Russell Brand has a new tour to promote (the "Messiah Complex World Tour", no less), and the New Statesman has found guest editors to be linkbait fairy dust, so it was predictable that the self-styled Essex Trickster should find himself treading in the footsteps of Jemima Khan, Rowan Williams and Ai Weiwei to one of the most highly sought-after, unpaid internships in the media. To add fuel to the fire, he also did an interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, where he called for the overthrow of the political system. Before anyone could point out the uncanny similarity in style and lack of substance with Boris Johnson (who has made the comic two-hander with Paxman a speciality), Brand made the connection himself, so reassuring Jezza that this would be harmless, knockabout fun. There was even a beard joke.
Brand's position can be summed up by Billy Connolly's crack about politicians: "Don’t vote, it just encourages them". He justifies his boycott thus: "Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites". Given that every political system can be defined as the medium by which economic interests negotiate power, this is a bit like complaining that rain is wet. Brand has been widely pilloried by those who earn a crust pillorying, but his provocative style and rambling essay in the NS (the sub-editors clearly didn't fancy a fight) has also triggered some more interesting observations by the ideologically partisan and those willing to wade through the overflow of his fecund mind.
Uber-free-marketeer Tim Worstall takes him to task for misunderstanding that profit (a "filthy word", according to Brand) "is simply the proof that value is being created", and is therefore a good thing. Of course, this equivalence of profit with value is disingenuous, as profit is actually surplus value, not all value, and politics is about the struggle for control of that surplus. Brand, like Worstall, makes the mistake of investing profit with an ethical dimension (not unlike the popular trope about "good" and "bad" capitalism), which is of a piece with his religiose outlook (he talks of the "implicit spiritual principles" of the left) and weakness for hippy shibboleths (a "revolution in consciousness" inevitably wanders on stage).
From the left, Neil Schofield espies proto-fascism in Brand's cocktail of spiritual reconnection, organic community and love of the land: "his views are profoundly reactionary and, in the literal sense of the word, decadent". And that's without picking up on Brand's routine sexism (confessing to being a womaniser, like admitting heroin addiction, does not give you licence). Nick Cohen spotted the same fascist roots, but spoilt his analysis by indulging in the "each as bad as the other" vice that he accuses Brand of: "the similarities between far left and far right are more striking than their differences" (Cohen writes in the "democracy and liberty under threat from all directions" tradition of Orwell and Hitchens, so this sort of language is almost obligatory).
Cohen's chief criticism of Brand is that he is dangerously frivolous: "Today's crisis has left Europe in a pre-revolutionary situation ... Unfortunately for Brand, who sees himself a radical leftist of some sort, apparently, the greatest beneficiary of the nihilism he promotes is the radical right. Many people are surprised that the rightwing and neo-fascist movements have benefited most from a banking crash brought [about] by the most overpaid people on the planet ... Classic fascism movements borrowed from the left, and today's neo- or post-fascist movements follow suit. Mussolini emphasised that fascism was a third way between capitalism and socialism".
Fascism was reaction clothed in revolution. Cohen is essentially right in his critique of Brand's frivolity (the man's a paid entertainer, after all), but he misses the point that the encouragement of the "radical right" comes not from Brand's "nihilism" but from the establishment's flirtation with the politics of hate. It can never be repeated too often that Mussolini and Hitler came to power due to the manoeuvrings of conservative politicians and the (minority) support of reactionary voters stressed by economic change. The danger today comes from the divisive assault on the welfare state, growing inequality, and the emergence of populist chancers like Johnson and Farage. Brand is not a harbinger of fascism, he's just a very naughty boy.