In the late 19th century, the Fellowship of the New Life flourished for “atheists, spiritualists, individualists…communists, anarchists, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists and anti-vaccinationists”.
John Buchan described another such loopy community in his “village named morality” in Mr Standfast. There were the Weekses, three girls who lived “in a house so artistic that you broke your head whichever way you turned”. There was Dr Chirk, who lectured on “God”…a new name he had invented for himself. There were pacifists, maypole dancers, people who only read Russian novels and a Celestial Hierarch. There was also a German spy, Moxon Ivery.
Although the village had lots of dotty causes, it also contained some innocents, weedy men and girls with untidy hair and one man of pure, unfunny evil, Mr Ivery. Of course, the most extreme example of combined evil and loopiness is the Nazis. There is Hess competing with Hitler in vegetarianism and obsessed with herbal and homeopathic remedies. Himmler was pro-fibre, ordered the SS to eat only natural honey and the concentration camps to have herb gardens. One can laugh, but the men who were so dotty were also responsible for what went on in the camps. That was not barmy but evil.
If a tired, crusty conservative like me says that loopy ideas hang together, he is dismissed as a fantasist. The joy of Carol J. Adams’s book The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist Vegetarian Critical Theory (Continuum, 20th anniversary edition, £12.99) is that she is a leading loopy herself and she goes much farther in insisting that socialism, feminism, lesbianism and vegetarianism have an elective affinity for each other. In that weird manner of feminists, she rummages among history to find feminists whom she can reveal were also lesbians, socialists and vegetarians — and vice versa. Her theory, as her subtitle points out — it is, of course, a critical theory — is that to be a really pukka lesbian you must also be a red-hot socialist, a militant feminist and an obsessive vegetarian. The dottiness lies not only in the causes she so manically espouses but in the glorious disproportionality of it all. Thus meat-eating is equivalent to rape. No more examples: I am not going to spoil the book for you by telling you all the jokes.
Peter Simple used to write about the package deal which progressive intellectuals signed up to in the 1940s: faith in the United Nations, pacifism, hatred of the past, a belief that one’s country is always wrong and in human perfectibility on earth. He ridiculed all the elements of the package. Miss Adams’s package gave us great joy 20 years ago when her book was first published. The new edition will give great joy to new readers who will no doubt want to greet with mirth her rallying conclusion, “Eat rice, have faith in women.” Laugh on, but do not forget the unfunny Moxon Ivery in the loopy village. Elements of Miss Adams’s package have done severe damage in the world. They are no joke.