Coffee House

Rod Liddle’s ‘humour with a philosophical purpose’

6 June 2014

1:00 PM

6 June 2014

1:00 PM

At times hilariously funny and full of insight, Selfish, Whining Monkeys is a profound analysis of how British culture has changed in the last 60 years. Rod Liddle advances his argument by comparing the attitudes and beliefs of his parents’ generation with the equivalent today and skilfully interleaves tales from his own childhood and early life.

The values of his parents are summed up as ‘work hard, save money, don’t shag around, marry for love and for life, don’t get pissed, don’t gamble, do as you’re told’. He doesn’t want to go back in every respect. There have been many beneficial improvements but, he concludes, ‘I, and my generation, seem by contrast feckless and irresponsible, endlessly selfish, whining, avaricious, self-deluding, self-obsessed, spoiled and corrupt’. Amidst the improvements a ‘certain moral code’ has been lost, which has contributed to our becoming a nation close to bankruptcy, with many broken families siring ill-educated and undisciplined kids.

Rod Liddle fears that he may be dismissed as what he calls a ‘tired why-oh-why’ right winger, and he certainly denounces Marcusian idiocies of the counter-culture 60s. But in his defence he also attacks what he calls the ‘singularly grim and vindictive Conservative government of the 1980s’. He finds that all the main political parties have been in thrall to egotism – a toxic ‘determination to do away with everything – society, authority – but ourselves’.

In the age of Dawkinsian contempt for religion, he dares to say that the loss of religion – Liddle was sent to Sunday school – may have had some harmful effects. He fully expects to attract the attentions of the ‘shrill infantile absolutism’ of the ‘authoritarian left’ who deny that there has been any harm and who try to deny a platform to anyone who says otherwise.

As a lifelong supporter of the Labour party he has strong suspicions of the ‘faux left’, his name for ‘people who consider themselves of the left’ but whose views are ‘either wholly irrelevant to the poorest indigenous sections of our society, or actively hostile towards them’. He admits to being very faux left himself on some issues, but is repelled by the ‘viciousness with which it castigates any transgression from its own amenable positions’. Now such nihilistic rage is multiplied by the internet. We have so many competing groups with ‘sensibilities hungry to be offended’ each ‘vociferously proclaiming their sense of victimhood, their grievances’ with greater rapidity and reach. The police are only too willing to arrest and threaten people who have offended someone. Often, says Liddle, there are demands for him to be arrested. In one case he argued that the illness ME was non-existent and was reported to the police, only to find that at least one police force had some common sense. The police officer who took the call asked for the name of the offender and, when told it was Rod Liddle, replied that he was a well-known ‘arsehole’ and that it was best to ignore him.

His ultimate concern is that the glue which bound us all together has dissolved: ‘the idea that as a nation state, a territorial entity cohered around a thousand years and more years of a common culture, we shared certain values and norms. That seems to have gone, no?’

His argument reminded me of the work of Norman Dennis who voiced similar concerns in books such as Families Without Fatherhood, Rising Crime and the Dismembered Family, and English Ethical Socialism. In the television drama Absolutely Fabulous, with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, the baby-boomer mother played by Saunders is portrayed as feckless, selfish and irresponsible, and her daughter as unselfish, hard working and socially responsible. Perhaps Rod Liddle will turn out to be among the first of the baby-boomer parents to have second thoughts about the culture they created, and find some way of holding on to the best of liberal individualism while discarding the narcissistic hyper-individualism that has taken hold.

This is a thoughtful book by a skilful writer who uses humour more deftly than anyone else writing today. And it’s humour with a philosophical purpose, which puts Rod Liddle among the best satirical writers in the English tradition. He is acute social observer but it struck me that some of his insights could be better conveyed in a play or film. Perhaps he should consider writing a screenplay.

David Green is Director of Civitas


RodBook2Rod Liddle’s new book Selfish Whining Monkeys is available from the Spectator Bookshop for just £12.99. Click here to buy now.


Show comments
  • Liz

    That’s not what a Will Self said.

    • Freedom

      Yes it is.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in Plimsolls

    This is a thoughtful book by a skilful writer who uses humour more deftly than anyone else writing today.
    I’m glad to hear it as I intend to buy it. And that’s quite a laurel, considering the writing of the American Jonah Goldberg and the ambiguous Canadian-English honorary American, Mark Steyn.

  • Bonkim

    My vote is with Rod Liddle – Yes Britain has in the post-war decades undermined the very foundations of what made Britain Great.

    • DaveTheRave

      I concur.
      It would all be ironic if it were not actually quite tragic.
      I saw some coverage of D-Day commemorations and felt like weeping. Some kind of freedom was won through the enormous sacrifice of many extraordinary men (and women) who are like gods compared to present day politicians. The qualities of these heroes should be shouted from the rooftops, not consigned to a few days a year.
      And what have we done with this hard fought freedom? Given it all away to a more benign looking (?) dictatorship which has taken us over, while we watched… and did nothing, as if we were mesmerised by some post-imperial guilt which has fostered a severe crisis of confidence in our identity.
      The Scots and Welsh are getting over it. England must do the same.

      • Bonkim

        Social organisation is more a domestic failure – freedom does not mean free for all. Decline in personal and collective morality since the 1960s root cause of the present situation.

  • artemis in france

    Rod has simply done what most of us do – become wiser with age. I was fortunate enough to have parents who loved to regale me with stories from their youth and consequently always had some idea of the évolution in society which had occurred in the intervening years. The trouble now is that parents have little time to devote to this and anyway would their children be interested enough to ask? My daughters have benefited to some extent from my musings over the years and undoubtedly this has shaped their views – they are libéral in the classic sense and have no time for those who choose to shirk or live off of others. But they have great compassion for those in genuine need. The greatest problem of our current age is being unable to détermine what is genuine and what is cynically presented as “need”. That and the EU, of course.

    • Bonkim

      Parents have sub-contracted bringing up their children. Children are today guided by what goes around in the external world than by their parents.

  • girondas

    ‘work hard, save money, don’t shag around, marry for love and for life, don’t get pissed, don’t gamble, do as you’re told’.

    Let us not forget that if you were born into anything other than serious wealth, then this was good advice.

  • Kitty MLB

    Is Roddie off somewhere? And why is there a need for him to
    be explained?
    Yes he makes valid points the glue that once bound us together
    Is indeed disolved.Too many people in this country despise
    us and the love for a country that is not their own is non existent.
    And unfortunately we live in more shallow and money driven
    times….God all that was somewhat not cheery….See what
    Roddy does to a mere mortal.

  • Airey Belvoir

    I’m reading it on Kindle. suprisingly heavy going.

    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in Plimsolls

      In what way(s)?

  • Colonel Mustard

    “…the ‘shrill infantile absolutism’ of the ‘authoritarian left’ who deny that there has been any harm and who try to deny a platform to anyone who says otherwise.”

    Indeed. Who, despite the love of diversity they boast about, seek to deny the very existence of an alternative national identity to the one they have worked so tirelessly to ‘construct’.

    I was reminded of this watching the odious Abbott on This Week last night who asserted very firmly that there will be a ‘debate’ about the future of the Monarchy when Her Majesty passes away. And we know who will instigate that debate and why.

    • IainRMuir

      The good side is that the feckless obnoxious hypocrite is likely to undermine the cause she supports.

    • Max07

      I also look forward to Abbott pressing for a debate on private schools, now that her own son is safely through the system.

  • alabenn

    Why have you got the Labour Shadow Cabinet above, is it for the front of your book.

  • Pootles

    ‘the idea that as a nation state, a territorial entity cohered around a thousand years and more years of a common culture, we shared certain values and norms. That seems to have gone, no?’. Yes. Sadly. B*gg*r. I was born in 1960, into what was called ‘the respectable working class’. All gone. I’ll buy Mr Liddle’s book, though, to read his take on babies and bathwater.

    • Max07

      The use of the word ‘respectable’ is interesting. I am of the same generation, and I don’t seem to recall anyone having any difficulty in distinguishing the ‘respectable’ from the ‘feckless’. Now we have got ourselves into a situation where we must never, never judge. I understand why – and I for one wouldn’t want to return to fifties – but, by removing all notion of personal responsibility, we have given ourselves huge problems. As Liddle says in his book, human beings will do whatever they can get away with.

      • Pootles

        Yes, I’d agree with all that. Thinking about the 50s (I was born in 1960), my father, after ten years in the army, left to become a fireman. His pay was low, but I’m pretty sure that he didn’t pay income tax, so although things weren’t easy, he was able to keep a family decently.

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    is this an obituary?

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