People on the left never disagree with each other

As near as I can tell, people on the left never disagree with each other. They certainly disagree with people on the right, but other than in relation to to all the things they all agree about amongst themselves, where are the internal debates so that you can find examples of one person on the left saying something that another person, still on the left, disagrees with, and yet both remain on the same side of politics.

On the left there is a single acceptable position and after that, no deviation is permitted. That they believe themselves to be critical thinkers is only because they all collectively disagree with people who disagree with any element of the common set of beliefs.

One does not have to be on the left to believe that climate change is a problem. Or that gay marriage should be legal. Or that many aspects of the market economy are unacceptable. Or that Donald Trump is not a nice person. On the right, all these are open for debate. On the left, they are fixed positions, in no sense open for discussion.

This is a depiction of conservatism as I see it, written by Irving Kristol. Titled The right stuff, it explains the difference between the conservative perspective in the US and in the UK. Being from the New World myself, and Australians fit into this pattern as well, I find myself siding here with Kristol.

Conservatism in the US today is a movement, a popular movement, not a faction within any political party. Although most conservatives vote Republican, they are not party loyalists and the party has to woo them to win their votes. The movement is issue-oriented. It will happily combine with the Republicans if the party is “right” on the issues. If not, it will walk away. This troubled relationship between the conservative movement and the Republicans is a key to the understanding of American politics today. The conservative movement is a powerful force within the party, but it does not dominate. And there is no possibility of the party ever dominating the movement.

American conservatism after the second world war begins to take shape with the American publication of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in 1943 and the founding in 1955 of William F Buckley’s National Review. Previously, there had been a small circle who were admirers of the Jeffersonian, quasi-anarchist, teaching of the likes of Albert Jay Nock, but no one paid much attention to them. Hayek’s polemic against socialism did strike a chord, however, especially among members of the business community. There may have been people converted from statism to anti-statism by that book, but my impression is that most admirers of the book were already pro-free market. What Hayek did was to mobilise them intellectually, and to make their views more respectable.

I will take you to the final para which seems more relevant today than when it was first written in 1996.

The US today shares all of the evils, all of the problems, to be found among the western democracies, sometimes in an exaggerated form. But it is also the only western democracy that is witnessing a serious conservative revival that is an active response to these evils and problems. The fact that it is a populist conservatism dismays the conservative elites of Britain and western Europe, who prefer a more orderly and dignified kind of conservatism. It is true that populism can be a danger to our democratic orders. But it is also true that populism can be a corrective to the defects of democratic order, defects often arising from the intellectual influence and the entrepreneurial politics, of our democratic elites. Classical political thought was wary of democracy because it saw the people as fickle, envious and inherently turbulent. They had no knowledge of democracies where the people were conservative and the educated elites that governed them were ideological, always busy provoking disorder and discontent in the name of some utopian goal. Populist conservatism is a distinctly modern phenomenon, and conservative thinking has not yet caught up with it. That is why the “exceptional” kind of conservative politics we are now witnessing in the US is so important. It could turn out to represent the “last, best hope” of contemporary conservatism.

Whether it is the best hope or not is uncertain, but that it may be the last hope is looking all to possible all the time.

1 thought on “People on the left never disagree with each other

  1. Pingback: People on the left never disagree with each other - The Rabbit Hole

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