Chekhov is my favourite writer. His descriptive brevity has opened my mind in more ways than any metaphor laden prose has ever done. His short story, The Huntsman, is a continual source of inspiration. Capturing the beauty in the bleakness of life is no mean feat. No one does it like Chekhov. Chekhov was a Centrist.
Tolstoy, on the other hand, is anything but. He writes with a goal. He writes with an ambition. When he wrote War & Peace, he wasn’t neutral. His voice was in the characters, the journey was turned in directions of his ideological choosing. He is a participant in his work. Tolstoy was a Protagonist.
A little known fact, Chekhov and Tolstoy were great friends. Tolstoy often critiqued his friends writing by saying he could improve it greatly if he’d only offer the reader “a point of view”. Chekhov, for his part, hated Tolstoy’s moralising and pontificating. They’d argue and malign each other often, but remained true friends until Chekhov’s untimely death, aged only 44. It was the ultimate irony that Chekhov, the Doctor, worried terribly about Tolstoy’s health.
Get to the point Tony!
The point is simple really. 2016 saw a shutting down of hard won advances in human rights. Trump, Brexit and victories for Far Right political parties have promised to curb the rise of “snowflake” liberalism. Liberals, so sure of the rightness of their arguments, have failed to explain themselves. Choosing to wring their hands and mourn, rather than take direct action. Liberals and true Social Democrats have (mostly) seceded the floor to the Right.
The Irish Times gave a platform to a man who threatened refugee children, to explain and normalise the rise of the “Alt Right”
The Irish Political Right, so embarrassed by the actions of their fellow ideologists, have re-branded themselves as Centrists. Paschal Donohoe, recently described himself as “a liberal centrist”. The daftness of this statement went unchallenged. Paschal represents a Right Wing Free Market Ideology that has failed people since inception and most spectacularly since the 2007 global financial crisis.
Fine Gael (and to a lesser degree Fianna Fail) wanting to distance themselves from this have decided to say they are Centrists. Michael Noonan even went so far as to quote W.B Yeats:
Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
Centrist sounds great, it sounds sensible; because if it was good enough for Chekhov, it’s good enough for us, right? Wrong.
To be Centrist in the modern political landscape is to play it safe. It’s to obfuscate decisions. It’s to kick the can down the road when faced with difficult choices. to be a Centrist is to be set, to be set is to be stuck, to be stuck is to be unable to move or change. Centrists then, by definition, merely protect the status quo and are blockers to change. Give me the much derided Populist Dreamer over the Feet of Concrete Centrist any day.
When you hear a Fine Gael Minister or spokesperson say Centrist, remember it means Right Wing. Say to yourself that the fulcrum of the Global Right has shifted to far to the so called Alt Right that the old fashioned Right Wing Free Market Merchants are scared. So scared and afraid to challenge it that they want to pretend they’re not associated with it.
Enda Kenny even went so far as to warn against the rise of the Far Right. Having spent his entire time in government sowing the Right Wing seeds, he’s now complaining about the crop he helped cultivate. You couldn’t make it up.
So in 2017 it is the duty of Social Democrats and Snowflake Liberals to yell “Bullshit”. Whenever we see a wolf in sheep clothing, we must signal the alarm. Yes, I prefer Chekhov’s Centrist literature. But I’d rather have a pint and discuss Tolstoy’s Societal Ambition, than sit and sulk over Chekhov’s Centrist staidness.
Tony Groves January 2017