, which is so hard to define and yet he nailed effortlessly in book after book. Love and sex and death, peace and war, hard times and good. The willingness to go to places, like the football casual culture of orbital London boroughs, where other writers fear to tread. The warmth and humanity of it all. Other reasons why the luckless convicts under this bluestocking’s care might seek an escape and comfort in the novels of John King.

I’m not sure I could defend this new one though. While King’s other novels are character driven, or situation driven (The Football Factory was about rivalry and sport, Headhunters about rivalry and sex, The Prison House a dark dream of a narrator guilty of one crime locked up in a foreign country for a crime he didn’t commit and indeed is never spelled out) The Liberal Politics of Adolf Hitler is politics driven. In it King creates a dystopia where a totalitarian EU superstate rules the world. The federal elite loots the treasures of Greece, imposes a mad neoliberalism upon entire countries, and punches surveillance implants into the hands of its subjects, which can only be removed by amputation. History has been rewritten so that Hitler and Stalin become early Eurostate pioneers taken down by the villainous Little Englander Churchill. The federal regime marries a crazy capitalism (just about every public utility has been sold to various corporations) with crazy liberalism: paedophilia is legalised and Jimmy Savile rehabilitated as a permissive hero. Only a loose network of rebel forces in the shire towns (known as ‘GB45’) stand against the Euro totalitarianism.

You cannot understand where King is coming from with this without reading his essays, this one on the European Union, and this one on UK patriotism. In these essays King sets out a liberal left case against the EU and slams the tendency of British intellectuals who look down on the majority of people who love their country and aren’t afraid to say so. King writes: ”Diversity’ is the new fetish of the media and political class, but it has always existed and, indeed, is one of our strengths. It is represented in the four nations of the United Kingdom, our counties and towns, our tribal origins and histories, celebrations and traditions, accents and music and food and rivalries and every quirk of culture.’ This is fair enough – it’s not a healthy country where only the far right scum are unafraid to wave the flag. And hard questions have to be asked about EU accountability and the disaster of currency union. Faced with these questions, King lapses into conspiracy theory. ‘It is essential to understand where the EU is heading. The mission? To create a centralised superstate.’ In the UK ‘we have McCarthy-like campaigns directed at those who have a different vision for Britain and the other member countries.’ Nowhere is safe: ‘The EU has a president and a militarised police force in EUROGENDFOR, is pushing for its own army, and has helped stir up the crisis in Ukraine with its expansionism.’ Nothing to do with Putin trying to annex the country for the Russian Federation, then, John?

This confusion manifests in his dystopia. The Liberal Politics blurb boasts that ‘while this book offers a vision of the future, it is as much about the present day’. But King depicts a world where the elderly are cleansed out of existence and cities are a playground of clubs and bars: when in the 2010s it’s the young who suffered most, in immobility and unemployment, through forced austerity in European member states. Veganism and animal rights – more associated with today’s middle class left – become rallying cries for the true British rebels, to the point where you think you’re reading the new Morrissey novel. On occasion King says something interesting, as when he reflects on today’s mirror-wilderness of PC semantics: ‘Experts scanned the European language; studied and dissected, searching for prejudice, dishonesty, subliminal hatreds that might lurk in the corners of polite society. It wasn’t enough to be superficially correct.’ And I like the concept that hard copies of everything – books, music, movies – are banned because digital information is easier for the authorities to control. But what to make of the idea that someday in Airstrip One there will be novels by 3:AM stars Joseph Ridgwell and Cathi Unsworth passed hand to hand like samizdat?

The Liberal Politics of Adolf Hitler has moments of reason and invention, but these are fleeting, sprinkles of sanity like scattered frosting on a florid and bitter cake. What little there is of plot and characterisation gives way early to chunks of worldbuilder’s exposition in endless run-on sentences. King says he’s influenced by Orwell, but Orwell made even his totalitarian villains recognisably human. (Isn’t there a little regret in O’Brien’s voice when he tells Winston Smith that ‘they got me a long time ago’?) King’s characters are vessels for his ideas and little more.

In his essays King talks a lot about condescension. There’s enough condescension directed at working class writing, I experienced it myself from my friend in the Cornerhouse. So I don’t want to patronise John King by saying that I am disappointed with his book, that he wrote great fiction before and maybe will do again. And of course maybe there’s some secret irony to The Liberal Politics of Adolf Hitler that I’m not getting. I can only say that to me this novel sounds like the voice of punk, aged badly, lost in the past, and spending too much time on the internet. This book is slightly sillier than the Eurovision Song Contest.

Max Dunbar was born in London in 1981. He lives in West Yorkshire and blogs at maxdunbar.wordpress.com and tweets at @MaxDunbar1.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016.