By Ian Angell
Ian Angell is a Professor of Information Systems at the London School of Economics. His book (“NBM”) is misnamed, as it is neither a “manifesto” nor a blueprint for surviving anything, and, worse, his “new barbarian” is not a “barbarian” in any traditional sense, but, rather, an individual who takes special steps to minimize taxes and avoid government regulations and control. The title (likely a book-publisher’s idea) is, thus, patently misleading. Angell borrows liberally (plagiarizes) from Lord Reese-Mogg’s more original and prescient “Sovereign Individual”, which I earlier reviewed. The most redeeming features of Angell’s NBM include an incredibly insightful and compelling essay on “Ritual” (and its mind-numbing impact on society) plus an abundance of thought-provoking and memorable quotations from sources as diverse as Dickens, Nietzsche, Shakespeare, “The Economist”, Ayn Rand (“Atlas Shrugged”), Frederick Hayek, Baudelaire, Alvin Tofler (“Future Shock” and the “The Third Wave”), among countless others. The author is obviously very well read.
As to “Ritual”, Angell points out that ritual is used by the nation-state (and society’s other social, religious, et al. group-manipulators) to brain wash its sheep and perpetuate patriotism and the excessive shearing (taxation) that it imposes. His observations include: “Ritual is self-validating; it suspends judgment [and reason]…Ritual creates a boundary around us…a voluntary cage…where everything that is different is dangerous…Ritual identifies group members to one another…[and] may do so to outsiders…Rain dances do not precipitate rain but they help us cope with the lack of rain…Ritual is pattern…repeatable and, hence, safe…There is no intrinsic power in ritual…Ritual arrests dissent…Retention of custom is as turbulent a thing as innovation…”
Angell’s recurrent theme, like that in the “Sovereign Individual”, is the time-immemorial war between the individual (his “new barbarian”) and the masses; as does Lord Reese-Mogg, he predicts that the individuals (with wealth) will “vote with their feet”, by moving to tax advantaged locations. He defines the central issues of our time as excessive taxation, government regulation, manipulation of the masses by the declining nation-states, the need to dismantle democracy over time, and the need for “economic hot spots” or regions which lend themselves to becoming sanctuaries for the “new barbarian” (a term that he credits to Fredrick Nietzsche (“The World as Will and Idea” and “Beyond Good and Evil”), which term Nietzsche uses to refer to the strong individual (“Might is right”), and which Ayn Rand called the “sovereign individual” – the term that Lord Reese-Mogg’s earlier borrowed for the title of his recent book. Unlike Mogg, Angell sees these “hot spots” as near major cities in the U.S. and even outside of London – in a contradiction of his “vote with their feet” prediction. Absent the inspirational quotations and the brilliant essay on Ritual, on balance, Angell’s book disappoints; neither eloquence nor original thinking are among the author’s gifts, and, even worse, he takes 250 pages to say what might have been said better in half the space. To better allocate one’s time, read “Sovereign Individual” in lieu of NBM.