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Converts

August 8th, 2005

I’ve had a few brushes recently with people who’ve shifted, politically, from positions well to my left to positions well to my right. There’s some useful discussion (and some not so useful) of this and related phenomena in this Crooked Timber comments thread following up a post by Chris Bertram about Nick Cohen, a recent exemplar of the left-right shift. I’m taking points from various commenters with whom I agreed, without acknowledging them: read the thread and you can see who has said what.

A couple of things have struck me about this process. One is that, even though the shift from radical left to neoconservativism or neoliberalism is rarely instantaneous, and appears in some ways to be a smooth transition, there doesn’t usually seem to be any intermediate stage at which people in this process hold a position similar to my own (social democratic in domestic policy, internationalist in foreign policy and reluctant to support war except as a last resort). Rather, what seems to happen is that leftist modes of critique are used, increasingly, to defend rightwing policy positions.

An obvious example is the way in which ex-Marxists seize on largely incoherent notions of ‘the new class’ and ‘elites’ (typically defined in cultural terms rather than with any analysis of economic or political power) as a way of attacking their former allies. Eventually, this kind of thing is often abandoned in favour of traditional conservative or free-market rhetoric, but by this time, the shift in political position is usually complete.

The other is that, although people change their opinions, they generally don’t change the confidence with which they express them or their attitudes to those who disagree. If they were thoughtful and sceptical as leftists, they generally remain so. If they regarded all who disagreed with their leftwing shibboleths as fools or knaves, they will take exactly the same view of those who disagree with them when they begin spouting rightwing shibboleths instead.

This is disappointing in two respects. First, having been (on your own assessment) badly wrong once, ought to inculcate some sense that it is possible you might be wrong again. I don’t think this ought to reduce you to agnostic inertia, but it’s surely a good reason for humility[1].

This ought to be true collectively rather than individually. I’m always stunned when people (particularly those old enough to remember the postwar boom) advance free-market economic arguments with the air of someone stating matters of scientifically proven fact. The same arguments were regarded as hopelessly exploded fallacies in the heyday of Keynesianism, refuted not only in theoretical terms but by the brute fact of the Great Depression. Experience since the 1970s suggested that Keynesians were premature in their triumph, but this ought to have produced humility about the limits of economic knowledge rather than new round of triumphalism from the neoliberal side.

Second, while the left may not have the winning argument on every issue, there are plenty of left arguments that are strong enough that the right typically ignores them rather than confronting them head-on. For example, anyone who’s looked hard at a left analysis of the way the media stereotype groups like the unemployed ought to be immune to simple-minded claims about leftwing media bias (Keith Windschuttle’s book Unemployment was very good on this point). Yet lots of ex-leftists seem to forget things they once knew, and espouse arguments they could formerly refute. (The same is true, in reverse, I’m sure, but I haven’t seen so many examples of the process).

fn1. I know I don’t always practice what I preach in this respect, and some modes of argument like opinion columns don’t allow for equivocation, but I do try to acknowledge that there are people who’ve thought carefully and well about the issue and come to the opposite conclusion.

UpdateJason Soon has more and points to an earlier piece by Paul Norton

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  1. Andrew Reynolds
    August 11th, 2005 at 11:10 | #1

    Perhaps the point should also be made that the far left and the far right are not actually that different to each other. There is not that much difference between the positions taken by (say) One Nation and those of the old Labor left. Both believed in restricted trade and restricted immigration as a means of holding up wages, repressive social policies and government guided enterprise. The only real difference seems to be in the question as to who owns the means of production.
    The real standouts are those that go from advocating a strong state to a more liberal point of view – the one that really springs to mind is Nelson Mandela, starting as a communist and involved in violence (admittedly against an unjust State) and moving to a man of peace and tolerant views.
    People who oscillate between extremes are, in my experience at least, those who are inwardly unsure of themselves and attempting to project an appearance of utter certainty to compensate for it.

  2. Ros
    August 11th, 2005 at 11:43 | #2

    Interesting the way the discussion topics seem to move so fast across the blogosphere.

    “Harry Hatchett says many on today’s anti-war left strikingly resemble right-wing nationalists and isolationists. It begs the question then. Who, really, are the new conservatives? I couldn’t care less, personally, about being tainted with conservative cooties. But those who fear and loathe the idea might want to read Harry’s essay.”

    Instapundit 10 august posted at 03:46 PM by Michael Totten

    Harry’s Place argument also referred to on Crooked Timber comments.

    “This is the curious thing about the past few years – a large part of the anti-Harry Hatchett war left has effectively substituted for the isolationist right. People who would proudly describe themselves as ‘internationalists’ have found themselves muttering about meddling and puffing indignantly about the rights of ‘sovereign states’.

    The best example of this came when Gore Vidal was asked about how else the Iraqi people could be freed from Saddam’s terror state and replied: “Don’t you think that’s their problem? That’s not your problem and that’s not my problem.â€?â€?

    He also considers the argument that C Hitchens has become a right winger nonsense.

    Or maybe it is all as relevant as as an irritated Geoff Honnor on the state of blogs and the left and right.

    “Here I was, asking “important questionsâ€? a while back in this thread, like a knock-knee’d Pollyanna on Pixie dust. Inevitably, it was all for naught as the inexorable “take that lefty, piss off rightyâ€? exchange ensued. If blogs are the future, I’m Ken Parish“

  3. August 11th, 2005 at 11:46 | #3

    “Perhaps the point should also be made that the far left and the far right are not actually that different to each other. There is not that much difference between the positions taken by (say) One Nation and those of the old Labor left. Both believed in restricted trade and restricted immigration as a means of holding up wages, repressive social policies and government guided enterprise.”

    To be fair to the zealous converts, most of them do not really fit that mould. Whatever you might say against Windschuttle, Ackerman, Horowitz et al, they are not really racists or even true immigration restrictionists along the lines of, say, John Stone, nor were they even traditional statist leftists when they were in their leftist phases – more like permanent revolutionaries/anarchists. This is the key to their transformation. They are temperamentally Jacobins/utopians. They have just gone from one means of Jacobin revolution to another.

  4. Rob
    August 11th, 2005 at 11:57 | #4

    I don’t think you’re right, Dave. Maybe I’m being selective, but I see the movement much more as away from the fringe left and into the centre. Hitchens is a case in point. He’s irritating at times, and occasionally wrong (IMO, as in his views on Mother Theresa). He’s made a good, rational case for the current intervention in Iraq, and also for the completion of the ‘unfinished’ first gulf war, which he has argued should have been pursued to the point of removing Saddam. I still don’t agree with the first point, but have come around to agreeing with the second (although Bush Sr. has good strategic reasons for not pursuing the war to its logical conclusion). But in either case, it’s not scare quote ‘far right’ politics we’re talking about: these are rational, sustainable and supportable positions, whether we personally agree with them or not. From my reading of the international press, Hitchens is more typical of your left defector than is Horowitz.

  5. Paul Norton
    August 11th, 2005 at 12:35 | #5

    “The real standouts are those that go from advocating a strong state to a more liberal point of view – the one that really springs to mind is Nelson Mandela, starting as a communist and involved in violence (admittedly against an unjust State) and moving to a man of peace and tolerant views.”

    As far as I know, Mandela was never a communist. He spent much of his twenty-seven years in prison attempting to convert his communist cellmates to social democracy, whilst continuing to regard them as comrades. In the context of apartheid South Africa, the communists were valuable allies for the democratic movement. There were anti-apartheid liberals and trotskyists who were too fastidious to cooperate with the SACP, and the logic of this position led them to a stance of effective abstention from the anti-apartheid struggle. Subjectively, I think Mandela always was a “man of peace and tolerant views” who for much of his life was confronted by a deeply unjust state which had little time for “peace and tolerant views”.

    Perhaps a better exemplar of Andrew’s point is Mikhail Gorbachev, who set in train the dissolution of a strong (but dysfunctional) state, and who states in his memoirs that by 1988 he had abandoned the view that socialism should totally prevail and believed that a dynamic and progressive society needed a mix of liberalism and socialism.

  6. Katz
    August 11th, 2005 at 12:40 | #6

    I guess Hitchens and all those leftie-hawks who supported a “rational case” for Bush Junior’s Iraq frolic won’t appreciate the following joke:

    Q: What’s the shortest American joke in Iraq?

    A: “We’re winning!”

  7. Stephen L
    August 11th, 2005 at 14:05 | #7

    Rob, I think you’ve misunderstood what I was saying, which is understandable given how verbose I was.

    Basically my point is that people change politics for a whole range of reasons, and that some of these reasons occur at all times through history, and some only occur during certain eras.

    I don’t dispute your reasons for changing politics, nor saying they are unprincipled. I’m just saying that they apply to a minority of those who have shifted, and that in regard to people born after 1965 those sort of things will be the *only* reason someone will shift from left to right, whereas at other times plenty of other people will shift for other reasons.

    On the other hand, there is normally only one process that might cause people to change from right to left, but exceptional factors of the current era mean that there are quite a few others.

    Consequently, where there is normally a trickle of people moving right to left, and a flood moving left to right, amongst post 1965ers (or 1962 if Paul W is right) there is only a trickle from left to right, and if not a flood at least a steady flow in the other direction.

    So I’m not trying to invalidate your shift, only say far more people of your generation will have done so, often for different reasons, than will occur with people my age.

    The other part of it is of course defining what is meant by left and right. In making my analysis I have to use rather blunt groupings, but I’d classify someone who opposes Howard on IR, refugees and Iraq and votes Labor as still being left, although depending on your position on various other things possibly quite moderate left. The terms are slippery, and all one can do is try to assess an average position, which may be inconsitent with someone’s position on a particular issue.

  8. Homer Paxton
    August 11th, 2005 at 14:38 | #8

    SL,
    That is a tad simplistic.
    I must tell the Sydney Anglicans they are a bunch of lefties as they oppose Howard on those three issues.

    You have to look at the REASONS people oppose.
    Eg both Sydney Anglicans and the Uniting denomination oppose Howard on those three issues but for substantial different reasons.
    One takes a solidly conservative road the other a liberal road.

    I remember back when howard was Oppo leader the first time trying to get him to understand there was an inherent contradiction between being an economic liberal and a social conservative but it never hit home.
    Sometimes you have to choose which idea is better of the two you support.

  9. Andrew Reynolds
    August 11th, 2005 at 16:00 | #9

    Paul,
    If I remember correctly, there was a reason why Amnesty never campaigned for Mandela to be released – he was properly convicted of a violent offence. While that may have been a proper response to a violent and oppresive government, there certainly was a move from violence to peace. In his early days he was certainly sympathetic to communism, while I stand corrected that he was actually a communist.
    In Gorbachev’s case I am not convinced there is any actual evidence that he ever ordered violence, although some certainly did go on under him, that may have just been the way it had always been done. The good thing about Gorbachev is that he did not order the tanks out in response to the Polish situation and then again in response to the situation in the southern republics. For that, I would agree, the citizens of the former Soviet Union should be thankful to him.

  10. Paul Watson
    August 11th, 2005 at 16:06 | #10

    A bit surprised no one has so far played the generational card on X’er Barnaby Joyce (born 17.4.1967) vs the Rest-of-the-World (almost) political in-fight re VSU. (To me, it’s depressingly obvious, and has nought to do with “agrarian socialism� – the charge levelled at BJ’s plan for some kind of regional uni exemption from the knock-on effects of VSU – ironically, a charge made, not by head-kicker Nelson, but by fellow coalition anti-VSU’er, Senator Alan Eggleston.)
    http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2005/s1433826.htm

    In particular, yesterday’s Oz went to amazing lengths to personally discredit Joyce, but *not* Eggleston, despite (i) the latter taking an objectively much-harder line, and (ii) Eggleston (born 30.12.1941), a Liberal representing WA, not having sought, AFAIK, the political “shelter� of Joyce’s raison d’etre, that his stance is simply representing the (peculiar) residents of his (peculiar) state.

    In other words, if there’s anyone who deserves a media caning for flying dangerously solo here, it’s Eggleston. But different rules apply to Xers, it seems, when it comes to the media dishing out corporal punishment (whoever may have actually ordered this doesn’t matter here).

    Yesterday’s Oz beat-up started with a front page splash, that lead into a p.4 story, hinting (a) that Joyce’s rugby-playing salad-days at UNE may be unduly influencing his stance on the whole VSU issue, and (b) since the rest of the Qld Nat’s, bar one, were non-uni educated, Joyce should just fuggadaboutit (only a boomer tool could ever regard a request for someone to relinquish their education as a modest ask). (“Sporting senator onside for fees�:)
    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,16210126%255E2702,00.html

    What a crock – in contrast, the plain fact that the whole pro-VSU push *is* a personal agenda, and nothing but – driven by ex-student pollie boomers (plus Xer Sophie Panopolous) who all got whipped by the Left (and Labor Right) in 1970s and 80s campus elections, receives only scant media attention.

    Meanwhile, the Oz’s editorial (“Campus follies�) played “good cop� on Joyce. This time, it was unnamed “*Liberal* wets [who] are getting wobbly on the [VSU] bill because of the supposed devastation it threatens to the rugby pavilions and cricket pitches of their alma maters.� So what personal slights did the Oz editorial have for Joyce, then? (And of course for no one else, by name). Just this:

    “Senator Joyce would be well advised to listen more to some of the older, wiser heads in his partyroom, and a little less to noisy special interests in his home state�.

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,16205396%255E7583,00.html

    Okay, I know that Eggleston is not directly in Joyce’s partyroom, but Arrogant Boomer DNA is all over the reference to “older, wiser heads� even without this pointed hypocrisy being considered. Joyce is 38 years old. If someone can show me a similar quote – that objectively (= not making a partisan point) alleges immaturity on a 38 y.o. (or older) uni-educated neophyte’s part compared to that person’s older *peers* – being levelled against any Australian pollie in the last 30 years, I’ll promise to give up my anti-boomer tirades, once and for all. John Howard being told that in 1978 or later? Peter Costello in 1995 or later? But please prove me wrong here, people, if you can.

  11. Katz
    August 11th, 2005 at 16:22 | #11

    Let’s cut to the chase on the issue of the intellectual credibility of Marxism.

    Marxism ceased to seize intellectuals for two main reasons.

    1. It failed to enable prediction of the future.

    2. It failed adequately to explain the past.

    And I believe that it is true to say that, in the West, Marxism was seen to fail in that order. Marxism remained academic orthodoxy in many History and Sociology Departments in the West long after Marxism ceased to inspire mass political movements in the West.

    Politically active Marxist intellectuals were exposed to the disgusting consequences of Communist tyrants attempting by terror to make history move along Marxist lines. Collectivisation, clumsy and banal propaganda, absurd gyrations in foreign policy tipped these folk off long before armchair Marxists began to notice that their theories were threadbare.

  12. jquiggin
    August 11th, 2005 at 16:30 | #12

    “If someone can show me a similar quote – that objectively (= not making a partisan point) alleges immaturity on a 38 y.o. (or older) uni-educated neophyte’s part compared to that person’s older peers – being levelled against any Australian pollie in the last 30 years, I’ll promise to give up my anti-boomer tirades, once and for all. John Howard being told that in 1978 or later? ”

    Happy to oblige. From Howard’s Wikipedia entry

    in December 1977 he was appointed Treasurer at the age of 38: he was known as “the boy Treasurer.”

    Quotes from this era aren’t easily accessible to Google and similar, but Howard’s relative youth was regularly raised in terms similar to those you cite. The same was true of Keating when he briefly became a minister in 1975.

  13. Ros
    August 11th, 2005 at 16:45 | #13

    It probably wasn’t that Howard didn’t understand that there was an inherent contradiction between being an “economic liberal� and a “social conservative�. Rather his knowledge of the world was more in keeping with the following aspect of conservatism.

    Honderich and the Oxford Companion to Philosophy.
    “Despite what is sometimes claimed, there is, in fact no conflict between conservatism and the free market, once markets are understood as simply the most efficient way we know of enabling individuals to pursue their own ends, and once it is realised that markets depend for their proper running on an antecedent framework of law and morality.�

    And even if that wasn’t so, Lakoff argues that it is more the case that individuals have multiple models of conceptual systems with which they operate in various domains than they don’t. So individuals may have a number of inconsistent models.

    Howard’s position on the economy and society however wasn’t, and isn’t contradictory.

  14. Dave Ricardo
    August 11th, 2005 at 17:12 | #14

    “once markets are understood as simply the most efficient way we know of enabling individuals to pursue their own ends”

    I see. So, if I wanted to pursue my own end of altering my mind by buying drugs on the free market, or sex on the free market, John Howard would approve.

    I think not. If that is because “markets depend for their proper running on an antecedent framework of law and morality” then that is simply defining the problem away. Conservatives believe in a free market for evetything except the things tey find immoral. Some people find the selling of food and children clothing on the free market to be immoral. Maybe conservatives should put a stop to that too.

  15. Ros
    August 11th, 2005 at 18:39 | #15

    The proposition put Dave was that Howard wasn’t suffering from confusion being an “economic liberal� and a “social conservative�. And I think the word AND has some meaning here.

    Perhaps if the proposition was framed this way you might be more comfortable with it.

    If markets are understood as simply the most efficient way we know of enabling individuals to pursue their own ends, and it is realised that markets depend for their proper running on an antecedent framework of law and morality, then there is no conflict between being a “economic liberal� and a “social conservative�

    The argument is that this is the conservative position hence Howard is not suffering a failure in logic.

    I think though you are probably putting the proposition that

    “Is conservatism based on nothing more than self-interest bolstered up by a fine sounding but ultimately shifty obscurantism�

    From the same source again I would ask you to consider the following

    �The conservative, though, will be more resistant to centralised controls and blueprints than his opponents on the left. This resistance arises not out of sheer obscurantism nor out of failure to recognise the need for limited social interventions. It is rather because the conservative is more sensitive than his opponents to the unintended consequences of such plans, to their potential bureaucratic bossiness and interference, “

    It would seem that you think that conservatism is nothing of the sort, rather an ideology of the selfish and mean minded, indeed the venal. So be it. But it would seem to be difficult to develop a rational opinion of those moving left to right while rejecting a reasonable well respected source for what is conservatism.

    Or maybe it is just as Lakoff would argue, both liberals and conservatives just don’t speak each others language.

    Am not heavily swayed by the food and children’s clothing sold in a free market may be considered immoral hence conservatives may have some responsibility to introduce a central command system for these commodities. Don’t get its relevance actually.

    Also I don’t actually know what John Howard’s view of a free market for prostitution is. I would assume that as a social conservative he wasn’t a big fan. But I am sure he would get the relevance of AND in the proposition.

  16. abb1
    August 11th, 2005 at 19:04 | #16

    Katz, I’m not sure what you mean by ‘Marxism’ in this context. His ‘historical materialism’, the idea that historical change is a process dirven by class conflict, by economics: “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.”?

    My impression is that the neocons, for example, don’t disagree with this concept at all, it’s just that instead of the final stage of ‘communism’, they found their ‘end of history’ in what they call ‘liberal democracy’, which, as they see it, is largely free of any contradictions that could produce further changes in socio-economic structure. So, the neocons are, basically, Marxists, only slightly, very lightly revisionist.

    Here again, with their desire to advance this perfect, free of contradictions model by force, we have what you call ‘attempting by terror to make history move along Marxist lines’; but, as with the dreaded ‘Communist tyrants’, I don’t see how this can be construed as a fault of Marxism.

    Either the model is free of contradictions or it’s not; if it’s not, it’ll evolve into something else. That’s all there is to it, what dogmatic ideologues do is irrelevant.

  17. Katz
    August 11th, 2005 at 19:43 | #17

    Well spotted Abb1 re the debt owed by many neocons to vulgar marxism.

    And indeed marxism deserved better champions. It can be said that the Soviets failed marxism rather than vice versa.

    However, intellectually, the notion of anything “determining” anything else in our complex, multifactorial world seems to me to be an abdication of intellectual curiosity.

  18. abb1
    August 11th, 2005 at 19:56 | #18

    Ah, yes, meet Roberto Mangabeira Unger.

  19. Dave Ricardo
    August 11th, 2005 at 21:57 | #19

    Ros, I am not arguing that it is logically inconsistenct to be an economic liberal AND a social conservative. I am arguing that in order for these positions to be consistent, requires an arbitrary framework of law and morality.

    Implicit on the Lakoff view of conservatism is an assumption that there exists a generally accepted framework of law and morality which trumps the rights of individuals to do as they please in economic exchanges. I put it to you that no such generally accepted framework framework exists. While (just about) everybody accepts that babies shoudn’t be sold in a free market, there is genuine disagreement about drugs and sex and other things too. There are people who think it is immoral for day care centres to make a profit. I happen to disagree, but that view is genuinely held.

    It’s the age-old question: where do you draw the line? The answer is a matter of personal taste. Thus while John Howard may think there is no contradiction between economic liberalism and social conservatism, that’s only because he has drawn the line where he has felt like drawing it. Which is nice for him, but what about the rest of us?

  20. Ros
    August 12th, 2005 at 00:10 | #20

    Sorry I have not made myself clear. Lakoff’s contribution to my argument is merely that it is quite usual for individuals to hold multiple models of conceptual systems that can often be inconsistent, but they apply those models in different domains and it is the reasoning used in each case that has to be looked at. And that conservatives and liberals have different worldviews and sometimes the same words have very different meanings which should be accounted for by the differences in their world view. That is Lakoff considers that words don’t have meaning in isolation but are defined relative to a conceptual system. Somewhat possibly demonstrated by our struggle to get what the other is saying.

    Just as we are saying and hearing something different re the following, “a generally accepted framework of law and morality which trumps the rights of individuals to do as they please in economic exchanges.� The source for my quote is the Oxford Companion to Philosophy on conservatism. And whereas Lakoff is about description, the theory applying to conservatism from which I draw some aspects I consider resonate with Howard, is prescriptive, that is not what his unconscious worldviews are, rather what the conservative approach to political and social questions is. Therefore I do not see Howard as drawing any lines, rather that to be a economic liberal and a social conservative is consistent with being a conservative. Your objection that a generally accepted framework of law and morality exists I have no argument with. Indeed surely it is one of the great arguments of western thought and it is proposed in the Companion that the major problem of current and traditional moral philosophy is coming up with a rationally defensible theory of right and wrong action.

    I think that we agree that we may well argue about the principles with which to systematise moral judgements, we would certainly disagree about the morality of a specific case, John Howard. But I was discussing initially the theory of conservatism, it is instructive to try and improve my own understanding and communication competence.

    This was started on the basis of left to right but very much from a moral perspective, about rightness and wrongness. All who one reads in place such as this seem to be very sure about morality. I do wonder. As I have grown older I even struggle to locate myself within a particular ethical theory. If I had to prove that it was wrong to kill another, particularly an other other I would be hard pressed to mount an adequate argument. That is my journey, from surety to confusion and every moral or political decision requires painful thought. Hence caution about change and reliance on tradition, what makes me such a good conservative. I wasn’t always so, why can’t the progression of these (of whom I feel there is a “rat� thing lurking) just be a life path thing, and intrinsic not extrinsic, even if some claim it is the latter. Just good old retrospective coherence, that great companion of hindsight.

  21. Ian Gould
    August 12th, 2005 at 09:25 | #21

    >In Gorbachev’s case I am not convinced there is any actual evidence that he ever ordered violence, although some certainly did go on under him…

    IIRC, he (and Yeltsin) were members of the Soviet Politburo during the invasion of Poland and the suppression of Solidarity.

    They may not have voted in favor of the actiosn that resulted in the death of two million Afghans but they certainly didn’t oppose them publicly.

  22. Dave Ricardo
    August 12th, 2005 at 09:34 | #22

    I recall some demonstrations in Lithuania in the late 80s where the authorities stepped in and killed a lot of people. I don’t know whether Gorby himself ordered a crackdown, but he was numero uno when it happened.

    Speaking of Yeltsin, he now lives in St Tropez, in a house apparently valued in the tens of millions of dollars. He must have been a very good superannuation scheme.

  23. gordon
    August 12th, 2005 at 10:40 | #23

    Abb1, re: nationalism, it is almost as slippery a concept as “left-wingery”. I regard myself as a nationalist because I see that the only forms of democracy and rule of law we have are products of the nation-state. The nationalism of Cohen, however, seems to be a form of “rally round the flag” in response to ” tyrannical, homophobic, misogynist, racist and homicidal” Islamism. This is a sort of nationalism frequently used for ulterior motives – remember the Reichstag fire, the “Maine” sinking and the “domino effect”. I am suspicious of it. Maybe Mr Cohen thinks there is a real threat and maybe he thinks a perceived threat is useful for other reasons. I don’t know.

    I can’t help having some sympathy for Cohen’s view that the post-Marxist “left” is now directionless: ” When Tony Blair goes we will have the first Labour leadership election without a serious left-wing candidate. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine what a serious left-wing candidate would look like and what his or her programme might be.” This is a situation independent of outside threats, and from the point of view of politics in, say, the OECD countries, much more serious and interesting. God knows we see the same situation here in Oz, with people frankly joking that ALP now stands for Another Liberal Party.

  24. Andrew Reynolds
    August 12th, 2005 at 12:18 | #24

    Ian, Dave,
    Either way, Gorby pulled back from the edge of unleashing the Soviet army on the East Germans, Poles and his own people where Stalin, Brezhnev etc. would not have hesitated.
    .
    abb1, Katz,
    Marxism failed itself. There is a reason why, except in very small communities for a short time, it has never worked the way Marx intended – because he never said what he intended it to be or do. The plan was to build up the State (as a Dictatorship of the Proletariat), use the State’s coercive power to destroy the class enemies and, once they were destroyed, the State would fade away. Marx never said what a dictatorship of the proletariat was, never said how the class enemies were to be identified, how the state was to be run while in the dictatorship phase or how it was to whither away or what was to replace it except in the most general terms.
    He could not, because it would have made it blatently obvious that it was a crock from stem to stern and with no more science behind it than astrology has had he done so.

  25. Stephen L
    August 12th, 2005 at 14:06 | #25

    Homer, the Sydney Anglicans may have disagreed with Howard on the three issues named, but I’d be surprised if many voted Labor at the last election (or any).

    Any attempt to reduce people’s complex political views to a left-right axis will necessarily be simplistic, but I think that how people vote is the single most important test, though not the only one. To some extent it expresses where they, not necessarily consiously, see themselves on that axis.

    The Sydney Anglicans disagree with Howard on a number of things, but consider them less important than the issues where they agree, so they give him their vote (probably after Family First and the Christian Democrats). That indicates a broadly right-wing position to me.

  26. Paul Watson
    August 12th, 2005 at 16:39 | #26

    This thread’s getting so long in the tooth I feel that I should start with an old Ugly Dave Gray joke . . .

    Anyway, Rob wrote (August 11th, 2005 at 9:11 am):

    “[Paul] you’re reading something into my comment that I certainly never intended. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) connote anything of the kind, just the cold laws of labour economics. I said it was morally impossible to argue they should not have been paid at the same rate as Europeans.”

    Rob, I’m unconvinced by your “cold laws of labour economics” argument. While such a view is certainly widely held – viz that the pastoralists would never have acted economically irrationally, in sacking (black) workers who were at least as good as their (white) replacements – it ignores the exogenous and longer-term factors at work in the pastoralists’ decisions, some of which I have alluded to. I certainly didn’t mean to connote, in my earlier comment, that you were racist (and if I did so connote, then I duly apologise and retract).

    What I was trying to say is that there is a fair bit of literature on just how good Indigenous pastoral workers were at doing their jobs, even in the slave labour days. Of course, such literature sits very awkwardly with any endogenous/law-of-economics explanation on why they were peremptorily sacked upon the arrival of “equal” (actually *any*, unless you count basic provisions in kind) pay. So either this literature (mainly Indigenous oral histories) is a fabrication, or there were indeed exogenous/longer-term factors at work that, in this case, distorted the usual iron laws of economics.

  27. Ian Gould
    August 12th, 2005 at 17:19 | #27

    The Left has lost a couple of its great icons in recent decades – the Soviet Union is dead, buried and generally unmourned; state ownership of industry is widely discredited.

    However I believe this is a source of strength as much as of weakness – the Right has lost much of the pragmatism that defined it (at least in Australia and the US) in the 60′s and 70′s. The Right seems increasingly like the left of the 1970s – doctrinaire; riven by internal ideological divisions and unwilling to subject its ideas to empirical tests.

  28. abb1
    August 12th, 2005 at 18:00 | #28

    Gordon, yes, of course there’s a clear distinction between nationalist chauvinism and solidarity. I’m not sure it’s slippery.

    Andrew, Marxism as a political practice – yes, you’re right. I was talking about scientific analysis, critique of society.

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