Currently residing in Poland, Ben Sixsmith is an English writer who covers political and cultural topics from a post-postmodern POV. His words appear in The Spectator USA, Quillette, The Catholic Herald, and Arc Digital, among other outlets. He published his freshman book, Kings & Comedians: A Brief History of British Polish Relations, just last year.
Banter: Why leave the British Isles for life on the continent?
Sixsmith: I had a very aimless, depressing adolescence which culminated in something of a breakdown and I thought I needed a fresh start somewhere else. Besides, I couldn't get a job.
Banter: What do you think it is about the more stubborn English writers that makes them incapable of withholding comment on American life and politics?
Sixsmith: When America sneezes, as someone else observed, the world catches a cold. No other nation has such a sweeping cultural influence, and so to some extent it is natural for outsiders to be concerned with American affairs. Besides that, though, its political system is such a colourful grotesquerie that it exerts a powerful hold on the imagination. Who is more inherently interesting, Donald Trump or Theresa May? No contest.
Banter: Would you be heartened or disappointed to learn, upon meeting a fan of your work in the street, that they were merely familiar with your status as a Twitter warrior for young conservatism as opposed to a contributor to regular magazines?
Sixsmith: Firstly, I would be surprised that I had a fan. Secondly, no, I would be pleased. I don't mean for my social media presence to be especially activist, and 90% of my Twitter feed consists of jokes, but if I can make strangers laugh or think with tweets I hammer out while lying in bed or walking to the shops that is satisfying enough. I suppose if no one read my articles I might think differently but as far as I can tell, a reasonable number do.
Banter: Should we be nice to Boris Johnson on the basis of his tepid intellectualism and in the hopes that he can salvage a sour Brexit situation ? Or, should we unrelentingly lambaste him à la Donald Trump?
Sixsmith: We'll have to see what he does! The man annoys the hell out of me and I am no more optimistic about his prospects in government than I am about my prospects for winning the lottery, but if for some reason he starts to reel off good decisions it would be self-defeating to try to maintain a scowl. I do not believe he should be given the benefit of the doubt, though. There are many things he has not earned in his long and mendacious career, and trust is one of them.
Banter: Do you think the nature of immigration in Europe or perhaps simply the debate surrounding immigration in Europe has reached a point where cohesive, net-positive nationalisms are impossible? That is to say, the only conceivable versions of nationalist sentiment will necessarily inherit ugly chauvinistic traits?
Sixsmith: Any form of nationalism involves ugly, and sad, exclusionary features. On the other hand, cosmopolitanism invites ugly and sad occurrences by being excessively inclusive. At its worst, even mild European nationalism has led to people drowning in the Mediterranean. On the other hand, at its worst European cosmopolitanism has led to people being shredded by bombs and bullets. (In general, one should distrust people who claim that their ideas are ethically uncomplicated.) As for chauvinism, well, I think it would be hard to find less tribal societies not just across the world but across human history than those of modern Europe but, then, the dark days of world war were not that long ago.
"I think that an excess of national chauvinism is a consequence of insufficient local community."
The human quest for meaning strays beyond its proper destinations and goes a bit mad confronted with the scale of mass society. Nationalism, then, must contain elements of localism.
Banter: You’ve tracked the descent of left/liberalism into a humourless/sexless arena of thought. Do you think there was a moment where the left became less funny?
Sixsmith: I don't think there was a single moment when the left became less tolerant of humour but I think the level of its mirthlessness correlates with its acquisition of cultural power. We love mockery of the establishment until we *become* the establishment.