Dominic Cummings, the UK’s answer to Steve Bannon, unveils the essential truth behind British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s victory in the general election. It’s all about the misplaced prestige of traditional education, which has no place in modern society. Education is not only overrated, but it should be considered a vice to be mocked, if not repressed. According to Cummings, too much education literally drives people mad.
Castigating those who failed to forecast and believe in Johnson’s resounding victory, Cummings complained, “All these better than average educated Remainer campaigner types who have waved around for eight weeks, for the last four months and didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t understand they were driving everyone mad.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Politically irrelevant and incapable of understanding reality
It’s true that taken literally, Cummings seems to express respect for “average” education. That may sound like a very democratic attitude, but it could also be read as an elitist way of saying that it’s easier to govern people who don’t do too much thinking. His message can be translated as: Wake up, eggheads, you live in an increasingly uneducated world, so get in line, drop your pretensions and enjoy life in the new world order where you won’t be tempted to distract the ignorant masses who can live very happily without the bother of complex thought.
According to Politico, Cummings, who lurked in the background during the election campaign, intends to play a very active role in Johnson’s government. He will be entrusted to shape and transform the intellectual culture of the new administration. “Cummings will aim to stuff the Whitehall machine with scientists, mathematicians and ‘creators’ from the startup world in a bid to turbo-boost activity,” Politico reports. In other words, post-Brexit Britain can expect to be subjected to a seriously technocratic drift, with the aim perhaps of duplicating the success of the US military-industrial complex. “Cummings floated bringing in Cabinet ministers from outside parliament and shaping government agencies in the mold of a U.S. military research team.”
This is the traditional Pentagon to Silicon Valley model of the US military-industrial economy, built on combining military logic, technological innovation and privileged entrepreneurship into a dominating economic force that stretches its fingers across the globe. Many suspect, with good reason, that British political and economic culture is ill-adapted to that model. But when forced by Brexit to rethink everything, that may seem as good a way to go as any other.
It does seem to confirm what many predicted and others feared that once cast off from Europe, Britain will drift into US territorial waters. Whether that means a gradual or even sudden takeover of Britain’s beloved National Health Service (NHS) by American health care corporations remains to be seen. After first entertaining the prospect of a US takeover of the NHS as a condition for a comprehensive trade deal, both Johnson and Donald Trump have vehemently denied any such intention. But once negotiations begin, there is no guarantee that movement in that direction will not take place.
In fairness to the man and his plan, not only would Cummings never oppose the idea of education, but he champions it. Educated at the prestigious Durham School and Oxford, where he earned a first in ancient and modern history, Cummings knows the value of a traditional, humanistic education that has always served to define Britain’s elite. With his deep knowledge of history, he understands better than anyone that educating the elite is not quite the same thing as educating the masses, especially in this age of high tech.
Cummings has plenty of ideas about education. He even sees it as the key to redefining Britain’s place in the world. Politico states it in these terms: “His ultimate dream is to make Britain the ‘school of the world’ — a leading nation in education and science, in a bid to help civilization counter existential threats such as nuclear war and resource conflict.” His goal is to “‘change our economy for the better, making it more productive and fairer’ by boosting long-term productivity, science, technology and helping the regions.”
This plan aims at creating what we might call a secondary US-style elite, rather than the primary elite that will continue to be supplied by Oxford and Cambridge. These two universities (especially humanistic Oxford) have populated the political class with leaders like Cummings and his former boss, Michael Gove, who is remembered as possibly the worst education secretary in modern British history. Gove is also a pillar of Prime Minister Johnson’s team.
The new secondary elite that follows the American model consists of skilled workers and business-minded entrepreneurs. The educational infrastructure Cummings is promoting focuses on STEM instruction (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), which is the opposite of his own background. The new programs will serve to populate promising tech startups with up-to-date coders, while simultaneously launching brilliant entrepreneurial careers of tech-minded business people intent on bolstering the British economy, driven by the noble dream of becoming billionaires. The Oxbridge elite, with its deep understanding of history and the psychology of the masses, will continue to sit above this secondary elite and manage the big issues of society, including government itself and investment in high tech.
In other words, Cummings’ grand vision of education, which he outlined in 2013 (calling it “Odyssean Education”), is largely inspired by American models. This appears to reflect his obsession with applying and cashing in on recipes created in the US to run its ever-expanding military-industrial empire.
If Cummings’ influence on the Johnson government turns out to be as significant as Politico suggests, two hypotheses emerge concerning the implementation of his vision of Britain’s future contribution to history.
The first is that the UK joins the American imperium as a junior partner. Cummings has bought into US business and political culture, lock, stock and barrel. Rather than attempt to rival an immensely powerful competitor, it would make more sense to join forces, though to some extent that is already the case through NATO.
The second is that, given what most observers recognize as the decline of America’s global leadership — borne out by the very statistics Cummings seem enamored of (falling life expectancy, an opioid crisis, a growing suicide rate, student debt, permanent gun violence, rising inequality, religious fundamentalism) — Britain could once again take over its leadership of the English-speaking world and be a beacon for humanity. He may be counting on Johnson’s charisma to carry this one off.
This may sound like plagiarism. Isn’t that the dream Steve Bannon had for Donald Trump, a certified ignoramus who, for the past three years, has had the unexpected narcissistic pleasure of seeing himself at the head of what is still the most powerful political, economic and military-political entity on earth?
Bannon has moved on to spearhead an attempt at the conquest of Europe, though this has met with ambiguous results. He dreams of pulling together an international coalition of populist, nationalist movements that logically could have included Johnson but will probably have to settle with the other Brit who made Brexit: Nigel Farage. The Brexit Party leader contributed to Johnson’s victory in a gesture of self-sacrifice by pulling away from challenging the Tories in constituencies where they might have been weakened by splitting the pro-Brexit vote. Farage has now hinted that he will come to the US to help Trump’s 2020 campaign.
Many commentators have depicted Cummings as Boris Johnson’s Steve Bannon. In contrast with Bannon’s relationship with Trump, Cummings probably sees the literate, erudite Oxford-educated Johnson — author of a book on the Roman Empire and another on Winston Churchill — as providing the springboard for a new English Renaissance in which even some of the traditional working-class people will benefit from an “average” STEM education to bolster the development of a Silicon Valley-style economy for the UK.
With Johnson’s comfortable majority in Parliament, Cummings may feel he has a boulevard in front of him to achieve his plan of turning Britain into the “city upon the hill” that the US can no longer credibly claim to be. This may be (in his mind) the opportunity for Old England to take over New England’s nearly 400-year-old legendary title.
This assumes that Johnson can control his own Conservative Party’s currently silenced “remainers,” find ways of flattering the voters of Labour’s former “red wall” in the North, manage the difficult and lengthy negotiations for a new trade agreement with the EU from a position of weakness, and find a way of defusing Scotland’s seething anger. He will also have to deal with the disturbance to the economy as soon as Brexit kicks into effect, while also finding clever ways to deflect the blame from himself.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.