I would prefer liberalism's universalism to conservative communitarianism's parochialism. But in order to further a liberal agenda successfully, you have to recognize that you are going against the instincts of the majority. And you also need to realize that these illiberal responses are natural human responses. The people who worry most about the disadvantaged are usually either among them or very far removed from them. For the majority in between, you just want to make sure your life doesn't slide back to their level. That is why the Daily Mail feeds on fear. It speaks to a class that as a comfortable life but is close enough to the high tide of what threatens it to feel a little frightened...
Although recently commentators like David Goodhart have called for liberal nationalism, the professional and intellectual left does not generally define itself in local or national terms. Their way of life is not under threat because it is already removed from the mainstream culture. That's why the intellectual left has traditionally been baffled by patriotism and was late to see any problem with multiculturalism, other than simple prejudice. Its members see themselves as citizens of the world, above parochial concerns. When your values and way of life are not firmly rooted in the culture of your own country, they cannot easily be threatened if that culture changes. Only when they thought that liberalism itself might be under threat did some become worried.
Chris Dillow's memories of the Militant Tendency are a lot more positive than mine. I first came across the entryists when I was a 16 year-old member of the near-moribund branch of the Labour Party Young Socialists in my home town. Even to my unworldly eyes, it was obvious that the two Militant organizers who ran our weekly circus, muttering all the while about the need to build "cadres", regarded themselves as part of a wholly separate organization to the Labour Party. And even I could see that their talk about empowering the workers was a well-meaning mirage; real power, in their ideal world, would lie with the elect few. Although the clincher for me, really, was that the duo reminded me an awful lot of the crankier members of my Mum's former congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. When I saw more of the Militant leaders later on TV, that impression just deepened.
BTW, I ought to have replied to James Hamilton's query about my response to Chris's forthright post on private schools. James rightly makes the point that it's unfair to look down on people just because they've been privately educated. Absolutely. I don't disagree. Public school Hooray Henrys are a different matter altogether, so part of me still sides with Chris. Besides, two of my sons have spent time in the private system, so I'm in no position to throw stones. (My wife and I decided it was worth bankrupting ourselves because we had both been to uninspiring comprehensives.)
PS: The late Lord Young's heretical thoughts on the meaning of real-life, 21st century meritocracy can be found here.
In case anyone is still labouring under the illusion that America is a classless society, this snippet from John Fund's column on Hillary Clinton's campaign [via Comment Central] offers some salutary figures:
Should Mrs. Clinton win and serve two terms, the presidency will have been held by members of two families--the Bushes and the Clintons--for 28 years. (That could be good news for Jeb Bush, who will be only 63 in 2016.)
Oh, and I've used fingers and thumbs to work out that Al Gore (son of a senator) will be only 68. Plus ça change.
I don't know what effect it had on other people, but the more I watched of Michael Cockerell's relentlessly negative TV portrayal of the Blair years, the more sympathy I began to feel for the man in Number 10. Cockerell's films normally aim for a rounded portrait; this was closer to live-action Spitting Image.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft's hostile new polemic, Yo Blair, seems to have aroused a similar reaction in Dennis MacShane:
In 1995, the foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, made a statement in the Commons washing his hands of any involvement in combating the crimes in Srebrenica. I sat in the Commons that afternoon, unable to believe my ears. My country was prepared to walk on the other side of the street as 8,000 Europeans two hours' flying time away were taken out and shot in cold blood.
Reading Wheatcroft's book, I now understand better the mentality of the Rifkinds, and of the 1930s foreign-policy realists who opposed intervention in Spain because it would make matters worse. Wheatcroft generously writes that "Blair is no totalitarian" and "Blair is no fascist", but we are also told that Labour is run by a "politburo", and he protests about "the Blair junta methods".
... And, of course, Iraqis do not exist in this book. Hundreds of thousands were murdered by Saddam and, equally tragically, many are dying today. All the fault of Blair? If only history and the world were so simple.
Dope isn't a problem; it's the "Bulller" membership that still irks me. I suppose I'll get over it one of these days, but I can't bring myself to trust anyone who signed up for that circus.
He joined the Bullingdon Club while still residing in the college, which suggests that it was during his first year.To be invited to join "Buller" so early in your Oxford career, you have to know the right people and be generally thought of as a good chap, suggesting that older Etonian members (and there were rarely more than 20 all told) had already tipped him as being made of the right stuff to join.
... The Bullingdon Club, satirised by Evelyn Waugh as the Bollinger Club in Decline and Fall, is not the naughtiest club in Oxford. The Assassins is more eccentric, the Piers Gaveston more erotic and the Stoics more emetic. But Buller is the most solidly, reassuringly, predictably, ritualistically naughty of the dining societies. Over 150 years, it has evolved from a club devoted to the pleasures of hunting things and playing cricket, into a club devoted to breaking things and passing out and dinners that cost £100 a head and more.
Brasenose contemporaries say Mr Cameron was a fringe member of the sub-species Bullingdon Man. And paradoxically, Bullingdon chaps disapprove of smoking cannabis on or before evenings out, on the logical grounds that a relaxed and philosophical member, his faculties soothed and enhanced by tetrahydrocannabinol, lacks the cutting edge necessary for a really decent session of wanton havoc.
The ex-Buller man said: "But if you are the sort of person who will happily smash up a restaurant and then pay for the damage in cash afterwards, I don't suppose you are going to baulk at taking drugs the rest of the time."
Check out the photograph of our future rulers posing in evening wear. Hilarious.
MORE: You don't have to be a class warrior to find the Buller boys a pain. Here's a thundering op-ed by Libby Purves that I've linked to before.
It was more Bacchanalian feast than Brideshead Revisited, and I wondered what kind of a future lay in store for 20-year-olds who thought nothing of wrecking a Michelin-starred restaurant after having spent £1,000 a head there.
Nick Cohen, interviewed about that much-anticipated polemic on 21st century fellow-travellers:
He compares the strenuous act of historical forgetting involved in seeing Islamism as authentically "anti-imperialist" with the mental gymnastics demanded of Communists and their fellow-travellers in 1939 when the Nazi-Soviet pact was sealed. Cohen is interested in the psychology of such accommodations. "I quite deliberately went back in the book and looked at the 70s and the 30s, at communists in the 30s and Trotskyists in the 70s (who ended up taking money from Saddam). That gives you clues to mental patterns, how people argue themselves into such positions."
Yet, for all the historical parallels, Cohen insists that there is something distinctive about the latest ideological mutation on the left. For one thing, he says, "socialism as a practical political project is simply dead." What remains is the anti-imperialism of fools.
But isn’t this sort of thing restricted to a tiny and remote fringe of the far left? Cohen thinks not. "Taking a kick at the far left is good fun, but it certainly wouldn’t be worth writing a book about. The difficulty is that this attitude is so pervasive it’s hard to see how extraordinary it is. Because you’re no longer a socialist putting forward a programme, you don’t have to stand for anything. That’s why so many people read Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore – they don’t have to commit to anything. They just have to jeer."
Lit buffs should note that Jonathan Derbyshire - who wrote the profile - also has a good piece on the new Paris Review anthology.