Wounded Leaders

01 June 2014
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Book CoverWounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion: Nick Duffell: Lone Arrow Press  ISBN 9780953790432   £20

Nick Duffel's previous book, The Making of Them, published in 2000, was about the damage done to  boys by sending them to boarding schools as young as eight, seven or sometimes even younger. This book is about the damage done to society by these boys when they grow up.

Boarding forces children to repress their emotions. To be homesick is to be weedy, and when they grow up it is often too late to learn how to relate to people in a loving way, or even to take other people into consideration at all. In order to survive in a boarding school as an eight-year-old you have to develop a survival mechanism, and that is the result. There are three possible outcomes: either you conform, or you rebel or you are broken. Even the rebels are not free, because they will always have to rebel.

'To the trained eye,' says Duffell, 'Cameron, like Tony Blair before him, can be spotted acting with behaviour typical of a boarding school survivor.  ...  [this] may include a seamlessly smooth duplicity, an apparently unshakeable faith in his own ego, a tendency to bully when he feels threatened and a barely concealed contempt for being told what is what by women and foreigners and so forth.'

He returns to again and again to the occasion when David Cameron turned on Angela Eagle, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and told her, 'Calm down, dear, calm down. Calm down and listen to the doctor.' The arrogance, the bullying tone, the misogyny and the concealment of the fear of being wrong are all demonstrated in this one incident.

Modern prep-schools portray themselves as comfortable and home-like. They have central heating in the dormitories and allow small boys to take teddy bears to bed. A teddy bear, however, as Duffell says, is no substitute for a mother.

Boarders learn to deride those who do not conform, and to be afraid of not conforming themselves. Those who succeed develop a totally unjustified sense of entitlement and a complacent certainty that they are right and the others are wrong. In our crazily oppositional parliament this becomes normalised. Government in Britain is not a serious attempt to find the best way forward, it is a game in which there is always one side that wins and another that loses. Compromise is despised as weakness.

Duffell finds examples of this unjustified assumption of authority in many different spheres. It was, for instance, the justification for the destruction of native cultures in the colonies, the insane slaughter of the first world war and the Bush/Blair invasion of Iraq. It is tempting to see these actions as deliberately dishonest, but Duffell does not make this accusation: those who have been broken by the boarding experience with its demand for conformity above all else, have simply lost touch with their gentler side and know no other way to behave.

The book is peppered with anecdotes and quotations, but a list of the titles of some of its subsections gives an idea of its tone, wit and range:

A monstrous regiment of toffs
Born to rule, not to belong
Nice English covert bullying
Who's the British Establishment for, actually?
Growing up too young
Growing up with sex in the dark
The psychologically needed underclass

Nick Duffell describes his book as psychohistory, and quotes a New Yorker interviewer who said, 'To buy into psychohistory, you have to subscribe to some fairly woolly assumptions, for instance, that a nation's child-rearing techniques affect its foreign policy.'

Wounded Leaders provides ample evidence for the non-woolliness of that particular view.

David Gribble

 

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