Oh, So Now You’re A Liberal?

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The vote for Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidential election victory seems to have wrongly convinced an entire army of snarling, leftist authoritarians that they are actually the virtuous defenders of liberalism

Is anybody else getting mighty sick of the constant parade of left-wing, Big Government-supporting authoritarians suddenly rushing to cloak themselves in the veil of “liberalism” as they struggle to process what they see as successive defeats in the EU referendum and the US presidential election?

I can’t think of a word that has been more overused by pundits since everybody got together a couple of years ago and decided that the related N-word (neoliberalism) was this season’s hottest fashion statement, and started accusing everybody whose views they dislike of being an Evil Neoliberal, as though it were some devastatingly intellectual insult.

Here’s the FT, weeping into their cornflakes about the supposed death-throes of liberalism:

Mr Trump’s victory, coming after the Brexit referendum vote in Britain, looks like another grievous blow to the liberal international order. Mr Trump must decide, by his actions and words, whether he intends to contribute to the great unravelling, at incalculable cost to the west.

And the Independent:

Democracy is changing, and not for the better, but those who believe in liberal values, tolerance and protecting the environment can learn from this setback and fight back.

The Independent, of course, promotes liberal tolerance through its courteous and magnanimous treatment of those who dare to dissent from its positions on social issues, climate change and global governance.

Here’s the Spectator:

In her concession speech, Clinton said her goal had been ‘breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams‘. This is the dream of liberalism, which seeks freedom from any social or economic constraint. Elites like Clinton feel confident that they can navigate a deregulated society in which class, gender, and race are all fluid. They support deregulated markets as well, confident that free trade and open borders will serve their own interests in the near term and the whole country’s in the longer term.

Freedom from any social constraint? Only if one happens to agree with the elite.

And the Spectator again, covering itself in even more glory:

The challenge to liberalism is still seen as an argument to be won rather than an irreversible sea-change. But, if anything, the scale of the problem has been understated. The core tenets of liberalism are freedom and equality, ideas that are under siege.

Oh, and let’s not forget the prime minister herself, Theresa May, speaking at the Lord Mayor’s banquet on Monday evening:

Change is in the air. And when people demand change, it is the job of politicians to respond.

But it’s also the job of all those in positions of influence and power – politicians, business leaders and others – to understand the drivers of that demand too.

And I think that if we take a step back and look at the world around us, one of the most important drivers becomes clear – the forces of liberalism and globalisation which have held sway in Britain, America and across the Western world for years have left too many people behind.

Let’s be clear: those forces have had – and continue to have – an overwhelmingly positive impact on our world.

It really has come to something quite strange when Theresa May – a flinty eyed authoritarian who gives me pause any time I check a book out of the library, lest her government use my borrowing history as a pretext for throwing me in jail next week – seeks to wrap herself in the mantle of small-L liberalism.

But now everyone seems to be at it, suddenly claiming that they are terribly “liberal” while the people they dislike are not. Politicians and pundits who only months ago could be found calling for people to be banned from entering the country due to their political beliefs are now rending their garments at the election of a man who suggested that people should be banned because of their religious ones. And in so doing, they declare themselves to be the defenders of liberalism, while utterly oblivious to the irony of it all.

People who wanted to usher in national ID cards, strengthen the surveillance state, extend pre-charge detention, ban UKIP voters from fostering or adopting children, throw people in jail for their Facebook and Twitter posts, arrest people for singing the wrong songs at a football match, ban advertisements for being offensive, hike taxes even higher on cigarettes or alcohol or ban them altogether, levy regressive taxes on soft drinks, erect safe spaces on university campuses, slap trigger warnings on academic syllabuses, shame or punish people for the Halloween costumes that they choose to wear, get people fired from their jobs for holding or expressing the wrong opinion, strangle religious freedom and force people to violate their faiths by positively affirming the actions and lifestyle choices of others – these people are suddenly all over the airwaves, lamenting that it is actually those Evil Brexiteers and Donald Trump supporters who have supposedly brought our previously-idyllic liberal age crashing down in flames.

Well sorry, but this pious, self-aggrandising argument is complete baloney. I can’t speak for Donald Trump supporters, not being one myself, but I am very adamant that my vote for Brexit was a liberal vote for strong, globally-engaged nation state democracy. I and millions of others voted to leave the European Union because it sought to impose a degree of supranational government upon us which far outweighs the limited extent to which most Britons consider themselves European and consent to such governance. I did so because I judged that my inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are to this day best defended by a strong nation state with a reinvigorated national democracy, and not a remote supranational union with some of the superficial trappings – but none of the spirit – of democratic accountability. Voting for Brexit was perhaps the most profoundly liberal thing I have done on my thirty-three years on this good Earth.

And yet now I am supposed to sit back while every two-bit authoritarian with a newspaper column publishes tedious identikit dirges alleging that I, a staunch libertarian conservative, am supposedly at the vanguard of a dystopian new illiberal movement sweeping across the world and shrouding humanity in darkness and uncertainty? Hell no.

If liberalism is so great – and by and large, it is – then it would be nice if some of liberalism’s new fair-weather friends tried to remember the ideology’s core principles once they have finished weeping about Trump and Brexit and turned their attention back to more mundane political events. Perhaps they might care to remember the term they so glibly appropriated next time they call for something they disagree with to be banned, or for somebody who offends them to be punished by the criminal justice system. What do you think are the chances that this will happen?

After a week of this incessant, tedious refrain about the “death of liberalism” from the commentariat, I have just about had enough of my liberalism being culturally appropriated by the snarlingly authoritarian Regressive Left. It is only in the reflection of Donald Trump or Nigel Farage’s wildest rhetoric that their own paternalistic, control-freakish, coercive instincts can be even semi-plausibly pitched as being remotely liberal, and those of us with long memories and functioning brains know these pearl-clutchers for what they really are – persistent, deadly enemies to true liberalism.

 

Postscript: In this excellent piece, Pete North slaps down the idea that the West is somehow turning its back on liberalism, drawing a crucial distinction between genuine small-L liberalism which is as popular as ever and its decadent, identity politics and victimhood culture-infused cousin which has indeed been rejected by the electorate.

Money quote:

In a liberal society we appreciate that we all have our distinctions and limitations and we recognise that nobody should endure discrimination or punishment for those facets which cannot be changed. Gender, sexual preference, skin colour. But it goes further than that. We try to open doors for people os that people can break out of predetermined roles and destinies. That to me is social progress, where nobody is limited by class and physical attributes.

But when liberals begin to attack the very foundation of our morality and our values and seek to replace them with an ultra-permissive, anything goes morality we lose any kind of cohesion and moral authority. Moral relativism takes hold to such an extent that we can no longer defend those things we value.

What the left have done is to identify all social norms as inherently evil – which has given rise to the cult of the self which in turn has spawned the now toxic brand of feminism we see on the internet and the perverse social justice movement which processes everything through the prism of identity. It centres around a certain narcissism whereby individual rights become entitlements on the basis of one’s sense of victimhood. From this is born the right not to be offended or triggered – and with that goes the death of free speech. Opposition is inherently oppression it seems.

And this is why the culture war of the last decade goes so heavily with what is happening on a more visible level in politics. In what is now seen as a backlash against political correctness, there is something more seismic happening.

And North’s conclusion:

But then this tyranny of what is laughingly known as progressivism is on borrowed time. It always was a moral and intellectual perversion and it was always a minority view. How it came to be one of the most powerful ideas of a century is for the historians but now it seems the majority have finally lost patience and stood up to the left. In this we are not turning our backs on liberalism. We are merely putting an end to the gradual erosion of those, dare I say it, traditional values on which our modern and open society is built. I think this is what makes Theresa May, herself a church and shires Conservative, the right lady at the right time.

The sad part of this is that there will inevitably be a tiny minority who think we are going back to the old days where rampant and open homophobia is acceptable and we will no doubt see an unfortunate spike in racist incidents. But it is a typical left wing lie to say that mainstream society has suddenly become intolerant and racist. That trick might have worked for the last twenty years but the election of Trump tells you that the majority no longer care what you call them. The more offensive to the left the better.

And it is so telling that across the USA we now see the left spitting venom. We now see the true face of the “tolerant” left in all its bile. We can see that it was never about advancing a better society for all. It was about the minority wielding power over the majority – to impose a twisted morality on society without its consent – from the United Nations to the local primary school.

I repeat: genuine, small-L liberalism has not been rejected by the people, and is only under marginally more serious threat from ignorant authoritarians like Donald Trump than it has been over the past decades from highly learned progressives who sought to impose their “progressive” worldview on an uncertain population while actively criminalising dissent.

Those weeping most loudly today about the supposed death of liberalism have often themselves done as much as anyone to damage liberalism themselves through their decidedly illiberal and intolerant past behaviour.

 

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Maurice Glasman Makes A Thoughtful Left Wing Case For Brexit

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Maurice Glasman’s thoughtful intervention in the EU referendum debate is more proof that left-wing thinkers who value democracy naturally gravitate toward Brexit

The glib, feeble left-wing case for Britain remaining in the European Union can basically be summed up as “don’t give us back democracy, because the British people might be so foolish as to demand conservative policies and vote for conservative politicians”. It is, in other words, profoundly and actively anti-democratic, springing from a toxic and elitist mindset which hates and distrusts the people.

Unsurprisingly, the great and the good of the modern Labour Party have therefore flocked to its banner, endlessly repeating the shocking (to them) warning that if Britain did not have certain values imposed from above by a higher authority in the form of the EU, the British people themselves might not be so enlightened as to choose left-wing policies for themselves.

This is a weak and contemptible argument, and those advocating it – from Jeremy Corbyn to Owen Jones to Yanis Varoufakis – should know better, and quite probably do know better, deep down. This makes their betrayal of British democracy all the more unforgivable.

But there is a left-wing case for Brexit of more substance and nuance, and Maurice (Lord) Glasman now makes it in LabourList. At its core is still the desire to favour left-wing politics in particular rather than seek to regain democracy in the abstract, but at least Glasman puts some actual thought into his argument.

Glasman concedes that the EU was flawed from the start:

Unfortunately, probably from the outset, and certainly by the Rome Treaty of 1957 a Jacobin tradition of unmediated space, emptied of decentralised institutions had asserted itself, particularly through the head of the High Authority, that became the European Commission, Jean Monet.  He asserted that economic exchange and legal uniformity would, over time, produce political unification.

Perhaps naturally, Glasman traces the EU’s decline firmly back to the accession of Britain in 1973:

Under the leadership of Edward Heath, who had a genuine feeling for the fate of Europe, Britain did join the Common Market, as it was called it for a long time.  It did not go well from that time on as the Common Market was not based on a shared political economy. 

Britain is an island and was always at an angle to Europe.  It avoided the continental territorial struggle for domination and developed a maritime rather than a landed economy as well as distinctive political institutions based upon the balance of powers within the Ancient Constitution. 

De Gaulle, in continuation with Napoleon, thought that all Britain cared about was free trade and the primacy of the City of London. He argued that the British State could never agree with either the administrative directives favoured by the French or the institutional co-operation embodied in the German Social Market. 

The difference between territorial rule underpinned by an army and central directives and a maritime economy based on the Navy and free trade was what was at stake in the Napoleonic wars.   In boycotting Britain and building a Europe of administrative conformity Napoleon continually blasted Russian, German and Austrian leaders for continuing to trade with Britain, which as a maritime power traded with the world.  Napoleon’s career ended when he voluntarily boarded a Royal Navy ship and was taken to a faraway island where his board and lodging was paid for by the City of London.  Despite the conclusive result of that conflict it was not the end of the argument. 

The political and economic systems of Britain and France was very significantly different.  Britain had dispensed with its peasantry during the last stages of enclosure and the Corn Laws, it had embraced the market at home as well as free trade abroad. On joining the Common Market the very unhappy marriage of Napoleonic directives and free trade objectives began which threatened the European Community’s earlier achievements of agricultural protection and worker participation.  The Common Market, or European Economic Community as it then became known, had been built on a substantive conception of an economy based upon agriculture and industry, land and labour.  Britain, in contrast, brought a model of a financial and services based economy in which free movement rather than social partnership was the primary goal of political union. 

And correctly identifies the anti-democratic black hole which appears when the EU technocracy instinctively recoils from the people and their dangerous passions:

As the European Union becomes more general, abstract and administrative it will naturally side with capital and directives, viewing politics itself as populist.  The reaction is already present within each European State. When I was in Berlin last weekend the AfD had surpassed the SPD in the polls.  When reason itself becomes desiccated and exclusively rational, severing itself from institutional judgement and historical experience it turns all forms of resistance into demagogy and madness.  And yet, democracy is the European way of resisting the outrageous claims of capitalism to own, commodify and de-contextualise human beings, nature and all civic institutions.  The tension between democracy and markets can no longer be resolved at the level of the EU, which through its inverted definition of subsidiarity in which the larger subsumes the smaller, is hostile to democracy, distinctive local and national institutions.

Obviously Glasman is particularly interested in democracy as a means for the people to resist what he sees as the “neo-liberal” agenda of the EU – he is not advocating Brexit for the pure sake of democracy. But at least democracy gets a look-in in Glasman’s argument, which is more than can be said of the Jeremy Corbyn / Owen Jones position, which unashamedly seeks to cling on to the European Union precisely as a means of suppressing British democracy.

Glasman’s conclusion is particularly devastating (my emphasis in bold):

For many years the European project has served as an alternative to Labour having a serious politics of national transformation, of building the coalitions necessary to constrain capital and strengthen democracy. It was a national political weakness that led to the enthusiastic embrace of the EU and it remains a refuge from domestic political defeat.  Labour should be robust in supporting free and democratic trade unions throughout Europe, in championing a balance of interests in corporate governance and strong civic self-government with a deep partnership between universities, cities and firms.  The question is whether being part of the EU hinders this.  Britain is already outside the Eurozone and the Schengen agreement.   It is gratuitous to remain part of a political union that is so hostile to diversity and democracy and so disposed to the consolidation of big capital that it has become a remorseless machine for the liberalisation of trade and the disintegration of society, in which the demand for liquidity has dissolved solidarity. Perhaps it is time to think again.

This really gets to the heart of it – the EU has indeed been an poor alternative to having a serious national political conversation about how we wish to govern ourselves. Labour are not exclusively to blame in this regard. Politicians from all parties have gladly surrendered power to the European Union, eagerly seizing the opportunity to keep the trappings of power for themselves while divesting themselves of ever more responsibility for the outcomes of decisions now made in Brussels.

And how refreshing it is to hear a personality from within the Labour Party actually suggest that maybe – just maybe – it should be the job of left wingers to argue their case in public and seek to convince the British electorate of the attractiveness of socialist policies rather than seek to bypass the electorate and impose social democracy from above via the EU.

In fact, Maurice Glasman, founder of Blue Labour, is exactly the type of voice that the Labour Party needs to listen to and place front and centre of their policymaking if they want to staunch the exodus of working class support from a party which increasingly resembles a middle class, creative industry, virtue-signalling talking shop.

A party which lost seats to the Tories because of traditional voters defecting to UKIP – and facing the prospect of Nigel Farage’s party nipping at its heels in a swathe of Northern constituencies – would make a place of honour for someone like Maurice Glasman, and perhaps even listen to what he has to say about the European Union.

But they can’t do it. Jeremy Corbyn and co. were happy to enrage the party establishment and donors on all manner of issues, from the Syria military action vote to their perceived tolerance of anti-Semitism. But on the crucial issue of Britain’s membership of the European Union, suddenly Stockholm syndrome kicks in and everybody robotically sings from the same worshipful hymn sheet. It’s pathetic.

There is still an element within the Labour Party that actually cares about the hopes, dreams, fears and priorities of the working class. But you won’t find it within Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle, or the mainstream party in exile. This dwindling branch of the Labour Party is now much like the Popular Front in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” – a solitary man, sitting on his own, ignored by everybody else.

In their unthinking support for the European Union, the shining practitioners of the New Politics have thrown the working class – indeed , everyone who loves democracy – well and truly under the bus. And at some point there will probably be a reckoning for that.

 

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Stop Using The N Word: We Are Not Living In A “Neoliberal” Age

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The state is as large and active as it has ever been, yet millions of us sincerely believe that we live in a Thatcherite/Reaganite dystopia

Pick up any bestselling left wing political book or listen to any prominent left wing commentator on television or radio today, and chances are that you will almost immediately be confronted with the N-word.

No, not that one. The fashionable N-word of today is “neoliberalism”. You’ve probably heard or seen it blaring from Guardian editorials, phlegm-lobbing anti-Tory activists and Owen Jones’ YouTube channel.

The basic argument goes something like this (I paraphrase):

We live in a neoliberal age now where the Corporations and the Bad people and the Profit do bad things to the Society and the Good People and the Community. Rich people take money from the pockets of poor people because neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is destroying Our NHS with the profits and the privatisation and the One Per Cent. Local shops and artisan bread makers and steel manufacturers are put out of business because neoliberalism and the giant supermarkets and the GM food. George Osborne gives your money to millionaires and billionaires because neoliberalism, and wants to socially cleanse London because neoliberalism and the housing crisis. Heartless Iain Duncan Smith kills disabled people in his spare time because neoliberalism. Save Our NHS from neoliberalism, Saint Bevan [genuflect].

Britain only re-elected this hateful neoliberal Tory government with an increased majority and share of the vote because the neoliberal media confused the minds of the people with their neoliberal propaganda and made them forget just what a star-spangled awesome prime minister Ed Miliband would have been.

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