Roger Scruton on Ken Minogue

This is Roger Scruton in The American Spectator discussing Ken Minogue:

READERS OF THIS magazine will know that conservatism has been going through a dark time in Britain. Since the premiereship of Margaret Thatcher, the state has expanded relentlessly to take control of just about every aspect of civil life. The media, the universities, and the schools have adopted a soft-left orthodoxy that allows little room for dissent. And the fundamental values on which the conservative vision of society is based—national sovereignty, social continuity, political freedom, and Christian heritage—havebeen condemned and in some measure criminalized by the European machine, without the faintest sign of resistance from our politicians. The same politicians have assumed the right to violate and impose arbitrary changes on our way of life: opening our borders and our national assets to the rest of Europe, redefining marriage and the family without respect for popular opinion, and generally treating our heritage of individual freedom and bottom-up law as a dispensable eccentricity. The things we value are being swept away. But where do we find the people who argue our case? Of course, we had Mrs. Thatcher’s glorious interlude. But she was first and foremost a politician, not a thinker. And the long march of the left, through the institutions of our society and through the brains of its members, continued under her watch.

Of the few intellectuals who stood against the trend and articulated their reasons for doing so, none was more important than Kenneth Minogue, who died on June 28 at the age of 82. Ken was born in New Zealand and educated in Australia. He came to England in 1955 and taught political science, first at the University of Exeter and then, from 1959, at the London School of Economics, where he was a pupil and friend of Michael Oakeshott. Ken enjoyed public debate and was a passionate advocate of the conservative cause. He had the returning colonist’s love for the old country, and a poignant sense of its fragility. But he was also an articulate theorist, who had studied Marxism and its effects, and who saw more clearly than any other political scientist of his generation that the greatest danger presented by socialism was not the expansion of the state but the advance of ideology. By softening the brains of the intellectual class, ideology prepares the way for the statist machine far more effectively than any army. It is a substitute for thought, one that is designed to make thinking impossible.

IN HIS BOOK Alien Powers, published in 1985, Minogue turned Marxism on its head. He showed that the theories of Adam Smith, David Hume, and Adam Ferguson, which Marx dismissed as “bourgeois ideology,” provide the real foundations for social science. The categories of Marxist thought—class, exploitation, oppression, surplus value, capitalism, socialism, communism, and all the dusty, cobweb-covered terms that were the substitutes for observation in the political science departments of British universities—are adopted because they rationalize resentment and provide impenetrable walls of pseudo-thought that are immune to refutation. Minogue took those categories apart. He argued that the classical economists were the true social philosophers, who understood the place of free association in the development of institutions, and the nature of liberty as a moral and legal idea. And he showed the way in which the Marxist categories had poisoned political theory in the British universities. This was not a wise career move for someone employed by one of those universities; but it encouraged and inspired people of goodwill and good sense.

In other books, Minogue expounded the case for classical liberalism, and showed that the tradition that ran from Hume and Smith, through Burke and Tocqueville, to Oakeshott and Hayek, was one of the treasures of our civilization. It is difficult for an American to appreciate how bold it was to go public with this message in the Britain of the 1970s and 1980s. It was not just that Minogue invited the contempt of his colleagues: He found himself shouted down and threatened on university campuses and routinely castigated by the pundits for his articles in the press.

Thanks to his command of English prose and his refined English drinking habits, Minogue belonged to a circle of articulate conservative journalists that included Peregrine Worsthorne, Peter Utley, and Colin Welch. Those writers valued his immense knowledge and culture, and encouraged him to go public with his unfashionable ideas. He played his part in defining and propagating the message of libertarian think tanks like the Institute for Economic Affairs; he was an active member of the Conservative Philosophy Group; he was one of the leading lights in Encounter, the magazine that set out, under Melvin Lasky, to create an alternative voice to the establishment left; and he wrote beautifully and persuasively in the Daily Telegraph, the (London) Spectator, the Salisbury Review, and the Times, as well as in this and other American journals, in ways that both enlightened and entertained his conservative readers. In many ways he was a model of the conservative activist. He was not in the business of destroying things or angering people. He was in the business of defending old-fashioned civility against ideological rage, and he believed this was the real meaning of the freedom that the English-speaking peoples have created and enjoyed. In defense of civility he could be provocative. But it was characteristic of the Britain in which he lived, whose institutions he defended in so heartfelt a way, that his civility was regarded by the left as a kind of aggression.

Ken Minogue was unlike other academic conservatives I have known—unlike Oakeshott in particular—in that he willingly and enthusiastically joined the battle. I knew Ken from the many occasions when we would find ourselves signed up to this or that initiative, institution, or campaign that we both believed in. He did not think, as Oakeshott seemed to think, that conservatism was too sophisticated an outlook to dirty its hands with politics. He did not think that we should rise above the stream of history in a posture of angelic detachment. On the contrary, he was an inspiration precisely because he thought that the conservative vision is true, and that, because it is true, it must be advanced and defended.

Of course, it must be defended with decency. But for Ken Minogue, decency was not just a way of doing things, but also the point of doing them. Like Oakeshott, he recognized that the conservative vision does not define itself by what it seeks to achieve, but by its way of achieving it. His philosophy was a philosophy of the passage through: not where you go, but how. And if this led him, in his last work, to be skeptical of democracy, this is surely understandable. The idea of the state as a benign father figure, who guides the collective assets of society to the place where they are needed, and who is always there to rescue us from poverty, ill health, or unemployment, remained in the foreground of politics in Britain. And it has remained there because people vote for it. Minogue did not merely vote against it. He spoke, thought, and acted against it too. Not surprisingly, therefore, he was hated by all the right people. These days, that is the best that we can hope for, so long as we are also, as Ken was, loved by the right people too.

If only you guys on the left would act on your principles

This is a great article about the hypocricy of the left. Matt Walsh is asking the left to stand up for what they believe in, or at least what they said they believed in when Bush was president. With Obama, very different. The kinds of areas he brings up are the one percent, anti-war, civil liberties, war on drugs, guns, race, etc. His final para:

Liberals, you are not slaves. You are independent human beings. I’m not asking you to come to church with me and become a radical right wing fundamentalist Christian like yours truly (although you’re more than welcome to do so), I’m just asking you to have the guts to be what you said you were. And that means you’ll have to oppose Obama, because he’s not on your side. He’s not on anyone’s side.

The left are just cannon fodder for stupidity. They have no consistancy other than to oppose personal merit, achievement and success which they take as an affront to themselves. Ignorant to a remarkable extent of how the world works, they insist it is a conspiracy of the wealthy against the poor, the powerful against the weak. Their numbers are growing as more and more are bought off with the very trinkets that will keep them poor and lacking in ambition and achievement, the essential ingredient of a middle class life. The leaders on the left laugh at their own supporters who in their own personal lives they would have nothing to do with. They don’t live with them, send their children to school with them or associate with them except when looking out for their votes.

It is the right who actually does care because we want everyone to be just like us. We want everyone to become productive, peaceable and independent. We want everyone to get on with their own lives in their own way. We are always willing to help those who need help as part of a journey of self-fulfillment. We are less willing to help those who would rather just live on the meagre handouts of a welfare state.

The Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom

The Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom
By David R. Henderson

1. TANSTAAFL: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

2. Incentives matter; incentives affect behavior.

3. Economic thinking is thinking on the margin.

4. The only way to create wealth is to move resources from a lower-valued to a higher-valued use. Corollary: Both sides gain from exchange.

5. Information is valuable and costly, and most information that’s valuable is inherently decentralized.

6. Every action has unintended consequences; you can never do only one thing.

7. The value of a good or a service is subjective.

8. Creating jobs is not the same as creating wealth.

9. The only way to increase a nation’s real income is to increase its real output.

10. Competition is a hardy weed, not a delicate flower.

Numbers 4 and 9 are core elements of Say’s Law.

Seriously conservative

An article on the seriousness of Margaret Thatcher filled with much good advice for Tony Abbott. I think he gets it anyway, but this seems particularly useful:

Seriousness is the central truth of Margaret Thatcher and the leitmotif of Charles Moore’s superb biography.

Ferdinand Mount makes a strong case that “will” was her main quality in his scintillating review in the Times Literary Supplement. Will, determination, fortitude—these were certainly powerful motors of her life and personality. But they were always controlled by realism, practicality, and necessity. And this combination was vital to her success, because her political views were shaped by a strong patriotism and such traditional conservative virtues as self-reliance—virtues that leading Tories in her youth were already discarding as unfashionable and repressive. Therefore, she not only had to fight, she had also to maneuver to advance herself; and she had to work unremittingly to master briefs that she would often be presenting to a skeptical audience. The net result was a deeply serious woman.

The Stimulus that Made Australia Far Worse Off than if Nothing had been done at All

I have an article at Quadrant Online where you don’t get to choose the heading and which is called, The bill comes due for Rudd’s quack cure but does truly get to the heart of the matter. Every so often, I’m sure, a government will actually spend money in a sensible way and legitimately take credit for some positive outcome that hastened things a bit if left to the private sector. Governments are still dining out on their achievement with the Snowy River in the 1950s as if that is the typical outcome to be expected from public expenditure. But in the sixty or so years since it is hard to come up with great expenditure achievements by governments. I’m sure there are some outside the roads and airports variety but I just can’t think of any offhand. The Pink Batts, School Halls and NBN expenditures are more typical of what you get from government.

But let me draw your attention to the conclusion of this article which discusses the actual reasons for Australia’s soft landing which followed the same recession found everywhere else on the globe. Such nonsense to argue that we avoided recession but that’s the myth. My own take on what made things better list the following:

As for the reasons that the downturn here was not as bad as it has been elsewhere, there are four parts to the explanation that I can see.

There is firstly the extraordinary fiscal situation the government inherited. We not only had no deficit, we actually had no debt. Australia was the only country in the world not to have any public debt whatsoever, a situation that it is almost impossible to imagine returning any time soon.

There was then the mining boom built on the back of the Chinese stimulus. That has gone, in large part because the Chinese must now themselves deal with the problems that their own stimulus created in their own economy. But we have added to our own slowdown in mining through a series of policies that have made miners more reluctant to invest in Australia.

Third, our banking system was almost entirely untouched by the financial crisis which spread internationally due to the ownership of various toxic assets generated in the US financial system. Our banks were fine, so Australia had no problems of this kind to overcome.

And lastly – but this will make little sense to most people – the RBA kept interest rates up rather than pulling them down. No quantitative easing in these parts with the result that the national savings we generated were used more productively than elsewhere. You can’t stop governments from squandering what they squander, but at least the private sector was kept on the straight and narrow.

Interestingly, there is an article in The Australian today which touches on this same question. David Crowe has an article titled, The stimulus we didn’t really need which lets Rudd off easy. The title should be “The Stimulus that Made Australia Far Worse Off than if Nothing had been done at All” or something along those lines. Interesting, there is a four point discussion of the same thoughts I wrote up at QoL in which Warwick McKibbin mentions China and our banking system’s strengths, but then mentions the fall in the dollar which I have my doubts about and then this one extra.

Because where we differ is over interest rates. Sure they were brought down during the GFC although only late in the day but then they were raised again and then again and then kept relatively high. Those low interest rate Keynesian types will be the ruin of us all. Thankfully our RBA governor didn’t buy into any of it.

What side are you on?

Reading the AFR with its decideldly pro-Labor tilt is a quite irritating moment in a day. The front page lead today is “Treasury warns of budget blowouts” which is not about the past and Labor but about the future and “a warning to Australia’s politicians and voters” in general and the Coaltion in particular. Thanks for the warning but where were you guys at Treasury when you were designing the last six budgets and then covering up for the Government.

But just in case we were worried about irresponsible actions by politicians, the front page helpfully points its finger in its story across the top of the page: “Hockey rejects surplus date”. And as an aid to making sure the point is understood, there is in smaller print, “Labor demands Coalition costings”. Did they indeed? Well we’ve already seen Labor’s costings as noted in the smaller print as well which reads “$30bn budget deficit confirmed”. And who, might it be asked, is responsible for that? Doesn’t say, but it does warn that if the Coalition doesn’t implement Labor’s tobacco tax then the budget hole will be their fault.

There is then another story, “all at sea over the future of the GST” which tells the AFR’s readers that OK, maybe the Coaltion has promised not to raise the GST this time, but Arthur Sinodinos had said ten days ago that this promise is for the first term only. I take it a tobacco tax immediately is better than a very improbable GST rise in three years time since Abbott has made it clear it will not happen. Does the AFR perhaps think it is still dealing with Julia “there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead” Gillard?

And it would be derelict for me not to mention the article splashed across what is described as a news page on page 4 in which the ever reliable Laura Tingle has written, according to the headline, “Abbott has a fiscal gap left to explain”. Whether there is anything for Rudd to explain is left unexplained.

There is, however, one story that does shift the other way, this on page 2, and which really is an actual news story. Its headline: “Business conditions worst in four years”. What that has to do with the election no one at the AFR is prepared to say.

Falling below the minimal level of truth

There was an interesting article the other day by Bruce Thornton which he has titled, “Lies, Democracy & Obama” but whose central point applies just as well here. He begins with a quotation from Jean-François Revel, a name wrongly disappearing into the past but whose books could be resurrected even more urgently for the present. This is the passage he took from Revel:

Democracy cannot survive without a certain diet of truth. It cannot survive if the degree of truth in current circulation falls below a minimal level. A democratic regime, founded on the free determination of important choices made by a majority, condemns itself to death if most of the citizens who have to choose between various options make their decisions in ignorance of reality, blinded by passions or misled by fleeting impressions.

To which Thornton added, conflating his text from the first and last paragraphs:

If Revel is correct, the rapidly diminishing level of truth in our public discourse suggests that we are in dire straits. . . . Following Revel, we can say a healthy democracy is one in which truth is allowed to circulate freely and inform citizens so they can make the right decisions. But today institutionalized lies have more influence than the truth, with baleful effects visible all around us. This suggests that we are a sick culture, and our condition is worsening.

And Thornton is most emphatically not talking about the fact that politicians don’t always tell the truth but something that goes more deeply. And while he thinks of this as a feature of the left in modern politics, as do I, where it starts is with the media which can no longer be expected to willingly publish anything that harms the political prospects of the left.

Two stories, both found on the editorial page of The Australian on Wednesday, are prime examples of the problem. Both spooked me, and while it is ironic that I am criticising the media for not revealing the facts when I have found out what I know by reading the media, it is still shameful that these are, firstly, opinion pieces rather than news stories and then, secondly, that they are not being splashed across the news so that everyone is aware of what’s happening and those who are responsible made to explain themselves.

The first is a column by Janet Albrechtsen dealing with Penny Wong and the amounts of money she has signed off on while Minister of Finance. The Finance Minister is the gatekeeper for government outlays, making sure governments do not spend too much nor waste what they spend. Well, forget it. The facts so far as they are even willing to admit – and this doesn’t include all kinds of outlays that are kept off the books – are maddening. Of Wong’s performance, Abrechtsen writes in conclusion:

Not even a nice smile can save Wong from being remembered as the $106 Billion Woman and this nation’s most incompetent Finance Minister.

Oh but yes it can. I read Janet’s article and maybe you read it but who else and who has shown that they care? Is it the scandal that it ought to be? Is there a hue and cry about just how badly she has managed her portfolio? Will anyone remember a day from now never mind when the new government tries to fix what is now seriously broken? Not a chance. Wong will walk away with not a care in the world, her credibility intact, remembered for her slick public persona, not for her disastrous role as the Minister of Finance.

And then we have a second opinion piece, this one from a surprising source given the contents. This is by Kevin Morgan who was “the ACTU member of former ALP leader Kim Beazley’s advisory committee on telecommunications”. And what he is trying to do is blow the whistle on the catastrophic hole in which the National Broadband Network is placing the finances of our country never mind the damage it is doing to our infrastructure. A report on the NBN has been given to the government and everyone knows it, but there is no outrage that is being suppressed nor a intensifying demand to have this report released NOW. From the article, where I have conflated the first and last paras:

KEVIN Rudd claims there is a conspiracy surrounding the NBN. He may be right. But it is not a conspiracy in which Rupert Murdoch seeks to bring down the Labor government to sabotage the NBN. It is a conspiracy to hide from the voters, until after the election, just how bad are the finances of the NBN. And the dire straits that the NBN is in can be sheeted back to the deals done by one man: the Prime Minister. . . .

Now Rudd’s back telling us, as he repeatedly did on Sunday night, that his visionary NBN is going marvellously. Well if it is Rudd will have absolutely no problem in immediately releasing an update of NBN Co’s corporate plan that is sitting on the desks of Penny Wong [sic] and Anthony Albanese, the two NBN shareholder ministers. To do otherwise would be a conspiracy and Rudd wouldn’t want to be accused of that.

Rudd cannot engineer this conspiracy of silence on his own. He needs help from the media who are apparently willing to go quiet on a program that is ruining their very own country – the very country they live in themselves – in order to maintain the most incompetent government in our history but so far as they are concerned a government of the right political shade. We have fallen below Revel’s minimal level of truth, well below, and we will pay for this dearly and for a very long time to come.

Who do you trust? I mean, seriously.

My wife spoke to me this morning about picking up a copy of the AFR while having coffee somewhere because it was the only paper and she remarked, in quite some astonishment, that it seemed to be anti-Abbott. So I have had a look and sure enough the front page is filled with the latest Labor meme, how is the Coalition going to pay for all of its promises? From a party which last ran a surplus in 1988, and only for a single year, that is about as ridiculous as it gets. If getting a surplus is the issue, come on, who would you really back?

But what also caught my eye was the story above the main story across the top of the page which ought to be more to the point about where this economy is heading. The first para:

Labour market experts say a dramatic three-year wage freeze at car maker GM Holden could trigger pay pauses elsewhere as rising job insecurity and low inflation press down on Australia’s high cost structure. [My bolding]

Some economic management we’ve had! I listened to the debate and there was nothing offered by Kevin Rudd that made me think he even understood there is a problem never mind that he had solutions for what ails us. In fact, my impression was that he had no idea what do to about any of the things that need fixing.

The Coalition is infinitely more likely to reduce wasteful spending, improve our employment prospects and assist in the raising of living standards. Why is it the Coalition, then, that is being asked to show its creds on restoring the budget to surplus?

IQ and elite opinion

As everyone knows, you cannot use IQ as a measure because the number might reveal answers that are unacceptable to our elites. That some people are smarter than other people is unambiguous. That some groups might be smarter than others would however mean that some groups would be less intelligent than others, and that is unacceptable. A quite interesting article by Jason Richwine who is described as a public policy analyst in Washington, D.C, makes the point he only too well understands himself:

Let’s start 25 years ago, with the publication of The IQ Controversy, a book by Mark Snyderman and Stanley Rothman. The authors surveyed more than 1,000 experts in the field of cognitive science to develop a picture of what the mainstream really looks like. It was very similar to the description I’ve supplied above.

Snyderman and Rothman then systematically analyzed television, newspaper, and magazine coverage of IQ issues. They were alarmed to find that the media were presenting a much different picture than what the expert survey showed. Based on media portrayals, it would seem that most experts think IQ scores have little meaning, that genes have no influence on IQ, and that the tests are hopelessly biased. “Our work demonstrates that, by any reasonable standard, media coverage of the IQ controversy has been quite inaccurate,” the authors concluded.

In conducting the expert survey and contrasting the results with media depictions of IQ research, one would think Snyderman and Rothman had performed a valuable service. Surely public discussion of IQ would now be more firmly grounded in science?

It didn’t happen. Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve was published in 1994, and real science was hard to find in the media circus that ensued. Herrnstein and Murray’s central claim about IQ differences shaping class divisions continues to be the subject of reasoned debate among social scientists. But non-experts in the media questioned whether IQ is even a valid concept. Intelligence research – psychometrics — is a pseudoscience, they said. The tests are meaningless, elitist, biased against women and minorities, important only to genetic determinists. And even to discuss group differences in IQ was called racist.

In short, the media did everything Snyderman and Rothman had warned against six years earlier. As a consequence, the interesting policy implications explored by Herrnstein and Murray were lost in the firestorm.

Smart people often think it’s a tragedy to be stupid. And if it were like money, they would try to redistribute in the way they normally redistribute, from everyone else but themselves. So instead they choose their second favourite tactic, they lie about it and hide the truth. Here’s the conclusion:

What causes so many in the media to react emotionally when it comes to IQ? Snyderman and Rothman believe it is a naturally uncomfortable topic in modern liberal democracies. The possibility of intractable differences among people does not fit easily into the worldview of journalists and other members of the intellectual class who have an aversion to inequality. The unfortunate — but all too human — reaction is to avoid seriously grappling with inconvenient truths. And I suspect the people who lash out in anger are the ones who are most internally conflicted.

But I see little value in speculating further about causes. Change is what’s needed. And the first thing for reporters, commentators, and non-experts to do is to stop demonizing public discussion of IQ differences. Stop calling names. Stop trying to get people fired. Most of all, stop making pronouncements about research without first reading the literature or consulting people who have.

This is not just about academic freedom or any one scholar’s reputation. Cognitive differences can inform our understanding of a number of policy issues — everything from education, to military recruitment, to employment discrimination to, yes, immigration. Start treating the science of mental ability seriously, and both political discourse and public policy will be better for it.

A man of goodwill, obviously, but still unfamiliar with the left. If it shouldn’t be it cannot be and therefore they will not let it be, at least not let it be openly discussed.