Saturday, 9 June 2012

Ideology for Losers?

Ok - a friend of mine whose political compass travels in a vastly different direction to that of this bunny suggested recently that Instictive Liberal/Libertarian thinking would have to come under the umbrella of 'extreme ideology'. This was followed by a suggestion that 'extreme views' are generally formulated by losers who are looking to explain the lack of success in their own lives without looking at themselves.

This is an interesting point that I want to pick up, but first, thanks to my mate for making me think about this quite seriously.

There are numerous problems that stem immendiately from labelling an opinion as 'extreme'. First of all, it is entirely subjective and can only really be related to the political consensus of the time. Most of us would accept that openly racist or ethnically nationalistic politics might fall under the 'extreme' umbrella, but then ask a German citizen circa 1938, or an Italian or Spaniard in the same period, and you're likely to get a different answer.

The centre ground in political life is fluid and tends to move when a particularly influential statesman (for better or worse) is in office. What we refer to as the 'centre ground' in Britain is actually a plot of land buried somewhere between the editorial of the New Statesman and the Guardian's womens' section. A big state socialist-corporatist hybrid is now consensus, the conventional wisdom of the current era. Politically correct dogma bans certain 'unpleasant' and 'undesirable' opinions.

All three major parties essentially subscribe to this view of the world, while perhaps tinkering at the margins in a way that impresses one client group or another - that's worth returning to.

What do Libertarians or Instictive Liberals believe in? That taxation at source is an act of theft on the part of the state, one which encourages evasion from those who can afford the means to do so and punishes the least well off in relative terms. There's a commitment to civil liberty and the notion that once people are willing to sacrifice hard-won freedoms in the name of some phoney 'war on terrror' or under some generic 'securiry' umbrella, then you can never get back to the place you were in.

Perhaps the most antagonistic element to consensus/centre ground politicians is an understanding of how majority tyranny can slowly erode the freedoms of those who have done no wrong, but find themselves in the wrong place, at the wrong time, under the rule of the wrong mob. In an age when 51% of those who can be arsed to vote is seen as a holy grail, are ideas that seek to illustrate the danger of such thinking extreme or dangerous? Strictly in relative terms, yes they are. It's certainly a radical platform, and even if it is not extreme, then at best a marginal one.

There is of course a more basic and common sense way of looking at this. What is the logical conclusion of sustained Libertarian government? Would we be looking at political dissidents getting their fingernails ripped out, forced repatriation of established immigrants or labour camps for those who did not fit neatly with our view of the world and its future? The unequivocal answer to that question is no, so if one takes the instinctively liberal, consequentialist view of things then there is no way that Libertarian thinking could be seen as extreme in any shape or form.

Such a label only comes into play when viewing events from a 'centre ground' position that is liable to shift.

This poses the other question about 'extreme' thinking:- who gets to decide whether an unconventional and radical view of the world counts as 'extreme' or not and on what scientific or forensic basis? Once you start decrying a sincerely expressed opinion as ''extreme' then you're on the slippery slope down into the murky world of thought crime. Most of what we would not want to see done in the name of a political viewpoint (violence, inciting others to commit crimes) is already illegal anyway, so what's the problem? Instead of banning someone's view of the world, why not destroy their argument with reason instead? It's a lot more fun, right?

This bunny has no time for Communism, but give me a Marxist over a McCarthyite eight days a week...

Then there's the issue of 'winners and losers' that my friend alludes to. To answer this point, it's worth asking what the purpose of political ideology is and what it seeks to achieve. Of course, in our current political climate the concept that government might be following a set of ideals that it believes in is rather amusing, but then it's worth exploring the alternative of values, explanation and direction.

All well thought-out ideologies attempt to explain how we have reached this point in our history. They seek to tell a story in which there were undeniably winners and losers. Then it asks whether or not those winners and losers deserved those outcomes, and if not, then why those net results were either facilitated by the state or allowed to happen, and what can be done to reverse those trends in the direction of more 'just' outcomes. Take Marxism as an example:-

We have reached this point of large-scale relative poverty and unequally distributed wealth because of unfettered bourgeois capitalism.

The winners were the greedy, self-serving Bourgeouis capitalists who achieved their wealth and status by exploting the Proletariat for their own ends.

They do not deserve the spoils of their victory and nor do the Proletarian workforce deserve their squalid housing, poor working conditions and low wages.

Ergo - the solution is to take collective (state) control of the means of production, strip the Bourgeoisie of their wealth and assets, and establish a government of the proletariat, by the proletariat and for the proletariat (or something like that).

There's a brief history of everything and how to solve the ills of a planet - according to a Marxist. Of course, Libertarians have their own take on the world, how we got here and who the fortunate or unfortunate few might have been. The point is:- every ideology, which in an age of consensus politics can be seen as extreme or at best misplaced, seeks to identify those who lost for reasons beyond their control. The solution may be a bigger state or a smaller one, but the basic aim is to change the conditions that created the wrong in the first place.

What they call 'normal distribution' would suggest that 5% of people are likely to succeed regardless of the climate at the time, be it as a result of inate brilliance, toughness, capacity for work or tendency to attract good luck and a break of the ball. Conversely, 5% of us are idle, useless, walking disaster zones who attract misfortune in the same way that honey might draw bees, or all of the above. That leaves the other 90%, of whom some benefit from the prevailing climate of the time or have a single life-changing flash or inspiration, while others don't. There's no doubting that life is a bitch.

So why is this bunny, a working class lad of modest means even now, an Instinctive Liberal? When things were difficult (and believe me, they once were), why wasn't he taken in by the appeal of Socialism or Marxism, a notion that all would be well if you could simply swipe a few quid from some awful rich person? It's an interesting proposition and I think it's one that goes to the heart of my friend's critique of my core beliefs. He's a man of socialist views, which I respectfully disagree with, and this bunny would surely have been ripe for taking in this view of the world at a point in time.

When I think of the two biggest external cancers in my life, one was a member of my own working class family, while the other was wealthy, connected and believed that he owned not only his own life, but yours, mine and that of anyone else he could frighten half to death. I've seen with my own eyes how a massive welfare state creates incentives for idleness, how governments shift the fit and well onto sickness benefit to manipulate unemployment figures and that the 'greater good' is built on a misplaced  notion that the self-interest of some is superior to that of others.

I also understand the danger of 'connected' and unofficial power, the sort of masonic lodges, the sort that comes with a reminder that you can do whatever you want, but accidents happen. I know what it's like to be frightened, to feel that there's no hope no future, and no escape without either signing your life over to another or launching oneself off a motorway bridge. A life that is nominally yours, but over which you have absolutely no control, is not worth living. To hold such troubles against wealthy or 'connected' people generally would be irrational, but there's undeniably a problem when a fortunate member of society believes that it can quite literally own and enslave a less fortunate one.

Apologies if things got a bit 'analyst's couch' just then.

So can government legislate against the circumstances or nature of your parents, or the toxic associations that one might unwittingly fall into? One of the problems of democratic politics is the need for candidates to promise solutions to every last bad thing that might take place in one's own life. This facilitates a state that further erodes the life, liberty and prosperity of the individual, becomes bloated and is impossible to hold accountable. Everything government does has both an intended and an unintended consequence, and it begins to resemble a cat chasing its own tail, passing one bad law to deal with the negative fallout of the last one.

This amoeba effect of legislation was most evident as New Labour passed a law for every single day that it was in office over thirteen years. It's no way to run a country, makes no sense and illustrates the silliness at the heart of Socialism. To believe in the power of the state as an unequivocal force for good, one must either a) refuse to believe that unintended consequences of state action exist, b) regard anyone hit by those consequences as collateral damage or c) seek to further legislate one's way out of whatever whirlwind might come back at them.

Now that's extreme, and dangerous...

Alternatively, you can accept that bad things will happen and cannot always be prevented by what government does, that individual freedom and responsiblity are mutually exclusive and it that a state in which only one of these concepts holds sway will be either anarchic or feudal, and that losing is but a temporary blip for those who are willing and able to step up to the plate. What marks Libertarianism out from other ideologies is that it does not tell life's losers "here's a bit of someone else's money", but instead works on the maxim that "you can, if you believe you can - now go and prove me right".

It almost makes this bunny proud to be both a loser and an extremist - take care and I'll catch you soon.


  1. Liberalism/libertarianism comes from the urge not to be pushed around by bullies and treated like a sheep, and a sense of the importance of justice.

    Such feelings are not uncommon, but a steady dose of fear and nonsense can lead people to accept the inanities and contradictions which we are fed, leading to many not to apply rationally such principles in a consistent manner. These people become the 'mainstream' so-called liberals etc.

    Besides, history is not made by the majority mass, but by small minorities.

  2. Hi TT - thanks for commenting.

    There's an element of this, where authority flags up these threats, problems and identifies a 'greater good' that must always be protected.

    Rational sense is the loser and goes out of the window.

    There's also the question of individuals who think liberally, but only in those areas from which they will benefit themselves.

    Instictive Liberals/Libertarians recognise the need for intellectual consistency and tend to pride themselves on it.

    I'd go a step further and suggest that most of history is made by great individuals, certainly not the herd that's for sure.

  3. Great post Daz; another tour-de-force from you I think!

    You made some very good points here, and I won't comment on them all, just make a few points. 'Extreme' I have found is when someone or some group that isn't connected to wealth or power or political power says something; it's either 'extreme' or, that much bandied word 'controversial'. Poor people are 'extreme' or 'controversial' when they demand a fair wage, whereas if a rich connected person says they should pay less tax even though they're earning millions, somehow that's OK! It's one law for one group and another for another group; such is life.

    I'm beginning to see you have a very viable political outlook; I suppose I lean to the Left but I am coming around to the Libertarian/Liberal point of view. There has, I think in all things, to be balance, compromise even, between all kinds of people and all kinds of different views; that's politics really!

    1. Thanks as ever TC.

      Extreme is anything outside of the 'centre ground' at that moment in time. The trouble is that the centre ground of mainstream politics is so narrow that some Labour and Tory MPs are seen as extreme by their own side.

      Libertarians/Instictive Liberals believe in one law, no fear and no favour. No bailouts for failures, be they rich or poor. That's the only 'fairness' that can be applied.

      It's not so much about compromise, since tough and unpopular decisions are often the right ones. You could argue that compromise from governments looking to balance sense with buying votes is a large part of the reason we are where we are.

      What we have to do is limit the power of the government, thereby limiting that of the 51% it will seek to bribe into voting for them.

  4. "Instinctive Liberals/Libertarians recognise the need for intellectual consistency"

    I think rather self-identifying liberals/libertarians recognise this need, or certainly should do if they want to speak coherently. But instinctive ones may not identify their views with any particular philosophy. I find that with numerous people you can, if you discuss certain subjects, find they are libertarian instinctively, but they are not consistent. One of our tasks as libertarians is to find a way of accessing this latent, unexpressed libertarianism, and enabling it to break free of the entangling statist weeds which very often choke the life out of it.

    1. TT - you're absolutely correct that we need to find those who are instictively liberal, feel they have no natural home in the political mainstream and get them to see for themselves exactly why they don't.

      One of the reasons I enjoy talking to the guys who have contributed regularly here and are ex-LPUK is precisely because they are both instictively liberal and consistent, although that often comes with time around like-minded people.

  5. @ T Childs,

    "There has, I think in all things, to be balance, compromise even, between all kinds of people and all kinds of different views; that's politics really!"

    Purely the interests of balance, I really think the side which says 'less war', 'less police state', 'more liberty' etc. needs you more than the side which says the opposite of these things!

    1. Good point TT. We always need I think in every democracy people who are prepared to see things differently from the mainstream, whatever the mainstream is. This great blog has helped me to see things clearer and Daz has a knack of explaining deeper issues in a clear and concise way.

    2. Thanks again TC - you're not doing my neurosis any favours!!

      Here's TT's excellent blog which I'll add to the reccommended reading on here.

    3. Thanks for the link, Daz.

      @ TC,

      on a lot of issues, I see it as a tug of war. Although we cannot gain victory once and for all, we need to be pulling the rope in the direction of liberty, because there is always a force pulling us towards authoritarianism and control. The state has grown hugely in the last 100 years, and war has been used to grab temporary powers which become permanent. Reflect that prior to WWI we could own firearms without a licence, travel the world without passports and often set up business where we wanted, and there was a world currency in the form of gold, so, although we are better off in a lot of ways, we haven't regained the liberty that we had back then, and are subjects of the state in ways which would have horrified our Victorian ancestors.

  6. Statist ideology is based on the idea that people are selfish and evil. That is why we have to be forced to share (mainly with them and their friends). Their solution to this is to appoint a few non evil people, who are never selfish, to make decisions for everyone else.

    "I have no problem with a dictatorship, so long as I am the dictator" George W Bush

    Your society is pretty fucked up when freedom is seen as an extreme view.

  7. Agreed MNN - the fact that we would be viewed as marginal or extreme from 'the centre ground' says more about it than it does about us.

    I can see someone moving this ground economically at some point in the future, but the soical and constitutional aspects of liberalism, I'm less sure of them re-emerging.