This is a lively, wide-ranging and anarchic assault on modern Western lifestyles and a plea to adopt the wisdom of our medieval forebears, who if Hodgkinson is to be believed, enjoyed a level of freedom and leisure that can scarcely be dreamed of by today's office drones. His advocacy of completely abandoning any attempt to intervene in the political system does not sit well with me because I think it is a mistake to hand the state over to the most conservative and reactionary elements of society. But then again that's part of why I think anarchism is far more effective as a personal ethic than a political program, and that's why the sections of the book that deal with ways in which to improve your everyday life are far better than his sections on government and class.
Tom Hodgkinson's admirable intention may have been to write a parody of self-help books but unfortunately ends up falling into similar territory of smuggery as the genuine articles. By trying to ignore more recent historical and contemporary arguments surrounding industrial relations, he may be attempting to introduce fresh ideas using a more pragmatic approach but to me generally fails and comes across as ignorant, condescending and arrogant. His repeated unilateral promotion of a romanticised Medieval era to highlight the flaws of today's world removes his argument, and solutions, further from the reader who is stuck very much in a real modern predicament. I was hoping he could explain how to fit the good freedom-loving elements of medieval life he identified, such as healthy food and relaxation, with the freedom-loving elements of modern life he ignored, such as high agricultural productivity that allows us not to toil in grubby fields all our lives and gives us the opportunity to do loads of other stuff. Essentially, by the end of the book I felt left to choose between the overbearing past feudal system and the overbearing current state/capitalist one rather than feeling free at all. I still wish to read a convincing book properly explaining how this irksome retreat from properly confronting injustices and failings of the current system at its roots, and instead merely extricating oneself by imitating a 13th century serf, is supposed to bring radically liberating change.
He advises getting solar panels in order to be self sufficient and avoid bills, but he doesn't seem to consider how most people will pay for solar panels - they're so expensive that the new owners will more than likely be paying off the price of them month by month rather than power bills- i.e., still paying bills of sorts. -At times, he promotes things that I think are irresponsible, like telling people not to vote. I would certainly not like to leave the chance of extreme right or left wing politicians getting in to power, because even if you take personal responsibility for your life, politics will still have *some* effect on you & I don't want to be ruled by crackpots. Another example is telling people to just stop taking medicine for depression! It's like telling me to never take my inhaler; I avoid taking it as much as I can because being on steroids all the time is not fun, but at times it is literally a life saver and I would be stupid not to take it. His view of the medieval past is so nostalgic and rose-tinted, you'd think that the nobles were falling over each other in order to make peasants happy, and that guilds were massive happy families that accepted everyone and didn't have monopolies over individual crafts. I engaged passionately with Hodgkinson's ideas, both in agreement or against them, and I think this is ultimately what the book encourages. (Que gasps and a vague feeling of discomfort!) It has made me properly think about what i want in life, what will make me happy and free, which is especially important right now as I'm half way through my degree, and considering two pretty different career choices.
Hodgkinson makes no claims to present a coherent political philosophy, which is good because he doesnt. He harks back to late Medieval times, which he feels exemplify freedom from centralised authority and local co-operation. Hodgkinson is strongest when dismantling consumerism and presenting the appeal of thrift and self-reliance, but weakest when assuming that everyone else (who isnt a straight white man) enjoys the same things in life as him. Its relaxing to read a book in praise of carelessness - whats the point of trying to earn lots of money, to get more than anyone else?
A lot of reviewers focus on the way Mr Hodgkinson romanticises Medieval life, which surprises me because he makes a point in the first chapter that he is very much aware of the downsides to that era, but that learning about the past can in fact show us what worked and what didn't and we only need keep the good stuff. I believe he uses Medieval systems as an example to show that the modern work-ethic is not endemic in Western-Europe and that you don't have to go to far continents to find examples of how to live more passionately and free.
And you may remember when I reviewed Bill Kauffmans Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists, which had a soft spot for the American isolationist, regionalist, anti-cosmopolitan tendencies of the early 20th century. (To give the kids of today some context, Hodgkinson notes that Tolstoy was the late-nineteenth-century equivalent of Crass Crass being the late-twentieth-century equivalent of, I dunno, Chumbawumba or something.) Obligatory tax resistance pullquote follows: It is perfectly possible to create an uncomplicated, job-free life. Artists Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher started Crass, the anarchist punk band of the eighties. They keep things simple, they dont need jobs, and that gives them acres and acres of free mind-space to follow their own paths through life, to think, read, write, talk, drink, make art. The book didnt do much for me, but Im already a believer in what I think is the most evident and important mesage of the book: take responsibility for your life; make an honest and necessarily radical reassessment of your priorities that will certainly involve unlearning the ones you have absorbed from a childhood overdose of public school, media, and commercial propaganda; and start living creatively according to what you uncover in this way.
In one chapter of this book he suggests that all drugs are bullshit, especially anti-depressents. But I don't think one has to go to the extreme measures he suggests to find benefits in simplicity. I already agreed with his premise going in that simple is better, so the book reinforced many of my views and gave me some good ideas.
There are some interesting ideas discussed within the book which have elevated my star rating from one to two, but ultimately I felt that it was written from a vantage point of smug middle class privilege. Although I am technically a freelance artist ( of which Hodgkinson would approve) I don't have an option to only work for three hours a day and I don't have a garden in which to plant and grow vegetables.
So when Hodgkinson uses those fantastic references from a range of different fields and periods of time it inspires me to go an read those books. (even though i don't know where to get books from the 1700's.) I don't particularly like this over glorification of medieval england which he refers to regularly in the book.However at times I fall in love with this community base feeling he paints of a medieval village.
Tom Hodgkinson (b.