'Dominic Cummings: Errant Philosopher of Brexit'
Thursday 18.4. 2019, 6pm – 8pm,
in MayDay Rooms,
88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH
In the first workshop of Reading the enemies in spring 2019, Stephen Howard
examines the thought of Dominic Cummings, one of the chief ideologues of
Brexit. According to Howard, Cummings' writings express an eclectic, Nietzschean worldview—beyond the customary divisions of left and right-wing politics. Cummings’ views on social change, technology, education and genetics reveal his hopes for a radically new Britain that could emerge from the political crisis that is Brexit.
There is probably no individual who was more instrumental in Britain voting to leave the EU in 2016 than Dominic Cummings. After stints working for the Conservative Party as Iain Duncan Smith’s director of strategy and as Michael Gove’s special advisor, Cummings led the Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum. He briefly attained mainstream fame at the start of this year when he was played by Benedict Cumberbatch in a Channel 4 documentary. The programme depicts Cummings as a maverick mastermind, an upstart firebrand who refuses to play by the rules and would do anything to win, overturning the fusty political establishment in the process.
Whether or not this is accurate, the question is: why did he do it? Few people are aware that Cummings is a prolific writer and blogger, and that in the many thousands of words he has posted online there can be found an idiosyncratic and complex set of views that motivated him to lead the campaign to take Britain out of Europe. I have read Cummings’ sprawling writings so that you don’t have to: this talk will outline his worldview.
I will reconstruct what might be considered Cummings’ philosophy of history, his conception of politics, both in theory and practice, and his views on science, technology, progress and education. Even if Cummings’ vision for post-Brexit Britain is unlikely to be realised, it is instructive to take note of what are, in my view, its surprisingly progressive aspects as well as its deeply worrying tendencies. I show that Cummings’ eclectic worldview is ultimately, like Brexit but with quite different stakes, beyond left and right. This Nietzschean aspect of Cummings’ philosophy recurs in his ideas on technology, genetics and education, where he unwittingly echoes Nietzsche’s doctrine of the Übermensch. Through this analysis, I hope to illuminate some little-recognised fractures in British politics – around technology, big data and social change – that are likely to become ever more significant in the future.
Stephen Howard is a postdoctoral fellow in philosophy at the University of Leuven, Belgium. He primarily works on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century German philosophy from Leibniz to Kant. He has also published on Heidegger, Foucault and Agamben, has written on politics for Novara, and is a co-founder of the [Again] philosophy and critical theory network. He lives in Brussels.