Tuesday, 15 November 2016

An Odd Comparison To Russian Conservatism

There is an interesting article currently up at the News Lens International, republished from the Lowy Interpreter, in which the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum result are compared to the "conservatism" of Russian president Vladimir Putin as reflecting elements of a "post-liberal" ideology. My comment is as below...


This is an interesting, though poorly written article. The following sentence illustrates both qualities... "Whereas globalisation (which it knowingly calls the "emancipation of the oligarchs") represents a neo-liberal "revenge of the elites" that "crushes the middle class from above," the ubiquitous "expansion of minorities" brought about by mass migration, and the left’s identity politics "undermines it from below."

My parsing of that is that the movement of capital overseas results in job losses at home, just as uncontrolled immigration and identitarian politics erodes traditional working class culture, with the result that there is a "crisis of solidarity". Whilst that is recognizably true to some measure, the description is flawed not only by awkward, buzzword phrasing and a noisy flock of parenthetical comments, but also by the author's continuous misuse of the word "liberal". The problem is not simply a semantic complaint about the distinctly American corruption of this term*, but the errors of description that arise from its misuse... "...that despite their formal opposition the liberal principles from which both left and right proceed in the modern West actually unite them in seeking the "overthrow of the “dictatorship” of collective identities and the transformation of all obligations connected with them into dissolvable contractual relationships." It’s this collusion between the West's left and right that has opened up a space for an apparently post-liberal such as Trump..." The Left in both the U.S. and Europe do not proceed from liberal principles like freedom of speech and freedom of association, which are principles of negative liberty. Rather, they reason from principles of "positive liberty", which is why they conceive of "rights" to goods and services and intangible things like "respect", and disavow discrimination as a denial of those rights. Consequently the Left actually embraces multiple collective identities - based on race, sex, "gender", sexual preference, religion and god knows what other crap they will come up with next. The Left does not want to see obligations (for example for one person to provide another with healthcare services) reduced to "dissolvable contractual relationships", but rather to see those obligations enshrined in State legislation and administered by State sponsored programs so that the range and terms of these obligations can be controlled by political means, rather than left to the vagaries of the free market. Those criticisms aside however, it is probably true that both the Brexit referendum result and the election of Trump were brought about in part by a reaction against the uncontrolled movement of both capital (away from the West) and immigrants (into the West) and that this does in fact reflect the increasing break down and fragmentation of the Western body politic in both Britain and the U.S. So on that score, the author and the Russian intellectual he cites are probably on to something. * A "liberal" in Europe is someone who favours constitutionally limited government and free markets, whereas a "liberal" in the U.S. is someone who favours unlimited government intervention and "social justice".


1 comment:

  1. Liberal is a euphemism for socialist in the U.S. Hence, the name Libertarian is used to denominate liberals in the classical European sense, although Libertarians in the U.S. appear, unfortunately, quite naive, isolationist, and nationalistic.


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