The Moral Collapse of Paper (and Radicalism)

I love farting in the Pope’s face. Go on, give in to temptation.

Remember the days of the printing press? When Gutenberg put together his model for printing in 1439 he was giving ordinary (literate) people a common voice. Radical ideas born in Germany were read in Bristol or as far as Portugal; a common network built on ideas led to mass support for reforming ideas across the continent. It was cheap. It was simple. And yet it spawned the greatest intellectual transformation Europe had ever seen.

During the 60s and 70s, the low price of paper onto which radical notes were printed met very successfully with student frugality. Excited pamphleteers stood on every busy street corner forcing sheets and booklets on the unsuspecting. The cheap words were electrified by their content, by their rather genuine idealism.

And then, there’s today. Sometimes you’ll still be harassed by a quirky socialist street vendor, but it’s rare. Usually the “radicals” can be found blogging behind their laptop screens or reading out long party manifestos at their Central Committee or regurgitating the depressing tedium of socioeconomic theories of the military-industrial complex. Or some such tack. I took a visit to the Oxford Radical Forum a few weeks ago, and there I picked up a very glossy Oxford Left Review (mimicking the New Left Review of Perry Anderson’s postwar generation without even a touch of irony), its articles as superficial as the paper on which they were printed. The trouble is that, as the likes of The Revolution Will Be Televised reminds us, subversion is now a trend, a fashion.

Am I extrapolating too much from this? Possibly. But it’s all definitely part of a wider decline in the sincerity of popular radicalism.


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