Wednesday, 17 October 2012

McCarthyism by another name

It seems that the covert blacklist of trade unionists and other "troublemakers" (usually those who blow the whistle on unsafe practices) is alive and well. Its latest manifestation is the Consulting Association. An ancestor was the Economic League.

It was interesting to come across an 18th century precedent when reading "Darwin's Ghosts" by Rebecca Stott. (This is a very readable and informative book, by the way, which incidentally gives due credit to one-time Neath resident Alfred Russel Wallace.) Stott describes how Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, worried about how his late book "Zoonomia", which contained a chapter casting doubt on the Biblical description on creation, would be received.

Was Erasmus frustrated by the silence? It is impossible to know. He seems to have been living on tenterhooks. He was under surveillance; he knew that. Three years earlier, John Reeve, a judge in London, had set up the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers, employing spies in every town who were instructed to watch local subversives.

I don't suppose this was the first instance of what we would now call McCarthyism, but it was still surprising to see how well organised it was at so early a date.

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