by Graham Cunningham (May 2007)
If it were possible to distil all the current affairs output of the last few years into just a few headlines the biggest story of all would be this: Western Liberalism Attacks Itself. If you turn the sound down low on any radio or television current affairs so that you cannot hear the substance but only the tone, you will find that it is nearly always the same tone. The tone is a sustained tut tut. The target is government, business,
The talk today is of Western culture suddenly in crisis but the roots of the malaise lie deep in its history. The biggest and most cancerous root starts at the point – more than a century ago – when the concepts of left and right became our main political/philosophical currency. Ever since it became an almost universal axiom that what we call left wing equals warmth, moral conscience and idealism and what we call right wing equals coldness and selfish pragmatism. The original focus of the left/right fallacy was the so-called class struggle. It was the first in a line of myth making about a victim who is warm and morally innocent and a villain who is cold and rational and lives in a big house on the hill.
There were two very telling features of the socialism / class struggle myth. The first is to notice who was actually telling the story. Notice that this was not the oppressed proletarian figure. It was the rather sophisticated man living in the not-quite-so-big house. The real object of the righteous indignation was likewise not what it seemed. The anger that drove the socialist intellectual was not hatred of suffering. It was bile towards his own (but slightly more successful) kind. This is still the true essence of liberal left psychology today. It is a cocktail of inverted snobbery, designer atavism, sentimentality and adolescent spitefulness.
A second most revealing aspect of the liberal left is that it seems to matter surprisingly little to them that their political aims are not actually achieved. Consider the history of that universal shibboleth social justice. It is now virtually unheard of to question the assumption that the better off are somehow to blame for the mire into which other parts of humanity can sink and that they should therefore do something about it. And yet as we survey the results of a hundred years of social justice what do we find? There is still an educated and savvy middle class just like before and there is still an ignorant and brutalised underclass just like before. The only real change is that the middle class has grown and the traditional working class has correspondingly shrunk. This social change is explained far better by the workings of capitalism and technological innovation than it is by any politically driven social engineering. And yet the myth of progressive political action persists. The reason why it persists is that even though the progressive politics does not actually work in any practical sense, what it does do is make the champagne socialist liberal feel better – more virtuous.
The world of the educated liberal and the council estate proletarian are as far apart as ever. The fact that this continues to be true even after all these decades of corrective social policy should – one would have thought – be intolerable to the left wing liberal and yet somehow it is not. The reason is that the real psychological driving force of the left is not a profound bond of human fellowship but the desire of a morally confused intelligentsia to escape their own self-loathing neurosis. The way it works is this: as long as you are left wing you can tell yourself that you are not only a nicer person, you are also radical and therefore not boring.
Even though socialism and class struggle has largely now gone out of fashion the psychology which underpins it has merely moved on to new causes like human rights and anti-globalisation. In recent decades the myth of a morally superior working class has rippled out to an ever-broader spectrum of perceived victims both within and without Western society. Within Western society the preoccupation now is with the rights of the individual.
One victim syndrome is the one where the liberal establishment seek to culturally re programme the majority population so that minorities won’t have to feel different. This gross abuse of freedom is dignified by the Orwellian double-think concept of anti-discrimination. Another is where victim status, once conferred brings with it exemption from moral responsibility. The lazy, the feckless and the parasitic are suffering from ills for which someone else is to blame. That someone else, by stark contrast – usually just a different section of the middle class liberal’s own peer group – bears such responsibility that they can hardly do right for doing wrong. As with the class struggle myth the finger pointing seems to matter more than curing the perceived social ill. Many people from deprived backgrounds now live in terror of their rights-laden neighbours but the bleeding heart liberal always seems able to turn a blind eye to this.
Arguably, the very concept of human rights is itself flawed. It implies, on the one hand, no moral obligations on the individual and on the other, a state or supra-national apparatus to enforce these rights. A much better concept is human obligations. It covers exactly the same territory – your obligation not to commit acts of aggression against your fellow man is the direct equivalent of your right not to be attacked. The big difference is that the former tends towards a civil society built by civilised individuals whereas the latter tends towards a society of amoral individuals with the morality being vested in the state.
The manifest failure of the liberal left to bring any clear benefit to society begs the question of how it has come to be so dominant. This has happened because of its 20th century dominance both of academia and the media. In the conventional wisdom the post war era has been dominated by Tory politics. In truth it is the left that has been in power, in the intellectual sense, throughout – apart from a blip in the 1980s. In
Yesterday’s student radicals are tomorrow’s journalists, film directors, professors, judges and even police chiefs. Those 1970’s students are now the senior liberal establishment of today but unfortunately many of them have, in a way, never grown up. They still want to have their cake and eat it. They still want to point protesting fingers plus they want the ego strokes of their high status professional lives, Progressive politics combined with an elite lifestyle is a seductive cocktail. Through its disproportionate hold on academic and media culture the distorted preoccupations of a left-wing fringe have become mainstream at least amongst the educated elite. British film and television drama portraying contemporary life is shot through with such self-hating nonsense. I am talking about the ‘serious’ stuff with pretensions to artistic depth. The underlying theme of virtually all of it has been middle class self-hate and romanticising of working class lifestyles. Middle
Perhaps the most self-destructive mind game of all now is the demonising of Western society in its entirety. So much energy has been devoted by the white liberal establishment in the last fifty years to countering 18th and 19th century perceptions of white superiority that they have implanted in the minds of millions an historical myth of staggering absurdity and ignorance. In this mythical history, the world was once populated by a sometimes primitive but always delightful array of peoples and cultures living in harmony with the cosmos. Then along came the white imperialists with their technology and their aggression and plundered and ruined it all. In the obsessive compulsion to subvert all perceived hierarchy, a new politically correct hierarchy is rammed down your throat. At its apex would be someone like a Red Indian lesbian; at the bottom of the heap would be a middle class, Southern English male. The multi-layered, multi- ethnic, multi-polar nature of the real history of human conflict is thereby reduced to this silly guilt-trip. Consider, for example, the horrific genocide in
It can sometimes seem as though the West is almost begging others to air their grievances against it. And yet the better-educated people of this prosperous and powerful civilisation do not typically exult in their power. They do not – contrary to the myth – typically exploit, abuse or insult other peoples either in their own lands or in the rest of the world. Their tolerance and self-restraint is quite possibly unmatched in all of history. Arguably, they are the least aggressive and the most tolerant people on the planet. And yet what frothing at the mouth would these last couple of sentences of heresy elicit from most quarters of our own intellectual caste.
What is eerie about our time is not the terrorism or the clash of value systems. It is the bizarre phenomenon of the educated people of a rich and powerful culture on a suicide mission of their own. A culture so morally imploded that it has lost the capacity to make moral judgements about anything other than itself.
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