Philip Whiteley's Blog

October 8, 2010

Beware the label of superiority

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 6:34 am

Ideologies are supposed to be a thing of the past. In the post-modern world, where politics is about personalities, too often there aren’t enough ideas, and too much emphasis on personality, rather than adherence to a world view. ‘Whatever works’ was the unofficial logo of New Labour.

But while we can avoid the more obvious dogmas, it is much harder to avoid belief.

New Labour did not engage in any new thinking. It ended up as a bizarre coalition of Thatcherism and Old Labour, managing to contrive a toxic combination of an overly powerful investment banking system and an overly powerful public sector. The result was a record public sector deficit and a distorted economy.

Ideologies are necessary. They only become toxic when groups stop questioning themselves, and beliefs become hardened into dogmas, that are clung to even when their gulf between statement and reality ought to be obvious. George Orwell was masterly in exposing this behavioural dynamic, especially on how an egalitarian movement such as Marxist socialism should end up producing genocidal regimes.

There are gentler versions of the same nowadays. A danger sign is when a group awards itself a label of superiority. Marxists convinced themselves that only they had solidarity with the workers, so everyone else must be a traitor. I’d like to focus on three contemporary ‘labels of superiority’.

Communautaire – this is the preferred term of campaigners for European unity. They assume that everyone opposed to the single currency and a European state must be xenophobic. The irony is that they wage a sectarian battle with the US for leadership of the west, oppose Turkish membership on the basis of religious difference, and have ignored the fact that EU welfare states depend on borrowing from Asia.

Progressive – this is the term Labour politicians like to call themselves, even as they chalk up a record deficit, hand out jobs to cronies on more than 1,000 quangos, and chip away at civil liberties in the UK, with detention without trial, CCTV monitoring of dog walkers, vetting of baby-sitters and so on.

Free market – the investment banks take massive risks with the entire economy, awarding themselves huge bonuses in the good times, expecting state bail-outs when their risks go wrong.

A communautaire movement ended up as xenophobic; progressive politics as statist and corrupt; free market banking as a parasitic subsidised industry.

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