Sunday, May 23, 2021

Back to the Future II

So, where did we get to?

Progress is a good thing. 

The principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" was a mechanism intended to achieve this thing called Progress. We have now abandoned this particular mechanism. But this is okay, because the mechanism was never what we cared about. What really mattered were the Underlying Values, and these have not changed. 

I am a bit unclear about what the Underlying Values are. I am a bit unclear about whether Marxism has been abandoned because it is old or because the external circumstances happen to have changed. (You might stop wearing wooly hats because they are out of fashion and make you look like your granddad.  But you might stop wearing them because the weather has turned hot all of a sudden.) I am also a bit unclear if we are talking about what is right, what will work, or what will win elections. I am not even sure if Tony Blair would recognise the distinction.

It might be that Marxism was morally good in the 1960s in the same way that slavery was morally good in the 1760s, but that the inexorable march of cosmic evolution has changed the nature of morality. 

It might be that people in the 1960s were stupid, and honestly believed that Marxism was good, in the same way that people in the 1760s were stupid and honestly believed that witches existed. We know better nowadays. But we shouldn't blame the people in the past for burning witches and believing in Marxism. They truthfully didn't know any better. 

It might be that "from each according to his ability" was a very good means to an end to adopt in the 1950s, when everyone worked in factories, but that now everyone works on the internet, a different means (unspecified) needs to be adopted to achieve the same ends (also unspecified). 

Finally, it might be that in the 1960s a canny politician had to pretend to believe in Marxism because that was the sort of thing gullible people would vote for, but nowadays you to pretend to believe in something else if you want to fool people into supporting you. 

When it turned out that Blair's reasons for starting a war with Iraq were not entirely true, he didn't think that this invalidated the war. He said that if he had known then what he knows now he would have "deployed" other arguments. Possibly Marxism and Progress are things which you deploy in order to achieve something else. I just wish I knew what the Something Else was. 

I think that we should go North at 100 miles an hour. You agree that we should go North, but only at 10 miles an hour. We are going in the same direction but at different speeds. 

Maybe we want to end up in the same place, and you think that by going slowly we are more likely to get there in the end. Or maybe I want to get to John O Groats but you think that Edinburgh is quite far enough. 

But someone else might find themselves thinking like this. 

"I want to go North, and my followers want to go North: but our opponents want to go South. I reckon that if I go South at 50 miles an hour, most of my supporters and some of my opponents will still vote for me. And even going South at 50 miles an hour is better than going South at 100 miles an hour, which is what is going to happen if I admit that I want to go North at even 1 mile per hour. Southhampton may not be Inverness, but it is slightly better than Penzance." 

That is the difference between sweet Moderation, which is the hope of our nation, and Centrism, which leads inexorably to Johnson, Trump -- and worse. 

I do not think that SCIENCES!! automatically leads to Progress, but I do agree that SCIENCES!! changes the kinds of things you can do to make Progress happen. 

Assuming that we all agree what we are Progressing towards, which we don't.

It is very silly, in the age of the Interwebs and Twitface, to be selling paper copies of Socialist Worker outside railway stations and spending hours and hours putting statistically dubious bar charts through people's letterboxes. Obama and Trump both understood that elections are won on social media. So, in fact, did Momentum. 

Blair, and by Blair I mean Peter Mandelson, won three elections because he understood how television and newspapers worked: how to take control of an interview, how to associate himself with "eye-catching initiatives", how to keep his acolytes "on message". The rebranding of his party as "new" Labour, and the wallet sized "pledge card" were both highly media-savvy tactics. If he had carved his pledges on a giant stone tablet he would have doubtless done even better. But Blair came to power when The World Wide Web was a novelty and no-one had heard of Facebook: those tactics would not work nearly as well tomorrow. 

I think I can envisage ways in which SCIENCES!! might make the old questions about Left and Right wing politics redundant. 

It might go something like this. 

"We want to get books into the hands of poor people because knowledge is power and I used to love the Famous Five when I was a kid. But we are using the Old Ways -- charging people Council Tax, and using the money to pay librarians to keep paper books in alphabetical order. I think we should close all the libraries and reduce council tax (which will earn us votes) and use SCIENCES!! to get books into people's hands. We will go to Jeff Bezos and say "It's all right. You don't have to pay us any tax, and you don't even have to let your staff go for a wee. But in return, we want all ebooks to be free, and for you to provide a tablet computer for every school kid in the country. (That will cost about three billion but you are worth about a hundred and thirty three billion so its not like you can't afford it.) Result: a massive democratisation of knowledge and literacy. Which was the Enduring Value we started from." 


It would not be true to say that New Labour was the same as the Old Tories, and that Blair as Prime Minister didn't do anything nice. It would be cynical to say that today's Labour Right don't believe in anything. But if you ask a continuity Blairite what the party achieved in power (having agreed that we are not going to mention the war) what you would get is a shopping list of small reforms. 

The thing which the Blair Party is most proud of is SureStart, which increased poor people's access to childcare and nursery education. They also introduced a national minimum wage. Blair took incremental steps towards full equality for LGBT people. He made some big political reforms, like devolved government in Scotland. He incorporated the human rights act into English law and formally abolished the death penalty. He banned fox hunting. These were undoubtedly Good Things. Some of them would have happened anyway, but some of them most definitely wouldn't. But they were hardly an all-consuming new vision of Britain. And they were not particularly informed by SCIENCES!! 

Now we are going to tear down the Labour party and three days later raise up another in its place. Nothing less will do, apparently. 

So, is this New New Labour Party forged in the white heat of the genome project and sat-nav going to be anything more than a new shopping list of moderately liberal reforms? Or is Progress (like Marxism before it) simply a rhetoric that we are going to deploy so we can dupe the voters into putting us in the position where we can introduce identity cards and ASBOs and frogmarch drunk teenagers to cashpoints? 

Screwtape said that Christian clergymen always warn people against the sins they are least likely to commit. When everyone is itching to launch a crusade against the infidel, they will hear stern sermons against lukewarmness and nominalism. When they regard churchgoing as a pleasant social duty they will be warned from the pulpit of the dangers of extremism and fanaticism. Blair does not tell Starmer to be more exciting; more radical; more daring; to take more risks; to try to get the public excited. Instead he presents a tabloid parody of the Left, and solemnly warns Kier Starmer not to be like that. 

Blair's analysis of the current political situation is very obscure: but it is just about decipherable. He seems to say two different things. 

First he says that young people -- and a new generation of uniquely and specially young people appear to have unexpectedly emerged fully formed in the the last year or two -- want change for change's sake. He seems to envisage them looking for something to rebel against and asking "what have you got?" Because the Moderates -- Kier Starmer -- are not talking about big economic changes, the young people have started calling for big changes in other areas. They are saying we should change the way black people, transexual and homosexual people are treated. They are saying we should change the way we do industry and travel, so as to halt global warming before we all die. They are saying we should change the way that nationality, gender and religion inform and define political beliefs. He lumps these together as "culture" or "identity". He says that moderates (Kier Starmer) don't understand these issues. But they are aware that their views may be wrong, or out of touch, or at any rate perceived as such. So they stay out of the argument altogether. This makes them look weak. So we have a vicious circle: the Young are radical because Starmer is so boring; Starmer is boring because the Young are so radical. 

But he also says that the agenda around "cultural" issues has been set by the Right. I think he is thinking here about the Far Right -- the ones who are prepared to say that imperialism was an unreservedly good thing and that trans people ought not to be allowed to go to the loo, and whose supporters are often nakedly racist and homophobic. But the result is the same. The moderates (Kier Starmer) are reluctant to push back against the Right's anti-immigrant, anti-trans rhetoric, so the only opposition comes from Young Radicals. But the Young Radicals scare everyone else off, meaning that the Right keep on winning elections. Which the Young Radicals secretly like, because they would rather be heroic martyrs than actually have to worry about the boring nuts and bolts of government. The Silly Right created the Culture Wars; the Sensible Left failed to oppose them, and the Silly Left have lept into the vacuum. And since the Silly Left are too silly too actually win the argument, the Right have victory handed to them on a plate. 

I don't know how true any of this is. I am, for example, intrigued by the idea that left-wing, Marxist politics are hopelessly old fashioned and mired in the past and at the same time especially attractive to the dynamic, new, young generation. If it is a bad thing to have old fashioned views on trains and trades unions, why is it kind of okay to have old fashioned views about transexuals?

Blair seems to agree with us recovering Corbynistas that Kier Starmer is hopelessly moderate, dull, weak and wet, and that he is failing to provide and intelligible response to the scary right wing agenda of Priti Patel and Nigel Farage. But that is not how the Centrists whose votes Blair wants perceive him. The Daily Mail call him hopelessly Woke for taking a knee during a black rights matter demonstration. A Tory MP described him as "prisoner of woke" during a serious debate in the Houses of Parliament. I think Starmer is boringly moderate; Blair's target audience think that he is terrifyingly left wing. 

I find it very hard to take seriously the idea that Greta Thurberg or the Colston Four are being radical for the sake of radicalism, and that if Kier Starmer had better policies about student loans and mortgages they would have been content to spend their evenings putting New Labour leaflets through their neighbours doors. 

There is room for more than one opinion about direct action: it may be that you shouldn't remove kitch Victorian statues of 18th century human traffickers from city centres, even when they have become the focus of nasty local nativist movements. These things are always better handled through process than through protest. I understand that you are cross about not having the vote, but tying yourself to railings and jumping in front of race horses only hurts your case. 

But I shudder, slightly, when I hear that behind the agenda of Black Rights Matter, Reclaim the Streets and Extinction Rebellion "lies an ideology that ordinary people find alien and extreme". What ideology lies behind these movements? One Daily Mail pundit thinks that they are working towards the destruction of "white society". Is this the kind of thing which Blair has in mind? 

But still, I do recognise the vicious circle that he is pointing to. The young are too extreme because the left are too moderate. The right are too extreme in response to the extremism of the left. The left can't provide an alternative to the extreme right, because they are too moderate. So the young become even more extreme to counter the extreme right. 

Starmer's moderation and the left's radicalism are both part of the problem. On this argument, the left need to dial it down and Starmer needs to turn the volume up. 

So: what is Blair's solution? How is this new scrub-it-out-and-start-it-again Labour Party going to look? 

Blair is not really a moderate or a compromiser. He may be interested in forming an alliance between New New Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but he isn't interested in a rapprochement between Corbynites and Millibandians. He is a populist. He sets about telling us what The People, or People or Ordinary People really want. 

A third of The People of Hartlepool wanted a Labour MP. A third of the People of the UK wanted Corbyn to be Prime Minister in 2019. (About forty per cent did so in 2017.) Nearly half The People voted to stay in the EU in 2015. Nevertheless The People are a homogenous lump who all speak with a single voice. I, a remain voting, Corbyn supporting, human rights advocating, pro-immigration, multi-cultural Old Labour Marxist am not one of The People. 

I do not, in fact, exist. 

"People", Blair says, do not like "their" country, "their" flag, or "their" history being disrespected. I think that we need to flip this round: Blair thinks that Old Labour and the Too Radical Young are inclined to be disrespectful about Britain, the history of Britain, and the Union Jack. He says that it does not follow that we can never acknowledge that Britain has done some Bad Things in the past: but in what other respect has anyone ever been inclined to diss this great country of ours? Do you hear the Left saying that the Lake District is not very pretty at this time of year, that Blackpool is not a great holiday resort, that Keats didn't write great poetry, that the Beatles didn't write great tunes and that Stevenson didn't invent steam trains? 

It is when I say that maybe Britain should be ashamed of the slave ships in the same way that Germany is ashamed of the concentration camps that I get called unpatriotic. It is when I ask if a black person with a slave heritage might feel about a medal called "Member of the Order of the British Empire" in the same way a Jewish person might regard a medal called "Iron Cross of the Gestapo" that I get accused of dissing my country. It is when I say that the guide books to national monuments ought to tell us the whole story about where they came from, whips and sugar plantations and all, that I am told that I want to erase, destroy, eradicate and rewrite our history. Either we join the the Right in celebrating Rhodes and Colston as great British heroes, or we accept the charge of being being unpatriotic, or we retire from the argument altogether. 

A cowboy and his comanche companion were in the bad-lands. "We're surrounded by Indians!" cried the cowboy. You know the punchline. 

Again, Blair tells us that "people" like common sense, proportion and reason. And so they do. Very probably they also like chocolate cake and bunny rabbits. But the flipside is that Blair thinks that The Left are unreasonable, inclined to overreact to things, and prone to act in ways which are contrary to common sense. 

"Whatever is contrary to common sense" is a frequent definition of Political Correctness. I don't know if Blair means it as a dogwhistle. David Cameron fought a nasty election campaign around the idea that lots of nasty right wing talking points were plain and simple common sense. Are you thinking what I am thinking of. 

He says that "people" like the police and they like the army. He says that the Left are allowed to criticise police and military conduct provided they do it without smearing -- Beelzebub, what a useful word! -- the organisation itself. The implication being, once again, that the Left do not like the police or the army, and that they are always seeking to smear soldiers in general and police officers in general. I suppose a small number of the radical left are pacifists and anarchists. Corbyn was misquoted -- smeared -- as saying that he would like to disband the British army, but what he had actually said was that he hoped one day wars would come to an end and no-one would have any need for soldiers. Again: any suggestion that a soldier tortured an enemy combatant or killed a civilian or that the police roughed up a suspect or fabricated evidence or provoked a riot or didn't treat the murder of a black person as seriously as they would have treated the murder of a white person will always be deemed by the Right to be a scurrilous attack on Our Brave Boys and Bobbies On The Beat. "Don't smear the police and the army" means "Stop going on and on about institutional racism and human rights abuses." 

Blair does say that defund the police is a silly slogan, and I probably agree with him.

This is an absolute play-book of the tabloid right wing. The Woke Mob hate England and the flag; the army and the police; they are politically correct; they take everything out of proportion. Blair's New New Labour party will not be like this parody of the Left. 

And now comes the bit where he says that the left-wing critique of the Moderates is partly fair, and lists ways in which Starmer could be more Radical.

Like hell he does. 

His parodic critique of The Left is the beginning an end of his analysis. 

He is refreshingly honest here. He doesn't say that Labour should support the police unreservedly, assert that slavery and empire were Good Things and deny that trans people exist because those ideas are right and true. Pretending to believe those things is -- he says this explicitly -- a tactic. To believe anything else is "electorally off-putting". The party who does not believe those things will "not win elections". 

"Let's pretend to be more racist so we can get into power and reduce carbon emissions by 2030" or "Let's throw trans people under the boss so we can massively tax Amazon and send twice as many people to college" might conceivably be the kinds of compromises that a politician needs to make. The gay and lesbian issue really did cost Kinnock dear among the pensioners. But Blair is long on the "let's do this bad thing..." part and very short on the " order that we may do this good thing" element 

"On cultural issues, one after another, the Labour Party is being backed into electorally off-putting positions. A progressive party seeking power which looks askance at the likes of Trevor Phillips, Sara Khan or JK Rowling is not going to win." 

Trevor Phillips was suspended from the Labour Party for anti-Islamic statements: he talked about Islam being a nation within a nation, and complained that the Muslims did not wear Remembrance Day poppies. Sarah Kahn's appointment by Theresa May as an "anti extremist Tsar" was criticised by some Muslims because of her connection with the governments Prevent programme which it was felt equated Islam with extremism. And J.K Rowling wrote a lot of shit fantasy books argued that someone born with a cock could never transition to being a woman.

I am not a hundred per cent sure what "look askance" means: I think it is a way of saying "You should not disagree with them" without quite saying that you agree with them. Blair thinks that "we" ought to have a debate. The question of whether Muslims are scary nation within a nation (as opposed to a minority religious group like Roman Catholics and, er, Jews); whether people who go to Mosque rather than Chapel are more likely to be terrorists than anyone else; and whether trans people even exist is the kind of thing that is open for discussion. 

Flipside: the Left think that the existence of transpeople and the idea that Muslims are just British citizen is something which is not open for discussion. 

"The Labour Party needs to push back strongly against those who will try to shout down the debate." 

Flipside: If you think that Muslims are not truly British and trans people don't exist, the Left will not let you speak. 

The Far Right are not prepared to say "Racism is good, actually" or "We hate trans people and want to abolish them" although that is clearly what some of them think. So they have adopted a strategy of making Free Speech the issue of the day. We are supposed to be scared of the Woke Left, not because they are against Racism, but because they won't let people who are in favour of racism have their fair say. We are supposed to be sympathetic to J.K Rowling, with her book contract and her fourteen million Twitter followers, not because she is right, but because no-one can hear what the poor woman is saying. 

The Left are intolerant of other views. The Left need to embrace the right of people to hold racist and anti-Islamic and anti-trans opinions. Presumably not anti-gay opinions and definitely not anti-Jewish ones. Not because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the way to win elections. The Labour Party, dissolved and reconstituted according to Blair's vision, would be the party of Peter Hitchens, Piers Morgan and the tabloids who drool and rant about the Woke Left.

If you say you want to go South, you will be shouted down. The most important thing is not to go North: it is to allow the people who want to go South to speak because if you look askance at them you will not win any elections.

Fuck! How the hell did we end up in Cape Town?



Richard Worth said...

Tony Blair may have stumbled upon a truth without realising it. He is over a decade older than us. The figures that he mentions (Trevor Phillips, Sarah Khan, JK Rowling) were well-respected by the moderate liberal Left as successful role models in their respective fields. The idea that they are now seen as reactionary figures must be hard to understand, like Germaine Greer no longer being a role model for female radicals. However, that may be the point. In that sense, Tony Blair is out of touch with the younger generation. However, he may accidentally be in touch with an older generation of left-wing liberals, who are still impressed in principle ay successful women or ethnic minority figures in public life and think that Young People These Days are going too far.

Richard Worth said...

Not sure what happened to my other comments, but I think they boiled down to 1) Karl Marx, like Adam Smith, may have been a profound thinker, but we need to consider how their ideas may fit with other thinkers and how they fit in a modern era which has (for example) an NHS and a Welfare State, or Trade Unions, or environmental standards. 2) The OBE is part of a legacy which we never ditched because we never had a proper revolution, so (for example) the armed forces can claim hundreds of years of battle honours against the ancestors of some of the people they are trying to recruit.

Andrew Rilstone said...

You put the comment under the video of the man singing about rape and decapitation in the olden days.

Aonghus Fallon said...

My impression is that Marxism was predicated on the idea of the proletariat - generally factory workers - and the people who bossed them around. How many people work in a factory these days? DIdn’t the UK switch over to being a services industry some time ago? A hundred years ago you probably worked in the same factory all your life for a derisory salary, but at least certain things were static (ie, you did the same job all your life) and that gave you some leverage. Not sure how applicable that would be today; the jobs market is so fragmented and for so many different reasons - part-time contracts, working via the internet - that the world Marx’s theories were meant to subvert is largely gone.

Plus, as an idealogy, Marxism was a victim of its own idealism. Most political ideologies are hardwired to prevent exploitation and subversion. Marxism wasn’t. That’s why it was very appealing but has no credibility today, although it still might hold a certain charm to a certain type of idealist, especially the penniless idealist - ie, teenagers and the unemployed (which reminds me of the old joke about how everybody’s a good socialist if they’re on the dole).

I don’t entirely agree with you about Blair - I remember reading that piece. Maybe he was just being disingenuous, or maybe he was simply sounding a cautionary note - ie, know what fights to pick and when to pick them. How constructive this might be is a moot point (not very, I suspect).

postodave said...

Marxism is undergoing a revival among young urbanite intellectuals, and the new version says it is the technology that makes the vision possible at last. The bit of Marxist theory that seems to have gone is the concept of historical inevitability which history has not been kind to for the most part.

Corbyn was the worst person to be the right person for the time. His main interests were in international politics but his domestic agenda was what appealed to may people. On doorsteps it was his opposition to nuclear arms and republican leanings that seemed to go badly.

Starmer seems to be to be even more of a populist that Blair. He said he would keep the 2019 manifesto not because he agreed with it but because he saw it was popular. I suspect the new policies will reflect how much people persuade him that something else is popular now.

Pete Ashton said...

There's a book to be written on why "common sense" is a terrible thing that should be eradicated. It's the philosophical equivalent of having a "reckon".

If the pandemic taught us anything it's that common sense is massively and fatefully overrated.

Gavin Burrows said...

Aonghus, I suspect Bliar means by "Marxism" little more than "woke mob, only written down." It's just a smear term, and his self-righteous witterings aren't going to be made more explicable by ploughing through the Grundrisse.

But, what it's worth, Beardy said that what made you proletarian was your selling lof your labour power to survive. In his day, shop workers, transport workers, miners, road sweeps and servants were all proletarian. The existence of call centre workers doesn't vex the concept greatly.

Plus, we should remember the UK went from a unionised society to a barely regulated one quickly, really within a couple of decades. And it did it largely by switching to un-unionised service sector jobs, and it did it largely for that reason. Talk of 'modernisation' was really just a smokescreen for this. Those factory jobs still existed, they were just sent overseas. How many people work in a factory these days? My guess would be more than any other time in history.

Incidentally, Marx commented numerous times about historical inevitability - and every time it was to say he didn't believe in it. The peculiarity is that it was no just his foes but many of his so-called followers believed that he did.

By 'common sense', most just mean 'what I think'. It's a tautology masquerading as an argument.

Aonghus Fallon said...

I’d agree. Firstly that most factories are now overseas. Secondly, about the shift away from non-unionised labour and thirdly about how working in a call centre is essentially an iteration of what Mark was talking about. But people working in call centres probably don’t even know each other’s names, and most are on fixed term contracts. This is compounded by how people’s standard of living has increased dramatically since - say - the nineteen thirties, when people went on strike because it was either go on strike or starve. So you have a lack of solidarity coupled with no compelling incentive to change the status quo. Is Marxism the answer? I'm not so sure.

Mike Taylor said...

Assuming that we all agree what we are Progressing towards, which we don't.

Ah, yes. Progress. As a wise man once wrote:

"Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about "liberty"; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about "progress"; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about "education"; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, "Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty." This is, logically rendered, "Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it." He says, "Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress." This, logically stated, means, "Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it." He says, "Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education." This, clearly expressed, means, "We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children"."
— G. K. Chesterton, "On the negative spirit", in Heretics (1905).

Aonghus Fallon said...

That’s uncanny, Mike. It’s pretty obvious that Bradshaw must have had that exact text in mind while issuing what I now suspect to be a rebuttal.

’Your modern believer will largely avoid any clear definition of what constitutes good. You’ll hear talk about “religious freedom” without ever learning what the parameters of such freedom might be. You are just as likely to hear talk about “religious values”, but these seem to mean largely whatever the speaker desires, while advocates of a ‘faith-based education’ are suitably vague what faith they have in mind, or the moral code it encapsulates. This very lack of specificity means that most believers might just as well be advocating the right of satanists to carry out human sacrifices as for the devout to attend church: their very coyness means they stand for nothing at all. On one topic they are quite matter-of-fact: they’ll assure you that neither progress or education are the way forward. Only simple, pure faith is the answer. But what this might mean in concrete terms remains frustratingly opaque.’

- Jasper Bradshaw ‘On Fuzzy Thinking’ in The Religious Mind-set (1962)

Mike Taylor said...

Aonghus, are you saying you see Bradshaw's passage as rebuttal of Chesterton's? To me it seems wholly consonant with it.

(By the way, how should be mentally pronouncing your name every time I read it? I've been phonetically saying Ah-ONG-hass, but I am guessing maybe it just sounds like Angus?)

Aonghus Fallon said...

That's exactly how you pronounce it, Mike! - which is a pretty impressive feat on your part, given that there's often a big disconnect between how an Irish name is written and how it's pronounced (e.g. 'Siobhain' = 'Shivawn')

g said...

Mike, I agree that Bradshaw could just be adapting Chesterton's complaint and redirecting it towards "your modern believer", without necessarily meaning that anything in what Chesterton wrote was wrong or bad. But:

1. The parallels are so close that Bradshaw cannot possibly not have had Chesterton's passage in mind when he wrote his.

2. Chesterton makes fun of "modern men" for (among other things) advocating vaguely for "progress" and "education". Bradshaw makes fun of "modern believers" for (among other things) being sure that "neither progress nor education are the way forward". With Chesterton's piece clearly in his mind, it's hard to see how he can not have been making fun of Chesterton there.

I don't think Bradshaw is trying to rebut Chesterton's claim that "modern man" is sometimes vague about what's good, and that that's a bad thing. But I do think he's at least trying to suggest that Chesterton's wrong to paint this as specifically a vice of modern progressive freethinking skeptical irreligious types. (If so, I think Bradshaw's right on that point.)

He might also be suggesting that Chesterton's actually being hypocritical, that at the same time as Chesterton is complaining about the vagueness of "modern man" he is guilty of the same thing himself. (If so, I think Bradshaw's probably wrong on that point; I think Chesterton generally avoids that sort of vagueness, and in particular isn't indulging in it here. And I'm pretty sure he'd have felt about many of the "modern believers" Bradshaw's criticizing much the same way as Bradshaw does.)

And he's certainly suggesting that Chesterton's mockery of "modern man"'s advocacy of progress and education is a symptom of a general opposition to progress and education on the part of religious believers who feel threatened by them. (If so, I suspect he's right, though for the avoidance of doubt I think it's clear that this attitude is far from universal among believers.)

Mike Taylor said...

All of that makes sense, g.

g said...

Aonghus, I'm curious about this Bradshaw thing. I have been unable to find any trace of the existence of an author or scholar named Jasper Bradshaw, or of a book or article called "The Religious Mind-Set", or of a chapter or article called "On Fuzzy Thinking".

... Is it possible that actually there is no such book, chapter or article, and you just wrote it, in response to the Chesterton quotation? :-)

Aonghus Fallon said...

I'm genuinely sorry, G. I was just being facetious. All I can say in my defence is that I regretted it almost right away. I actually read a lot of Chesterton - I’d just finished reading ‘Irish Impressions’, funnily enough. Maybe that had something to do with it?

g said...

Ha. Got ya. :-)

Andrew Rilstone said...

You are only making up fictional writers to quote from because you didn't like your first school.

Aonghus Fallon said...

‘Rilstone’s cryptic riposte has been the subject of much speculation. Fallon - a prickly Irishman - took it to mean that he was a disenchanted former catholic (something which was largely true) who had resorted to inventing authors more commensurate with his views. Others have pointed out that ‘first school’ is also a euphemism for family. Fallon’s illiteracy did mean that his first foster home was not a happy one (his adoptive parents both being bookworms) and that he was constantly forced to conceal this fact by pretending he had ignored some well-known author in preference to a more obscure (ie, imaginary) one, whom he would then quote at length.’

J. Raggley. The Indefatigable Rilstone. (2054)

Andrew Rilstone said...

This one will run and run...

Andrew Stevens said...

It might be that people in the 1960s were stupid, and honestly believed that Marxism was good, in the same way that people in the 1760s were stupid and honestly believed that witches existed.

This is, of course, my theory. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is very naturally popular with people and actually works in families. I believed it when I was a child, my daughter naturally believed it without being taught it, etc. It works in families because productive adults are generally more than willing to provide for the needs of their unproductive children and unproductive (because too old) parents. Families also have the ability to bring to bear social pressure on its unproductive (but able-bodied and able-minded) adults which society as a whole simply cannot, short of totalitarian terror. (The alternative to the hated "cash-nexus" of the Marxists is the "terror-nexus.")

The problem with the Marxist philosophy, as has been argued for more than 200 years, before Marx himself even existed, is that it just doesn't scale, due to the very plentiful supply of laziness in the vast majority of people (very common in predator species such as humans), though of course there are a very rare few people whom I both envy and admire who just seem "built to work." But productive people, even if they could support idle layabouts, don't like to do so. (Rhetoric against idleness is even common on the left about the idle rich.) Thus, why Bernie Sanders got kicked out of his commune because he wanted to spend all his time talking about politics and didn't want to work. When a man cannot hope to improve his life or the lives of his children nor needs to fear that his life or the life of his children might get worse, he has no incentive to avoid idleness. And what you get is a "nation of paupers, with a community of goods." This is, empirically, simply what we do see. You don't have to agree with my explanation for why socialism has failed, but you have to be completely immune to evidence not to recognize that it has. Over and over and over again for at least 200 years.

To give an example, the man who invented the CPAP machine, which radically transformed my life, never saw a dime out of it. But then he was a very well compensated man already when he invented it. I have no doubt that he did so entirely for the good of humanity. But James Watt made a lot of money off the steam engine and clearly intended to do so. The Watts and Edisons are much more common than the Professor Colin Sullivans of the world. We don't need to do much of anything to harness the innovation of the Colin Sullivans - he'll be doing good for humanity no matter what our economic system is, but it's also important to harness the energy and innovation of all of the rest of us. The advanced civilization that humans have built requires a lot of energy and labor to keep running.

Andrew Stevens said...

(Meant to say that the "cash-nexus" is hated by the Marxists. Sorry, reading it back, that's unclear.)

Andrew Stevens said...

Oh, to forestall the inevitable debates, my definitions of "capitalism" and "socialism" are the long accepted definitions one will find in virtually any dictionary. This does not appear to be the case for most people, however. If you define "socialism" in some weird idiosyncratic way which I have never heard of, then of course it may be the case that your definition of socialism hasn't been empirically shown to be a failure over and over and over again.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew, you are only criticising Aonghus due to submerged English colonial guilt. OKay, whose turn is it now..?

Mike Taylor said...

"The problem with the Marxist philosophy [...] You don't have to agree with my explanation for why socialism has failed."

But my dear chap, you have presented no such explanation. You do, however, have a good explanation for why Marxism has failed.

Aonghus Fallon said...

Or maybe submerged English colonial tendencies? I am feeling a tad oppressed....

Aonghus Fallon said...

Socialism works very well for those who are want to make it work. Just like Capitalism.

Andrew Stevens said...

Socialism works very well for those who are want to make it work.

I suppose that depends on your goal. Let us take everybody's favorite foil - Sweden. The Swedes are not, in fact, particularly rich. Prior to the financial crisis, I would often point out that the median American black person was better off in financial terms than the median Swede. (This was absolutely factual at the time. It may or may not still be true, though.) On the other hand, in self-reported happiness, the Swedes did very well.

But they don't do as well as Minnesota, where the Swedes settled here in the U.S. and where the Swedish-Americans are about twice as rich and even happier than the Swedes in Sweden. So I look with a rather jaundiced eye on the idea that Swedish socialism is what makes Swedes happy. They seem to be even happier in a more capitalist system. (And, by the way, Swedish-Americans rather famously don't avail themselves of the social safety net here in the U.S. They very rarely need it.)

But on the other hand, is Sweden even that much less capitalist than the U.S.? In the 1990s, the Swedes had quite a crisis with their social safety net becoming increasingly unaffordable. They solved this problem by largely deregulating their private sector so it could generate the funds they required and shuck off enough extra wealth to make their socialism work. Socialism is a luxury, paid for by capitalism.

But my dear chap, you have presented no such explanation. You do, however, have a good explanation for why Marxism has failed.

See my comment about definitions. Socialism does not mean "we have a social safety net." It means that the means of production are not in private hands, but in the hands of the community as a whole (which, in practical terms, usually means the government).

Andrew Stevens said...

For the record, I am not Swedish to any degree. (Though tells me I have a small amount of Scandinavian genes, almost certainly from the Danelaw - a large percentage of the Puritans came from East Anglia.) I am, as has been noted, of English descent, though almost all my ancestors all came over here in the 1630s before Cromwell was particularly brutal in Ireland (though after the colonial project had begun). We English do not do as well as the Swedes with a social safety net. We are, for whatever cultural reason, simply lazier than they are and have more problems with alcohol and drugs.

Andrew Stevens said...

My general opinion is that Tony Blair agrees with me on this, but simply will not say so. This is for the same reason that there are a lot of Republican politicians who know that the idea that Trump had the election stolen from him is a bunch of obvious crap, but who are too craven to say so publicly. You don't win anything by offending your own voters.

Tony Blair may or may not be evil. Jeremy Corbyn may or may not be a man of good will. Unless it's very obvious (e.g. Donald Trump), I have a hard time determining a man's moral character from afar. Intellectual ability, however, is much easier. Does anybody truly believe that Jeremy Corbyn is smarter than Tony Blair? Or even close?

Andrew Stevens said...

The U.S. is currently having the problem of an overly generous social safety net. During Covid, the federal government was (for good reason) extremely generous with unemployment benefits and that still holds true. Now that we're coming out of the woods of Covid (42% fully vaccinated and cases/deaths dwindling rapidly), our job growth has been disappointing even though there are lots of jobs available and employers are desperate for workers. Some state governments have even started refusing federal unemployment benefits for their states' workers. If you are making public policy, you have to think about these things. This is why the Poor Laws in England whipsawed back and forth for decades about how generous they were.

Andrew Stevens said...

As far as I can tell from afar, Tony Blair began as a Trotskyist, after reading a biography of Trotsky, and has since changed his mind, having had many discussions with learned economists about the economy and public policy. Jeremy Corbyn solved all the problems of the world when he was 17 and has never changed his mind on anything ever since.

Aonghus Fallon said...

I suppose that depends on your goal.

I think this would be precisely the difference between your average EU country and the US. The contract between the citizen and the state is quite different and this in turn is a reflection of how values differ. Americans believe in the primacy of the individual and minimal government. Your average European believes that the state should take care of things like health, the poor etc. So any economic comparisons would be largely redundant.

But they don't do as well as Minnesota, where the Swedes settled here in the U.S. and where the Swedish-Americans are about twice as rich and even happier than the Swedes in Sweden.

You’re drawing a correlation between wealth and happiness, but is this necessarily true? Swedes in Minnesota may be happier because - although I know the winters can be pretty bad - they don’t have to put up with six months of darkness.

Socialism is a luxury, paid for by capitalism.

Surely this statement is a contradiction in terms? Either a Socialist state is one in which the means of production are in government hands (ie, a state in which Capitalism is non-existent) or it is a Capitalist state, where all means of production are in private hands. It is either one or the other, but not both.

Socialism does not mean "we have a social safety net." It means that the means of production are not in private hands, but in the hands of the community as a whole.

In which case I guess there are no socialist countries in the EU? Most means of production are in the hands of private entities, with the government controlling essential services - largely (as I’ve said elsewhere) to prevent exploitation by the private sector.

Andrew Rilstone said...

in England if you are not a liberal liberal means undecided moderate fence sitting neither one thing nor the others

what are you politics? really `I have none, I am a liberal.

if you are a liberal liberal mean a strong and positive belief that the state should exist but use its power to maximise freedom

in America, if you are not a liberal, liberal means extremist, communist, left wing fantastic who will take peoples guns away

words mean what they are used to mean

is Corbyn cleverer than Blair (does "smart" have a particular nuance in America a that it does to have over here?)

clearly he is not such a canny political operator, or so media savvy, or good at presenting ideas so people will support him. if the job of a politician was to politics then he didn't politics as well as Tony Blair

if the two of them were having an academic debate about dialctical materialism who would come better? I think maybe Corbyn. I wouldn't place the bet

I don't think there is such a thing as evil. I think there is madness and I think there are people who do bad things. a very very very bad thing could be called evil, if you like, and a person who has done evil things is an evil person.

Blair admired and admires Trotsky. did that make him a Trotskyite? did he believe in world revolution as opposed to socialism in one country? was he a Trotskyite as opposed to Leninist or a Maoist? or does Trotskyite merely mean very very very very left wing?

some of his lieutenants had definitely been very very very very left wing. didn't David Blunket raise the red flag over the town hall and make school uniform optional

if you want to know what is meant by socialist probably asking someone who calls themselves a socialist is the best way. most of its would probably say that up to the Blair era, labour was socialist. they thought that you should tax the rich to provide welfare and service for the poor, and that things like trains and telephones and postmen (but not chocolate factories and shoe shops) should be run buy the state. "oh, buts that not socialism, then thats reformnism"; fine so when I say that up to the 90s the Labour Party was socialist I mean that up to the 90s the Labour Party was reformist. and probably when the papers talked about Red Ed they mean. "slightly more reformist than me" Ed.

can I go now? I have an article which is going to get me thrown out of the internet to poof read

Aonghus Fallon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aonghus Fallon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gavin Burrows said...

"I am feeling a tad oppressed...."

You only say that because you are oppressed.

Aonghus Fallon said...

I think you're right! Almost definitely.

Andrew Stevens said...

if you want to know what is meant by socialist probably asking someone who calls themselves a socialist is the best way

Oh boy, does that not work. A) None of them agree on what they mean and B) what they do say almost never makes any sense.

Surely this statement is a contradiction in terms? Either a Socialist state is one in which the means of production are in government hands (ie, a state in which Capitalism is non-existent) or it is a Capitalist state, where all means of production are in private hands. It is either one or the other, but not both.

In fact, of course, neither such state has ever existed. Even in socialist states where private ownership of the means of production is illegal, it still existed. And there has never been a state in all of human history where all means of production are in private hands. All actual existing societies are a mix of both.

In which case I guess there are no socialist countries in the EU? Most means of production are in the hands of private entities, with the government controlling essential services - largely (as I’ve said elsewhere) to prevent exploitation by the private sector.

Yes, that's right. There are no socialist countries in the EU. 30 years ago, this didn't even need to be stated. We all knew what socialism meant and we all knew that there were no socialist countries in the (theoretical future) EU.

You’re drawing a correlation between wealth and happiness, but is this necessarily true? Swedes in Minnesota may be happier because - although I know the winters can be pretty bad - they don’t have to put up with six months of darkness.

I'm not, actually. I don't think the Swedes in Minnesota are necessarily happier because they are wealthier, though they are both happier and wealthier. I was just pointing out that Sweden's very high happiness scores are often attributed to its much more mixed (more socialist) economy and Minnesota seems to refute that.

Andrew Stevens said...

European countries have also been subsidized by the U.S. for nearly 80 years now. The U.S. shucks off so much wealth that it can afford to maintain a navy which safeguards global trade. Finland and Russia are the only two European countries which still float a navy even remotely comparable.

This seems like it is changing to me and American citizens are increasingly unwilling to continue to provide these services (e.g. both Trump and Obama jawboning NATO members about how they need to increase their own defense spending, which seems broadly popular on both sides of the aisle).

Andrew Stevens said...

For the record, I do think the current system works for the United States and that it's worth it to us even though we have to tolerate "free riders." This view used to be broadly popular with U.S. elites, though it was never popular with the U.S. public, but the elite consensus is clearly breaking down as well.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Normal service has been resumed, apparently.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Christianity is the kind of thing that the kinds of people who say they are Christians say they believe in. It might very well turn out that they believe different things. It might very well be that some definitions exclude some people who say they are Christians. It might very well be that the more groups you try to include, the more vague your definition gets. ("People who believe in the Holy Trinity and the Atonement" gets Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics and the Church of England, but excludes Quakers and Unitarians at one end and Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses at the other. "People who think that Jesus is special in some way" includes the above groups but risks bringing in Humanists and New Age Pagans as well. But "Christianity is what Christians believe" is your best starting point.

Socialism is the kind of thing that the kinds of people who say they are socialists believe. When I say I am a socialist, I mean that I believe that the rich should be poorer and the poor should be richer, that this is partly achieved by Trades Unions and partly by redistributive taxation, and that "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is a good principle.

"Oh, but that's not socialism, that's reformism / liberalism / something else".

Fair enough. My politics is Something Else. I believe in Something Else very strongly, and joined the Labour Party when its leader believed in Something Else.

No, Socialism isn't what you say it is, it is what I say it is. If you are a Muslim you believe in flying horses. No, I am telling you, as a skeptical biologist, that if you are Muslim you believe in flying horses. If you don't believe in flying horses then you are not a Muslim.

Interestingly, this also applies to Spaghetti Bolognaise, Science Fiction and Folk Music.

And also, apparently, gender.

Andrew Stevens said...

Clause IV was pretty explicitly socialist without actually mentioning socialism. I have no problem saying that the Labour Party from 1918 until Tony Blair was a socialist party (though the UK never quite became socialist under Labour, since their tactics were Fabian). "To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service."

Andrew Stevens said...

If you believe in Clause IV, you're a socialist under my definition as well.

Andrew Stevens said...

Believing in socialism was still somewhat reasonable in 1918 (Shaw, Wells, Orwell), was looking very silly by 1961, and was utterly ludicrous by 1992.