From John Ray's shorter notes

29 September, 2002

Leftist idealism and the Fabians

In this blog I have always endeavoured to stick the knife into what I believe is characteristic Leftist hypocrisy and dishonesty. As I have also repeatedly made clear however, I believe that there are many reasons for Leftism and not all Leftists are attention-seeking and power-mad Machiavellians. Some are honest -- true idealists who simply know no better. It is perhaps fitting therefore that Michael Jacobs, the current head (or "General Secretary". Stalin was also a "General Secretary") of that historic fountainhead of Leftism -- Britain's Fabian Society, seems to be one of the dreamy Leftists.

In his recent article called "Reason to believe" in "Prospect" magazine datelined simply as "October, 2002" (though I was able to read it in September!) Jacobs bewails the loss of idealism in the British Labour Party. He sees the motivating force of his brand of politics as:

"the feeling that many people must surely have when looking at the world: that too much in the present order is morally wrong. A billion people living in absolute poverty, species and habitats being wiped out, many groups subject to systematic violence and discrimination, some people consuming vast amounts while others starve"

And one can hardly argue with that concern. The world is indeed far from an ideal place and is much in need of improvement. The only problem is how you go about doing the improvements. Conservatives want to gradually improve the world as a whole whereas Leftists want to immediately rip the goodies off those who already have them and give them to someone else who did not earn or create them. They are uninterested in doing any realistic policy analysis and want their ideal world yesterday, not in 20 or 50 years time. The now easily confirmable fact that the sort of rush into action that they preach will achieve the opposite of what they allegedly intend seems somehow not to bother them a bit.

And the article by Jacobs reveals one reason why realistic policy analysis is so alien to the Left. He frankly admits that to him Leftism is a religion, and a very dreamy religion at that. Let him speak for himself in the following excerpts from his article:

"Socialism was not merely the end-point towards which those on the left believed themselves to be working. For large numbers of activists and politicians, it was an animating force in their lives. People were socialists in the way that others (sometimes the same people) were Catholics or Jews: it was part of their identity. "Socialist" did not just describe a set of views you had. It was something you were.

This was true of the moderates as much as the revolutionaries. It is easy to forget this now, so accustomed are we to politicians who aim for nothing more than their pragmatic policy positions. Prior to the mid-1980s, the most mainstream Labour politicians talked often and without embarrassment about socialism. Here is Tony Crosland, Labour's principal revisionist of the 1950s and 1960s, writing about the central socialist value of equality in a 1975 Fabian pamphlet:

"By equality we mean more than a meritocratic society of equal opportunities... we also mean more than a simple redistribution of income. We want a wider social equality embracing the distribution of property, the educational system, social class relationships, power and privilege in industry."

The Fabian tradition is often thought of as the moderate end of socialism, but Fabian pamphlets from the Webbs through to the 1980s were full of statements such as this. This was how all Labour people thought.

[Tony Blair's] third way is not an ideology. It provides neither a guide to policy-making, nor a vision of the society towards which social democrats aim. New Labour is left with no more than piecemeal social reform.

Electorally, of course, this has been very successful. But within the Labour party it has had a devastating effect. This has gone largely unnoticed by those outside. But inside the party it is visible and widespread. It is not that the government's policies are too moderate --party members are used to this. Some of the policies in fact command widespread support, particularly now that they come with higher spending and taxation

One of the reasons that socialist ideology flourished in the past was that it fitted the tribalism of a class society. Ideologies which came as whole packages of belief attached themselves easily to fixed, collective identities"

So no wonder reasoning with Leftists is so unproductive. It is an attempt to use reason to break down a religion: Never a promising task.

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