Ben's Reviews > The Establishment: And How They Get Away with It

The Establishment by Owen   Jones
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it was ok

This is the second work of non-fiction from Jones' that I've read, which means he is the only author to whom I have read all their books. That’s kind of cool.

Much like 'Chavs', this book is well researched; almost every sentence is inspired by some bit of background research, and I can't imagine how much time Jones must have spent putting this book together. If my opinion is that some parts of the book were baggy and exhaustive to read, I can only imagine how much time they must have taken to write.

Unlike 'Chavs' though, there is little to like about what Jones' uses this book to say. It is supposed to be a criticism of the powerful members of society and the culture that they live in. He labels this culture 'The Establishment', and it's a label that he should have put more thought into. Throughout the book, the label is used, but its intricacies and borders are never themselves established. Maybe it was my stupidity, but there were many points in the book where I didn't understand what made someone a member of The Establishment and what ruled someone out of it. One reviewer on goodreads said that all it took to be in The Establishment was to disagree with him. Which is funny, and like most funny things, reaches to some kind of truth.

There are a lot of points in this book where Jones’ proves the deceit of the ruling classes. At several points, members of the political and the financial elite say one thing, but Jones’ narration points out that what they truly mean is the exact opposite. The Establishment want a clean image, but are dirtied by the truth. This kind of trickery is always shown as a bad thing, but there is no way that Jones’ believes it is morally wrong – unless, of course, he hasn’t quite yet learnt the meaning of irony. This book is literally a 313-page example of deceit. The book presents itself as a manifest exposure of the ruling classes; under that surface is the truth, and it is much dirtier. This book isn’t a platform for criticism, but a platform of self-reverence.

I enjoyed reading ‘Chavs’ more than ‘The Establishment’. Perhaps this is just a product of my own opinion, resulting from my contempt of political conversation and preference for sociological research. Perhaps, however, my enjoyment was dimmed because the arguments put forward in ‘The Establishment’ were simply weaker. ‘Chavs’ had a systematic formula: points were established and then evidence supplied to back up that point and in some cases develop it. It felt to me that a lot of the arguments in ‘The Establishment’ were emotionally charged opinions disguised as criticism. There wasn’t cohesive evidence put towards a single point here. As the Nazis themselves found, it’s difficult to scapegoat one group in society as the ultimate evil.
“They are wrong so I must be right” was the main point, but it was never put forward explicitly what his own opinions actually were – only that the elite were contemptable.

In many cases Jones’ picks and choses what The Establishment’s ideology is in order to present not a criticism, but where his own political concerns lie. Ex, he uses the fact that prison populations are disproportionately black to show that The Establishment is institutionally racist, but doesn’t to use other demographic statistics, such as the amount of Jews who are in ‘The Establishment’. Through his picking and choosing, he shows his own concern for racism, and loses the all-knowing and observant tone that the piece is meant to have

To keep up, I suppose, the appearance of analysis over opinion, Jones uses the “public” to channel what he sees as good. The public are the people in society who are slaves to the betterment of the ruling classes. He takes a romantic view of the working classes that can be seen in such works as Engles and Lenin: Oppressed and correct. They are, for Jones, the antithesis of The Establishment. Everything the public want is in opposition to what The Establishment want. Conveniently for Jones, the public happen to agree with everything that he tries to channel in this book

There’s something that should have been revised ideologically about this book too. Throughout, there is a despise of The Establishment’s character and a praise for the public’s, but again, there is no solid establishment on what these characters actually are.
The Establishment are criticised throughout the book on their philosophy of dominance and control. Their impact on the media, the police and the government is all about the ideology of pushing down the lower classes and being “in it for themselves”. Pushing others down appears to be a solid foundation in The Establishment’s thinking until the chapter about globalisation arrives, where the UK’s elite suddenly have a change of heart, and desire to be “subservient” to the USA. Jones’ narration presents this knowingly, as if it had always been a principle of The Establishment’s opinion.
The public, too, are treated in a weird way. Not only are they seen as heartbreakingly oppressed proles, but they are presented overwhelmingly as a cohesive unit. A movement that Jones supports, Occupy, says “the public” is made up of 99% of the population. According to the 2013 Census, that is 63,459,000 people. Yet amongst these millions of people, there is more of a consensus than in the 1%. All of these people are, presumably by intuition? against the rule of The Establishment. They, by being large in numbers, lose their place as individuals and become collectivised fighters… against the rich and powerful… For everything that they do… With Thatcher and… With racism… No. Jones’ ownership of the public’s opinion shows, ironically, how out of touch he is with the majority of society.

The book isn’t weak because of Jones’ flawed understanding of people – though it does contribute. His failure is in his attempt to explain society through politics. As I started to read this book, I thought to myself with a slight sadness that this was the book Jones really wanted to write. ‘Chavs’ was the book that he was forced to write to prove his worth with publishers. In his journalism, there is always a reference to politics, and social studies are only cherry-picked to find evidence towards his own political leanings. If it were true it would be a shame, because this book holds far, far less value.

Like most leftist political leanings, his have no firm and grounded opinions and only serve to criticise the more outspoken opinions of the right. It is only in the final chapter that Jones attempts to find a solution to the problem of ‘The Establishment’, which is of course, “democratic revolution”. Again, what that means is never truly established.
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Reading Progress

January 5, 2016 – Started Reading
January 9, 2016 – Shelved
January 9, 2016 – Finished Reading

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