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What's on Michael Gove's bookshelf? (And why it matters)

Those tweets have now been deleted but not before an army of professional pundits leapt to Gove’s defence. ‘I own lots of books I disagree with too,’ they said. ‘The Left are the new Nazi book burners’.

However, this (wilfully) misses the point. There’s no problem with keeping books you disagree with, not even books by neo-Nazis.

The problem is when you look at Gove’s wider collection and its associations in the context of his political actions and views in general.

So, what’s on his shelf?

The War Path - David Irving

David Irving is arguably the world’s most famous Holocaust denying ‘historian’. Does that mean Michael Gove is a Holocaust denier? Obviously not. Gove has worked with the Holocaust Education Trust including giving a widely praised speech where he declared that “to question [the Holocaust], to relativise it, to reduce its significance, was to become an accomplice to evil.”

Yet Gove himself has relativised the Holocaust several times with crass comparisons of the Good Friday Agreement and Muslim immigration to Nazi appeasement. Similarly, in an article for The Times about David Irving, Gove actually spends the bulk of the piece attacking Christopher Hitchens’s book on Henry Kissinger, comparing it to the conspiratorial anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Meanwhile, Gove is not averse to anti-Semitic dogwhistles himself. Tory peer David Willetts recounts how Gove opposed the International Baccalaureate because it represented a “rootless cosmopolitan education not grounded in the history of this country”. Similar can be said of Gove’s refusal to condemn anti-Semitic Hungarian president Victor Orban. Or his defense that Steve Bannon can’t be an anti-Semite because he has a Jewish friend and loves Israel. Gove’s commitment to opposing anti-Semitism, then, starts to look extremely selective.

By an interesting coincidence, Gove also seems to have a personal obsession with Richard Evans, who Gove attacked as unpatriotic for his criticisms of jingoistic WW1 celebrations. Evans also happens to be one of the key historians who brought down David Irving in a 2000 libel trial.

If Irving’s was the only far-right book on the shelves, then the cries of ‘fake outrage’ would be justified. However, not only is it not the only far-right book, it’s not even the most interesting one.

The Bell Curve - Charles Murray

Charles Murray’s infamous and widely discredited laundering of race science aims to link IQ to genetics. As with Holocaust Denial, if you were opposed to race science, there might be reason to read Murray’s book in order to criticise it better.

But Gove is not a staunch opponent of eugenicist ideas on intelligence, employing someone with a very keen interest in them as his special adviser: Dominic Cummings. Similarly, Gove defended Toby Young after his appointment to the university watchdog, when Young was under fire for attending a secret eugenicist conference (and writing pro-eugenics articles). Andrew Sabisky also recently had to stand down as an adviser to Downing Street after his eugenicist views were exposed. Gove really is just swimming in shit when it comes to eugenicist approaches to education, and the Bell Curve fits in very well with that worldview.

The Strange Death of Europe - Douglas Murray

Though more mainstream than the previous two books, Murray’s text deals with bizarre statistical manipulation to "prove" that Muslim birth rates and mass immigration will result in the collapse of Western Civilisation. As such, it’s basically a ‘respectable’ version of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, popular with white supremacists.

Why We Fight: Manifesto of the European Resistance; and Archeofuturism - European Visions of the Post-Catastrophic Age - Guillaume Faye

Interestingly, one of the key thinkers responsible for ‘The Great Replacement’ theory, Guillaume Faye, also appears on Gove’s bookshelf. Faye was a key figure in the French far-right Nouvelle Droite and his texts outline the existential threat of mass immigration and Islam to European civilisation. Faye’s ideas are also cited in the manifestos of mass shooters and are the inspiration for the far-right network Generation Identity.

While Gove may be able to claim some opposition to Holocaust denial, there is no grounds to suggest he has any fierce opposition to Great Replacement theories, because he’s published one himself.

Gove’s book, Celsius 7/7 describes Muslim immigration to Europe as a threat as great as Nazism, and allowing this immigration as equivalent to the appeasement of Hitler. Tory peer Baroness Warsi has been so disturbed by Gove’s Islamophobia that she tried to halt his leadership bid for the Conservative Party. With this broader context, the presence of Faye’s books are quite disturbing, certainly suggesting a continuity with Gove’s own views.

Finally, Faye’s books are published by Arktos Media, a publishing house for fascist and third positionist literature which until recently was part of Richard Spencer’s Alternative Right corporation. This is very much no longer ‘infamous bestseller’ or ‘might find in a seaside charity shop’ territory, but rather a highly niche far-right publisher.

Beyond Human Rights: Defending Freedom - Alain de Benoist

Yet another book published by Arktos (were they having a sale?).

De Benoist founded the think tank GRECE in 1968, a central organisation of the French Nouvelle Droite, from where he pushed the concept of ‘ethno-pluralism’, a euphemism for strictly racially segregated societies. In the 1990s De Benoist made links with the new networks of fascists emerging in Russia, such as Eduard Limonov and Aleksander Dugin. De Benoist has specialised in downplaying traditional neo-Nazi traits like Holocaust denial and overt anti-Semitism, while emphasising conspiracism and biological racism.

Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America - Paul Gottfried

Gottfried is the third link to Richard Spencer, having coined the term ‘Alternative Right’ (often shortened to ‘Alt-Right’) while working with Spencer on Taki’s Magazine. Taki Theodoracopulos is an open anti-Semite who, as well as publishing his eponymous magazine, has a long-running column at the Spectator with articles such as ‘In defense of the Wehrmacht’ and supportive of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.

Why does it matter?

The point here isn’t that Gove is a secret Nazi or that people shouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to have certain books in their house. Rather, it’s that Gove’s statements and actions, alongside the niche interests evident in his book collection, show the diminishing gap between the right wing of the Conservative Party and international fascist networks. Just like Jacob Rees-Mogg will dine with the Traditional Britain Group or Boris Johnson will meet with Steven Bannon, Gove will push explicitly racist ideas and policies in continuity with many of the more obscure far-right thinkers on his shelves.

His defenders claim he merely ‘reads widely’, including ‘people he disagree with’. One wonders, then, where all the left-wing authors are: he has The Bell Curve but not Stephen Jay Gould’s Mismeasure of Man; The Strange Death of Europe but not How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. He may read Blair, but not Benn and certainly not Bakunin or Bordiga. The breadth of his reading seems to only extend in one (rightward) direction.

There is also a double-standard at play here. Gove, in line with his alarmist Islamophobic views, has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Prevent strategy. Prevent is a counter-terrorism measure which has primary and secondary schools, colleges, and workplaces monitor their staff and students for signs of extremism, and report them to the authorities if they’re ‘at risk’ of being radicalised. You don’t have to be an ISIS-sympathiser to be referred to Prevent, you just have to look like one to an Islamophobic teacher. Prevent has increasingly targeted left wing and far-right activists in recent years too, although Muslims are still more likely to be referred than non-Muslims.

An anti-fascist researcher says: “Gove clearly thinks he should be exempt from the shitty draconian rules he’s helped concoct. I’m very aware that the work I do researching fascists could lead to police raids and court appearances because I have to read the kind of source material Gove is clearly happy to buy. That’s one of the most concerning things about this. He’s actively funding fascist publishers. I pirate the neo-Nazi books I read, Gove is seemingly happy to hand over the cash he’s given by the taxpayer to some of the most disreputable people on the planet.”

So the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, funding far-right extremism and displaying it proudly for all to see on his twenty bookshelves, while his government sends the police out to raid working-class youth.

Ultimately, Gove’s bookshelves are a metaphor for those who would govern us, where bland, self-aggrandising centre-right autobiographies sit happily alongside esoteric far-right works intellectualising about race war. Gove’s bookshelves matter because, looking at governments across Europe and in the US, that’s the coalition with an alarming amount of political power.

Posted By

libcom
May 6 2020 16:11

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Spikymike
May 7 2020 09:26

Many thanks for this as I would be unlikely to make the effort to sort through and analyse the connection between all that and Gove's views and practice. Particularly relevant the eugenicist reference although the political Left has a long historical link with this as well.

Spikymike
Jun 12 2020 13:11

Some more interesting political connections of another current Tory minister in the news just now:
https://anarchistcommunism.org/2020/06/11/priti-patel-thug/