Demon in the machine: a conversation with Henry Hopwood-Phillips

Demon in the machine: a conversation with Henry Hopwood-Phillips

Ben Shields meets UKIP supporter Henry Hopwood-Phillips to hear about his controversial views on the future of the west

“We’re destroying our souls and making the world into a dustbin,” Henry Hopwood-Phillips growls. “If this is any fucking claim to fame, I don’t want to be a part of it.”

The 28-year-old historian, UKIP supporter and self described “demon in the machine” is on fire. We’re sitting upstairs in the Kensington High Street Whole Foods, and I haven’t asked a proper question in the first 30 minutes. His insights range from the Church of England (“liberal wishy washy”) to Islam (“corrupted but brilliant”). But they all relate back to one thing: the future and legacy of the west. And he’s not optimistic about the current state of affairs.

“Every day I walk on the streets and everybody seems depleted, morally and spiritually,” he says, emphatically tapping his pen on the table top as he speaks. “They employ all their life in keeping their head above the economic tidewaters. And because it’s becoming ever more frantic and hard to do so in this world of plenty, one has to devote oneself to productivity. A cult of productivity is bad theology, and it comes from a really twisted strain of Protestantism.”

He graduated with a first in Classics from Royal Holloway, and went into banking for a few months after. Deciding the professional class held no appeal for him, he entered the marines and felt quite at home. But everything changed one night at a London bar. After being caught accidentally carrying a hunting knife in his jacket, leftover from a trip to Bulgaria, he suddenly found himself facing serious – and false – charges for using it in a bar fight in which he played no role other than an observer.

He was promptly discharged from the marines, with a five year prison sentence seeming inevitable. A girlfriend at the time urged him to turn to God for help. Having nothing to lose, he made a promise to God that if He got him through the trial without a prison sentence, he would spend his life in service to Him. ‘God’ kept His end of the deal, so Mr. Hopwood-Phillips became an Anglican ordinand right away. His aptitude and enthusiasm for theology made for sensational sermons and a good relationship with the church, but in the end they had to part ways. “I was getting absolutely smashed and sleeping with women,” he chuckles. “I love God but I love life. Nothing gets in the way. I want to experience everything and anything always.” He never became a full vicar.

Religion and theology remain at the very core of Mr. Hopwood-Phillips’ views about history, life, and civilisation, and since leaving the Anglican Church he’s converted to Russian Orthodoxy, impressed by the faith’s “honesty” and “intellectual rigour”. He is dismissive of the “reason versus faith” debate propagated by today’s atheists. “Reason”, he insists, “has become what Nietzsche always said it would: a torch that we can shine onto whatever we want. The reason that I still pursue truth in a kind of pre-modern way is I perceive God as the ultimate. We see it already in quantum physics. The totality of reality is not total at all. There are cracks everywhere. God has created everything as incomplete so that we can have freedom to employ our own reason to feel, know, and be in him. I hold many probably heretical thoughts that are effectively shattered elements of god’s personality reflecting elements of his truth, almost like a kaleidoscope prism.”

Many of his intellectual influences will come as no surprise. They include conservative thinkers Roger Scruton, Leo Strauss, and Allan Bloom, as well as Oswald Spengler (author of “Decline of the west,” predictably one of Mr. Hopwood-Phillips’ favourite works), Enoch Powell, and AJ Toynbee. He seems positively cheered up when I mention Pope Benedict XVI. But the living person he most admires? Marxist and radical leftist philosopher Slavoj Zizek. The fact that Zizek is equally fed up with the current system is enough, despite the fact that the two men agree on perhaps nothing else, including how to fix it. “He’s made resistance fashionable,” he says. “And that’s so important.”

Though an admirer of some contemporary right wing writing, he feels too much of it is on its “moany horse.” Consequently, several leftist and socialist thinkers have earned his admiration. “Left wing thinkers are actually doing the horse work of intellectual studies into what’s going wrong,” Mr. Hopwood-Phillips says. “I hate the left. But they are often right. This is the sad thing about the right. They’re often right but not worth reading. They’re not pushing intellectual boundaries anymore.” His favourite leftist writers include Terry Eagleton and George Orwell. He calls the latter “one of the greatest thinkers of the post-war period.”

But the west still offers no real alternative to the lifeless ideology it currently espouses. That, he says, is the secret to the success of Islam. “Rebellion has now become synonymous with adolescent immaturity. [Islam] is the only form of adult resistance that somebody actually takes seriously. It’s why you get white converts. If you would have said to Orwell, in 50 years’ time you’ll get quite a few Brits fighting for ISIS, for an Islamic fundamentalist group, he’d have said it was a load of claptrap.”

He now writes the “Notes From Byzantium” column at Quadrapheme, an arts and politics web-magazine he helped conceive in its present form. His writings include book reviews, interviews with public figures, and op-eds. Nearly all of them relate to European culture and history. And as he sees it, the continent is currently full of amnesiacs who have either forgotten their cultural heritage or don’t think it’s worth fighting for – even the ones who appear to know the most about it. “I fear we are at risk of not understanding our heritage anymore,” he says. “The west has fallen into a trap of letting knowledge be a burden.”

Mr. Hopwood-Phillips extends his critique of Europe’s lack of cultural consciousness to its uncritical embrace of multiculturalism, feeling it endangers Europe’s cultural strength. “I hate today’s multiculturalist society because it is multicultural,” he says, “not because it is multiracial. I’ve no problem with multiracial. My problem is that the most successful societies on this earth have accepted WHO you are – you can’t help where you’re born or what skin you’ve got – but you CAN help what culture you subscribe to.”

Fans of his popular Twitter page @byzantinepower (3,678 followers) know that his model for a strong, Christian civilisation is and always will be the Byzantine Empire. The Christian Byzantines constituted for Mr. Hopwood-Phillips what is true multiculturalism: a disregard for ethnicity but a rigid, core culture of its own. “Byzantium was beautiful because it didn’t matter whether you were Armenian or Syrian or Egyptian or Spanish, as long as you subscribed to a fantastic Greek sense of the intellect, a Judaic sense of the soul, Roman law, and Christ as your lord. It’s literally that simple.”

At the root of multiculturalism’s simultaneous celebration of foreign traditions and disinterest in the west’s own rich Christian past, Mr. Hopwood-Phillips sees a collective psychosis of self loathing and a general exhaustion from the emptiness of professional living. And unlike most conservatives, he is quick to place much of the blame on capitalism, a system he sees as toxic and contrary to the Christian religion.

“Capitalism is so good at rendering dud what has real power. In past ideologies…you had the dignity of being treated as a threat,” he says. “[In capitalism], everything becomes a farce. If you don’t treat everything seriously spiritually, we’re all actually rather pathetic demons in a great cosmic dance. Every single nation that has ever embraced capitalism properly is dying in ways that we can see in reproduction rates. You lose the will to create a future.”

This loss of will, by his lights, is the main factor enabling the migration crisis of refugees in Europe. Mr. Hopwood-Phillips has weighed in on the crisis several times on Twitter, in his articles, and on British television. It is here where his conservatism reaches its highest visibility. He has written elsewhere that the German chancellor Angela Merkel is “destroying an entire continent” with her refugee policies. Not accepting thousands of refugees is “the lesser of two evils.”

“If we don’t do these nasty things, the alternatives are worse,” he claims. “I blame western governments who just don’t care about citizens who are already there. It’s an abnegation of political willpower that also trickles into the non-enforcement of borders.”

The west, Mr. Hopwood-Phillips feels, will be seriously destabilised if a large number of its residents don’t even have a frame of reference for its values, and thus have no stake in its future. “If you don’t carry the baggage of a western cultural person, you quite simply are unassimilable. The larger they get, the less will they will have for assimilating. They just have no willpower to do it.”

Mr. Hopwood-Phillips’ views may enrage much of our readership. However, he is giving an intellectual voice to a growing number of transgressive conservatives in an increasingly post-Christian Britain. Many of these people are students who are not adhering to the traditional left-wing student stereotype, but instead feel that the left’s answers of ‘tolerance’ and ‘acceptance’ are not necessarily working.

If his talent for polemic exaggerates his vision for the decline of the west, his honest suspicions of what is to come may seem, to some, quite pragmatic: as more ‘non-westerners’ permeate the “unenacted” European borders, he predicts weakened social cohesion, high youth unemployment and eroded basic liberties, all as gradual but inevitable consequences. “We’re just going to get literally bored of waiting for our own death,” he says. “That’s the real end of the west.”

Featured image: Byzantine Ambassador 

Ben Shields