Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Neither Left, nor Right; neither up nor down

David Aaronovitch writes about the crumbling of the old division between Left and Right and of how those two terms only confuse when applied to the Political Parties that used to embody them.

On the Left.

... it used to be about the future and how to improve the lot of humankind. Not any more. Liberation has been replaced as the key concept by Resistance. The word reproduces itself through modern left literature, like a Sylvanian family on fertility drugs. Globalisation is to be resisted, as is neoliberalism (flexible labour markets, movement of capital etc) as is neoconservatism. Tesco mini-stores are to be resisted, as are the Americans in Iraq. It is emblematic of that change that the Palestine Liberation Organisation is no longer the organisation of choice for fashionable leftists, having been replaced by the Islamic Resistance, better known as Hamas. And the new heroes aren’t those creating new societies, but those nationalists, like the populist Venezuelan, Hugo Ch├ívez, who put two fingers up at the composite enemy, Bushanblair.
Meanwhile over the fence.
That there is sharp division on what was once called the Right is illustrated by recent events in America. George Bush wants an amnesty for 12 million or so illegal immigrants and is being fought all the way by Republicans who believe that the country is full. Bush is comfortable with a company from the United Arab Emirates running some more American ports, but many Republicans oppose him on “security grounds”. They too seek common cause with sections of the Left over “ outsourcing” — otherwise known as the bloody cheek that these foreigners have in competing with us. So-called palaeoconservatives want out of Iraq, out of Afghanistan, out of everywhere and bring up the drawbridge.
He would prefer the terms Progressive and Reactionary (though I can't see many rushing to put a patent on the latter).

Progressives he characterises thus:
Progressives, who exist in most parties, tend to believe that there are no walls that can keep the rest of the world out, and that it is counterproductive — immoral even — to try. We tend to believe in interdependence, and that what happens on the other side of the globe is our affair. We tend to believe in the open exchange of capital, ideas and people. We tend to believe — as India proves — that liberal democracy is not some kind of Western model that cannot be exported, but the best way of allowing human beings a say in their own government. We tend to believe in progress towards a fulfilling and equal existence for men and women, without arbitrary barriers. We tend to believe that scientific and technical progress can usually be harnessed for the benefit of humankind.
Reactionaries are those wanting
higher walls, greener grass and no foreign entanglements
David Aaronovitch doesn't appear to be a signatory of the Euston Manifesto, though to judge from his own declaration of faith, he isn't too distant from it. Like the Manifesto, he reasserts Enlightenment aims, though that 'we tend to believe in' is hardly a clarion call. These tentative declarations strike the tone of the day. Hardly surprising when you consider on how many fronts they are attacked. From the Old Left and the Islamofascists, as cultural imperialism; from the New Right, for their exclusion of God. But perhaps more importantly, from within many of those who declare themselves political supporters, because even in societies founded on these principles, we seem unable to defend and live by them. They were principles founded on self-reliance and distrust of government, yet even in the United States, government just gets bigger and bigger, and people seem more and more to look to government to 'solve their problems', protect their jobs and keep them cosy and warm. The very ones who dress their speeches in the trappings of self-reliance and small government have overseen the biggest increases in public spending since the War. The confusion of political labels matches the confusion in our own heads about what we want and what we are willing to pay for it.

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