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The Scapegoating of Unhappiness

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Also in the LRB this week: Adam Phillips on Peter Barham’s Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War. (Subscription only – why don’t you grab yourself a copy…)

Sneaky good review… Almost skipped it. But it seems that Barham’s up to something very interesting indeed in this book. According to Phillips, this is the story of how mental injury in or ineligibility for the first world war laid the medico-ideological groundwork for the welfare state. I know, sounds a little strange, but take a look at the article… Here’s a snippet:

Barham has surprisingly little to say about religion – or indeed about
patriotism as ersatz religion – but a great deal to say about a
politics organised around the scapegoating of unhappiness. The ranks of
those who found the war unbearable – there is a difference, of course,
between saying something is unbearable and actually, like the lunatics,
being unable to bear it – were forging, in his view (though they didn’t
know it), a new kind of heroism: they were the prophets, one might say,
though Barham doesn’t quite spell this out, of the forthcoming
politically sanctioned welfare state. It was the mental health
casualties rather than the ‘physical invalids’ of the war, Barham
intimates, who raised the question of whether a case could be made, in
political terms, for the value of vulnerability. Could emotional
fragility be any use to society?

Written by adswithoutproducts

March 8, 2005 at 11:37 pm

Posted in Books

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