On the Death of John Berger

John Berger, who died very recently at the age of 90, is probably not a familiar name to Radix readers. Like many activists hostile to our people and our civilization, Berger carved out an influential but relatively undisturbed career for himself. In this case, our deceased protagonist was an ‘art critic’ and author.

Berger did not openly promote a course on ‘Whiteness studies,’ nor did he advance an agenda of White guilt. His mode of operation was perhaps more insidious, consisting of an influential but somehow barely perceptible drip-feeding of intellectual poison into Western cultural self-confidence. He was a quintessential contributor to what Kevin MacDonald has termed the ‘Culture of Critique’ and, in his most famous TV and book project, Ways of Seeing (1972), he steadily chipped away at confidence in traditional Western cultural aesthetics, paving the way for ‘feminist readings’ of traditional art and pop culture. Ways of Seeing is now required reading for many college art courses.

Berger was born in November 1926 to Stanley and Miriam Berger, secular Jews living in the heavily-Jewish suburbs of an area of London called Stoke Newington. In 1946 he enrolled in the Chelsea School of Art and the Central School of Art in London. He doesn’t appear to have impressed his instructors with artistic talent.

Although Berger’s Wikipedia entry states that his early work was exhibited in London galleries, it should be noted that his entire early promotion was a product of ethnic networking rather than artistic merit. Berger exhibited at only two art galleries during this period, the first being the Wildenstein, Redfern, which should require no elaboration. The other venue was Leicester Galleries, owned by Cecil and Wilfred Phillips. The Phillips brothers, connected by blood to the Anglo-Jewish elite, including the Joseph and Levy families, were part of a wealthy clique of modern art promoters. As well as sponsoring the work of John Berger, the gallery also gave prominence to other figures of questionable talent, but not questionable kinship, including David Bomberg and Jacob Epstein.

After his art career failed to reach any meaningful heights, Berger followed the maxim that “Those that can, do; Those who can’t, teach.” While teaching drawing from 1948 to 1955, he began posturing as an art critic and made little attempt to hide his budding affinity with Marxism. His first big break in television came in the late 1960s when Berger was given a job creating art-related content for Granada, a new Manchester-based television company owned by Sidney Bernstein. Berger would also soon present himself as a novelist.

Francis Parker Yockey once wrote that the modern craze for originality is a manifestation of decadence. It should, therefore, come as no great surprise that Berger’s 1972 novel G won the Booker Prize, owing mainly to the text’s unconventional and informal style, not to mention sexual content. The ‘plot’ is so bare that the novel’s Wikipedia entry is more barren than any other work of literature in existence. Ever-antagonistic to Western culture, Berger accepted the Booker prize before giving half the money to the Black Panthers, asserting with an empty bravado that the gesture was a protest at Booker McConnell's colonialist past.

Politically, Berger was an avowed ‘Marxist humanist.’ He titled an early collection of essays Permanent Red, as part as a statement of political commitment, and worked tirelessly to imbue his work in the art world with the same red hue. He was keen to critique and deconstruct the pride attached to traditional art in Britain, and every aspect of his work was designed to undermine confidence in older art forms.In contrast with the presentation of traditional art shows on British television, during the filming of Ways of Seeing Berger refused to dress formally, opting instead for a ‘pop art’ shirt. Rather than adopt a serious and reverent tone, Berger would move rapidly about the screen, mocking, and pulling garish faces.

The tone of Ways of Seeing was dominated by derisiveness and opposition. As one of Berger’s interviewers later remarked, he would “compare the old masters with advertisements and solicit the opinions of mini-skirted feminists.” Experts keen to celebrate the artistic triumphs of the West were ignored or described indirectly as out-of-touch chauvinists. Berger would later state that “Our concept was, I suppose, distinctly opposed to [traditional art shows] like Civilization. Kenneth Clark was a much more erudite art historian than I was, or am. He was an expert, sharing his knowledge with those less expert. And we wanted somehow…to destructure expertise…That was our strategy.”

For the remainder of his career, Berger would advance a relentless Marxist assault on the entire Western art tradition since the Renaissance. Given a platform to address millions by the BBC, he presented oil paintings by the old masters not as the perfect capturing of light and form, but instead as perfect examples of a civilization adapted to depicting objects and people as things to be owned as private property. To Berger, all Western art was an expression of capitalist social relations. An admirer of the Jewish feminist Andrea Dworkin, whom he regarded as ‘tender,’ he advanced the feminist-pleasing argument that Western art systematically depicted women not as active subjects but as objects to be looked at and possessed. Western art was thus morally suspect, aesthetically limited, and ultimately worthy only of derision and harsh critique.

It is a sad indictment of the contemporary arts that the last twenty-four hours have seen a veritable outpouring of grief at the passing of this individual. Panegyrics have burst forth on Twitter, describing Berger as “the best ever writer on art,” and “an energy source in a depleted world.” There is, I suppose, no hindsight for the blind, and many of our people have been blinded to the accomplishments of their forebears. But Berger’s legacy will ring hollow to those with a deeper sense of themselves. I shall not be mourning his passing or paying homage to his life’s work. To me, Berger will always be an artificial ‘talent’ concocted by the Wildenstein’s, the Phillips’s, and the Bernstein’s, and given an unparalleled and undeserved platform to lecture the West on its artistic accomplishments. He was a genius, like so many of his ilk, only in shaping ways of seeing.