The Tyranny of Liberty

Cloete's political ideas changed from Neo-Communism to Democratic Socialism to Conservatism. Ultimately he lost faith in all systems.

He says he was ‘cured' of communism because he ‘found the brutality and filth of the mass, as abominable as the selfishness, greed and unbelievable stupidity of the rich.' After mixing in Communist circles in London, he also became disillusioned with the vast chasm he saw between the ideals of the Communist Manifesto and Communism in practice.

Communism was intolerable to people brought up in relative freedom, he wrote, and democracy had failed to maintain law and order. He believed that the strength of labour, students and immigration in the 70s was untenable and saw nothing but chaos ahead. Cloete predicted that ultimately Democracy would shatter and the excesses of the masses would be checked by a draconian dictator. 

Cloete's experience, especially in the war, resulted in him losing faith in both religion and human nature. He did not believe God could create man in his image, because ultimately he believed men were killers, and only fear kept some form of societal structure intact. 

He also raged against democratic conformism. And with the rise of computers and specialisation he wondered if the world would ever again see a great philosopher or truly creative characters. ‘I have gone from a world that taught Tennyson and Kipling to one in which the predominant influence is the London School of Economics,' he wrote. He felt the rise of social democracy in England also took away the pressing need for individuals to strive for a better life and take personal responsibility for their choices. In the 70s he wrote: ‘the hero is out today. Taken to its logical conclusion, everyone would be on relief and all equally idle'. 

He reflected the decline of the British Empire, and what he believed was the decline in societal structure, personal responsibility and real character - as the colour of his youth was ‘blended into a democratic grey'. This is not to say that he held up the hierarchy of Victorian society as an ideal. He recognised the hypocrisy of high society, and felt for the poor in a world where there were no social benefits and little mobility between the classes. But ultimately he felt the modern world had lost all values. And he decided that inequality was perhaps a lesser evil than the tyranny of the masses.  

Cloete suggested that the African masses were better off before independence. He seemed to regret the decline of Imperialism and concluded that, while he had been born at the zenith of British glory, he had lived to see its nadir. His belief in the preservation of culture is also highly controversial today. Cloete admitted his stance on immigration bordered on racism:

It took a thousand years to create the English people, possibly the finest relatively homogenous race yet to be formed. What madness therefore to dilute these genes with those of people of alien tropic origin.

He called black workers in South Africa ‘boys,' an acceptable term at the time. He also admitted he was traumatised the first time he shook the hand of Negro in London, and put this down to ‘conditioning'. He went on to have several coloured friends and disapproved of segregation in South Africa. But at the same time he disagreed with enforced integration and wrote: ‘I naturally prefer to associate with my own kind as do most other people, including Negroes.'

While some of his beliefs are controversial today, his conclusions were carefully considered.  He avoided and exposed the propaganda of any extreme. He was cynical about the new order and sentimental about the old - but always thoughtful.

In Depth