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Thursday, 16 March 2017

CrossTalk: What's Left?



 John Laughland:

There is much too much talk about the Far Right and the Extreme Right and too much head-scratching the rise of parties like the National Front in France and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands. What has happened in fact is not that these parties have risen, it's instead that the centre of gravity across Western Europe has shifted inexorably to the left. When I say the left, I'm not referring to old style socialism which indeed has been abandoned. I am referring instead to the body of liberal left-wing opinion which believes in the end of the nation state, which believes in progress and progressivism and so on and which is daily fighting and winning new battles on completely unexpected things like transgender and gay marriage and all the rest of it. The centre of gravity having moved to the left and the political class having become increasingly dominated not by any relationship to reality, but increasingly by ideology, yes, voters feel alienated and they feel alienated precisely because of this ideology which dominates and which means that political decisions are taken not with respect to reality, not with any desire to influence reality or to react to it, but instead within the self-referential terms of the ideology of left liberalism. So, political decisions are taken to justify even on a symbolic level the ideology to which these people apply. I have increasingly said that politicians, including the famous Brussels bureaucrats, are not politicians or bureaucrats or technocrats, they are instead a kind of clergy engaged in a series of symbolic acts which have meaning for them but which don't have any meaning outside their point of reference and certainly not to an increasing number of voters.

Peter Lavelle:

What we have right now is a crisis of terminology, a crisis of lexicon because you can look at political parties that are hovering around power. They are more interested in power than representation. They are more interested in ideology than the will of the voters. And it is a crisis as to what Conservatism and Liberalism really mean. I really think we have a crisis of lexicon. 

Jeff Deist:

When John mentions clergy, I think that's correct, because I think what we're talking about here is a faith - a faith in neoliberalism that doesn't necessarily match the facts, and I do think that the old left/right paradigms are breaking down. He mentioned Margaret Thatcher stealing votes away from voters. Well, Donald Trump did the same thing in the United States by taking blue collar working class votes from Democrats and at some point we have to ask ourselves a question which is what does that blue collar union truck-driver in a state like New Jersey who likes American football aqnd beer - what does he really have in common with the left wing professor of feminism at Berkeley? What does he have in common with a non-profit ideologue at a place like the Sierra Club? The answer might be not much. So I think we are reaching a point where populism is a healthy thing. When elites become corrupt and when they become corrupt by virtue of their relationship with a state and finance nexus then anti-elitism or populism can be healthy and warranted. 

Peter Lavelle:

You have these elites and they have these party labels on them, but you can look at the elites in both parties particularly the Democratic ones obstructing Trump every step of the way. You have Republicans who are just as obstructionist in many ways as well. They're not representing their party, they're representing their own interests inside this clergy. They are a clergy of ideology and power. 

A lot of people are tired of identity politics, because identity politics doesn't get you a job, it doesn't give you prosperity, it doesn't give you security. It gives small groups of people a good feeling inside - nice and fluffy and warm - but it doesn't make a better society.

John Laughland:

I didn't say voters were moving to the left, I said the political class and the centre of gravity of political debate was moving to the left and voters have stayed where they are, so when we describe the rise of the extreme right, I am implying that the voters have stayed where they are but the politicians have moved to the left leaving the space open for what might wrongly be called the Far Right. 

It is true that the left have abandoned its traditional values and traditional electorate, but the right has as well, and I speaking as a Conservative, I believe very strongly that on balance the left has won battle after battle in the last 25 years since the collapse of state socialism in the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe. The left has not given up its basic ideology of progressivism, revolution, anti-authoritariaism, anti-traditionalism and so on. Instead it has simply transferred itself away from state socialism - so its completely abandoned that aspects of its policy - but it hasn't abandoned any of its underlying ideology of constant revolution and constant progress. Indeed, to the extent that it has adopted the free market and the ideology of globalisation, it has done so only because it sees in those things - as Marx himself incidentally did - an instrument for dismantling structures like the nation and the family. So I see in the last 25 years left and right converging around what is a left liberalism where Conservative values are basically absent or they come out in a mangled and somehow extreme way. A straightforward Conservative party does not exist in Western Europe.

Jeff Deist:

Conservatism Inc is on life support in America. Trump does not represent the resurrection of the GOP. On the contrary, the GOP is dead and buried when it comes to ideas and deservedly so. No one is going to die on a hill for Ryancare. Progressives have shown time and time again they will die on a hill for all kinds of things the American public cares very little about. This is a party that doesn't organise in union halls, it organises in the sociology department of some wretched university somewhere. This is the left in America that has suffered a black eye with Trump, perhaps, but this is a speed bump, not a roadblock. The left in the West controls academia, it controls the media, it controls mainstream religion, it controls corporate boardrooms ... 

BREAK

Peter Lavelle:

Politics and politicians are supposed to resolve problems, that's what we elected them to do. I don't elect people to moralise and tell me what my values should be and this is the speed bump we've been hitting for decades now. We're not solving problems. We're just told how to think about them and usually not your own problems but some other person's problems.

 Kees Van Der Pijl:

Jacque Chirac was once asked about the power of  politics. Chirac said there was no power. We are the ones who see the trains go by and we make sure the barriers are down on time.Society was developing in a progressive way in the post war period. There was work for people, excellent education and healthcare and so on. From the late 70s that has been dismantled. In that situation, people who call themselves left have not replaced this and instead concentrated on such things as transgender rights. Society has moved right because it is in a state of profound stagnation and crisis.

Peter Lavelle:

Peter that call themselves Conservatives who are not, people who call themselves from the left who are not, they have just created on train wreck after another and this is why people are voting in an angry way. They want some new solutions and what we hear is retreads. 

John Laughland:

Jeff's speed bump metaphor was meant to imply that the election of Trump was a minor obstacle and will not prevent the onward march of the left and Jeff is absolutely right. I very strongly agree with this: to emphasise the degree to which the left dominates the world of the media and the world of culture and so on. We are a hundred years after the Russian Revolution and Lenin thought that the way to state socialism was by controlling the state, but there is far more powerful revolutionary figure whose influence goes way beyond that of Lenin and that is Antonio Gramsci who theorised this idea that indeed that the left to win had to colonise the great institutions: universities, schools and so on and as Andrew Breitbart used to say "Politics is downstream of culture." That's why Jacque Chirac said "Politicians just watch the trains go by or the caravans pass" whichever metaphor you prefer, because politics is downstream of culture. We have observed the Soviet system 25 years ago. What people perhaps forget in watching this spectacular historical event is that Marxism was alive and well in the West in Western universities throughout the entire Cold War period with strong Communist parties, plus there were strong pro-Soviet Communist parties, so you had a vast reserve of people in the West - never mind people in the East who believed in Marxism and left wing politics generally, whereas in the East no one really believed in Marxist ideology including senior Soviet leaders. They didn't believe it any more, they stopped believing in it a long time ago. That was not true of the West, so the Soviet system having collapsed we are now left with the inheritance of these generations of people who have been educated in a broadly Marxist system, and those people, educated as I say, in those universities, those people who were young in the 1960s and who were affected by the other great revolutionary - not Lenin but John Lennon - those people are of course in their 60s, and they have now been governing us for decades. 

Peter Lavelle:

I had the opportunity to live in Poland and Hungary before they joined the European Union and I've lived in Russian for almost 20 years but I told Poles and Hungarians "You think your culture is important and that's your right, but you want to join a club that doesn't care much about your culture and your values and - voila! - we have two countries in the European Union that are criticised severely by the "clergy" - but culture does matter! The political class don't want to respect culture and if you do you're backward, you're primitive, you're old fashioned, but they're wrong and we're right. 

Jeff Deist:

Poland will forever be a renegade for the simple fact that they are a religious country within the EU. This is not allowed or accepted any more and it's interesting when John mentioned this blathering about the Far Right and AfD and Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen being white noise and nonsense - it is white noise and nonsense because the real authoritarians are in every public school in America, they're in every university in America - the petty people on the left who would control us and gtovern us, who would restrict our speech. There's one thing they're right about and I don't want to call them liberals because I don't think that's a term that's earned, but I will say that the one thing the left is correct about is that Trump and Le Pen and Geert Wilders is that they are reactionaries. This is a reaction. The question is a reaction to what? The answer is a century of progressivism that has never been popular in a pure democratic sense in any Western country. This has always been imposed from the top down and has never arisen from the bottom up, and people don't like it. There's still a pulse, there's still a heartbeat that says I want transgender people to be treated well and to have happy lives but I don't think it is the momentous issue of the day where they go to the bathroom, for God's sake. We've reached a point where left and right doesn't matter and that heartbeat, that pulse does matter. 

Peter Lavelle:

I don't want to give the transgender point more time than it deserves, but that's the point, isn't it? This is what people are told to talk about and think about when the infrastructure of Europe is in decay, when the infrastructure of America is in decay, and we need more space for those issues and I will never stop talking about the need for people to have work and well paid work, because that's where you get dignity in our society and I don't see our political classes addressing those issues. 

Kees Van Der Pijl:

In 2012 Francois Hollande was elected on the promise that he would end austerity. One trip to Berlin was sufficient to forget about that promise and gay marriage was then the compensating factor. It cost him the Muslim vote in France which he had won because of his promises on the economic front. I am of the left and am in a university but in the 1960s our relevance was not because of our brilliant ideas because behind that was a powerful working class which was unionised. Behind that was the Soviet Union which is unrelated but it was there, and now we can have fantastic ideas but there is nothing behind us and that is why we are completely ignored.

Peter Lavelle:

One thing that seems to be prevalent in all of this in the US elections and now Europe is the lack of introspection on what has gone wrong and all you do is blame Russia for it. That is one of the most pathetic reactions to not knowing what to do and not owning up to your own mistakes.

John Laughland:

It just enters psychiatric territory, doesn't it, when every single conceivable evil is projected onto Russia with no evidence whatever. I think that this is a consequence of a more general trend. What I said just now quoting Andrew Breitbart that politics is downstream of culture, I was referring to what I believe to be a left wing political culture in universities, but there is a cultural problem in more general terms. As education has declined, as people have fewer cultural references and fewer external cultural references, as they have fewer religious references, they just don't have the fabric, the intellectual or moral or spiritual fabric to do anything other than what the herd -  the political herd or the political caste - tell them to do. So you have this narrowing of the cultural base and you have an ever increasing series of taboos ...




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