Tuesday, 10 November 2009

"We were fools to think the fall of the Berlin Wall had killed off the far Left”

Skimming the newspapers to check their Berlin Wall coverage, Sean Gabb from Britain’s Libertarian Alliance discovered an unusually good piece in the Daily Mail.  It’s not just unusually good (especially for the Mail), but it offers a good lesson in activism, as Sean explains in the postscript:

    It's an article by Melanie Phillips and it titled "We were fools to think the fall of the Berlin Wall had killed off the far Left. They're back - and attacking us from within". The key paragraphs are:

"Soviet Communism was a belief system whose goal was to overturn the structures of society through the control of economic and political life. This mutated into a post-communist ideology of the Left, whose no-less ambitious aim was to overturn western society through a subversive transformation of its culture....
    "But as communism slowly crumbled, those on the far-Left who remained hostile towards western civilisation found another way to realise their goal of bringing it down.
    "This was what might be called 'cultural Marxism'. It was based on the understanding that what holds a society together are the pillars of its culture: the structures and institutions of education, family, law, media and religion. Transform the principles that these embody and you can thus destroy the society they have shaped.
    "This key insight was developed in particular by an Italian Marxist philosopher called Antonio Gramsci. His thinking was taken up by Sixties radicals - who are, of course, the generation that holds power in the West today.
    "Gramsci understood that the working class would never rise up to seize the levers of 'production, distribution and exchange' as communism had prophesied. Economics was not the path to revolution.
    "He believed instead that society could be overthrown if the values underpinning it could be turned into their antithesis: if its core principles were replaced by those of groups who were considered to be outsiders or who actively transgressed the moral codes of that society.
    "So he advocated a 'long march through the institutions' to capture the citadels of the culture and turn them into a collective fifth column, undermining from within and turning all the core values of society upside-down and inside-out."
    It's a good article and is worth reading in full. I mention it, however [says Sean], because Mrs Phillips might have been quoting from my book Cultural Revolution, Culture War. Indeed, I know that someone bought 50 copies of this two years ago and set them out to various opinion formers among whom was Mrs Phillips.
    I don't normally boast about influence. However, I had a long conversation yesterday with a friend who was rather depressed about the Libertarian Alliance's lack of impact in British politics. This is my answer. I will not claim that I am the only person putting this argument …  However, I do think it reasonable to claim that I have *helped*, since I began writing about "The Enemy Class" back in 2001, to provide the conservative and libertarian movement in this country with a narrative that explains what has happened in England over the past few generations.

And not just in England!  Here in New Zealand one person putting this argument has, of course, been Lindsay Perigo – who argues that “we lovers of reason and freedom have to do a Gramsci of our own.”

Who’s with us?


  1. PC, that's not the first article I've read from Melanie Phillips that makes sense.

    And, funnily enough, the situation Sean Gabb notes re libertarian influence is similar to what I had intended to write about this week.


    Another thing. Does anybody else see the irony in John Key proudly 'turning the first sod' as media put it of the national cycleway today, that proportionally few Kiwis will use but all will be forced to pay for, at the same time the world commemorates the anniv of the Wall's fall?

    Diehard Communism might have got a good kicking 20 yrs ago, but its little sister Socialism has been alive and well and kicking taxpayers ever since ...

  2. Too right Sus. But Socialism is somehow 'respectable'.

  3. I agree with Sus on Philips, she's often spot on.

    As to your own question, there's probably a surprising number of people out there that would largely agree with libertarian views, but these need to be made amenable to mass consumption by applying the good old Pareto principle, and shifting some of the intellectualist stuff well and truly in the second or third 20% tier. Not everybody has read Rand and Hayek and most people won't. Simply accepting that and adjusting the outward strategy will most likely do the trick. It would seem that there certainly is opening appearing in the political landscape for some principled thought that remains accessible.

  4. The thing is, bez, what's a libertarian of principle to do? You can't deny the logical applications of libertarian philosophy just because they might be socially unpalatable. That way, hypocrisy lies. Yes, a lot of people think legalisation of all drugs is whacky or insane. A lot of people think paying no involuntary tax is insane. Hell, "most people" believe that getting rid of public healthcare is tantamount to suggesting killing babies. Which bits do you promote, and which bits do you ignore?

    I'm of the opposite opinion. Share and explain the philosophy. Let the simplicity and lack of contradiction speak for itself. Once you get past the immediate negative kneejerk rejection and accusations of "cruelty" or "greed", the philosophy actually aids the acceptance of some of the harder to swallow views. If nothing else, you can then point to the consistency of it all.

    Everyone should read Rand. Nobody should be punished for not doing so, however! :)

  5. Greig, that sounds a lot like "swallow it whole, or go without".
    People will go without, as they've demonstrated for a long, long time now.
    Bez is on to a political truth, that people can be led to almost any position by slow degrees but will almost never swallow a radical solution in one go.
    And why should they? No party on earth has all the answers, a one-size-fits-all set of policies.
    I love liberty. I've paid a high price for supporting liberty in my lifetime, and God knows I loathe the socialists, but no way in hell could I bring myself to support all of the Libz policies.
    In my case the sticking point is the immigration policy and no matter how appealing the rest of the package is, that will remain as a bar to joining.
    And it's no use saying something like 'no other party has policies you agree with 100%' either--because I don't support any other party anyway, they have their unacceptable policies too.
    Now, a party which promised to model our political system on the Swiss example, with binding referenda on all major issues....

  6. No "swallow it whole". It's just a matter of principle. As for binding referenda on every issue... do you want three wolves and a sheep voting for dinner?

    Separate parties from their philosophy. The question you have to ask is which parties are bound by principles which actually limit their activity to the things they state? I can only think of one. That makes it an easy choice for me, even if I didn't agree with some of the issues.

  7. Gramsci's creed is alive and well in NZ and we all fight our little battles against its effects every day - whether its in the form of excessive compulsory ACC levies, impossible-to-comply with building codes, the anti-smacking bill or privileged representation before the law for certain minorities. The Gramscis have the advantage because libertarians are people who really want nothing more than to be left alone. We are only compelled to fight back when we are on the verge of suffocation from the laws and regulations enacted by the Gramscis. The question for us is, at what point do we take up the challenge?

  8. Libs like Melanie Phillips, because of her anti-communist rhetoric, but what do you think of what she identifies as problems?

    On Marriage:
    "The nuclear family has been widely shattered. Illegitimacy was transformed from a stigma into a 'right'. The tragic disadvantage of fatherlessness was redefined as a neutrally-viewed 'lifestyle choice'."

    On Education: (What did Montessori think of a 'child-centred' approach)
    "Education was wrecked, with its core tenet of transmitting a culture to successive generations replaced by the idea that what children already knew was of superior value to anything the adult world might foist upon them.
    The outcome of this 'child-centred' approach has been widespread illiteracy and ignorance and an eroded capacity for independent thought."

    On drugs: (When a crime is victimless, who becomes the victim)
    "Law and order were similarly undermined, with criminals deemed to be beyond punishment since they were 'victims' of society and with illegal drugtaking tacitly encouraged by a campaign to denigrate anti-drugs laws."

    On British ruling class values:
    "Of particular importance was the demoralisation of the British ruling class by the loss of Empire and the indebtedness of Britain to America at the end of World War II - a profound loss of cultural nerve that made the Establishment vulnerable to any ideas, however outlandish, that promised to bring about the New Jerusalem."

    On Political Correctness: (Tolerance? Vilification?)
    "Thus the intolerance - or even arrest - of Christians opposed to gay adoption and civil union, or the vilification as 'racists' of those opposed to mass immigration."

    On Nationalism:
    "For the republic of Euroland puts loyalty to itself higher than that to individual nations and their values. It refused to commit itself in its constitution to uphold Christianity, the foundation of western morality."

  9. I did say this piece of hers was "unusually good," Monsieur.

  10. Greig, Monsieur and Pete, there's a substantial distinction between being intellectually right and being practically right, and they both have their place in the scheme of things. While solid first principles are paramount, they should never become dogmatic. Flexibility is an essential component of human interaction, sometimes it's just not at all important how many angles are dancing on the pin.
    Whether Philips is principally right or wrong, whether she accurately and completely identifies the issues behind her observations is an interesting argument, but not one that takes matters forward. If the libz want to be of any significance at all, they should accept that Rome and Achen weren't build in a day, wrap their core principles in a package that accessible and start making real inroads instead of fandangling around the margins, always being right, but never being relevant.

  11. Sean Fitzpatrick11 Nov 2009, 11:42:00


    Different libz would have different amount of sympathy or lack of sympathy with her views - we are not a homogeneous bunch.

    @bez, Grg and KG

    This a worthwhile and ongoing discussion - the best I can add is that no one expects (least of all demands) anyone or everyone swallows anything 'all in one go'. No matter what it is, the mind just doesn't work that way. The message Libz has needs to be delivered in a way that is both honest and consistent but also accessible. Just how to do so is an ongoing discussion and all input is very welcome.

    There is probably not a Libz member who doesn't have at least one area of party policy they are not overly hot on for various reasons - myself included. But that in no way puts me off being a party member since they are the only group that consistently reflect my core values about the relationship between the individual and the state. And they afford me an opportunity to do something constructive about it.

  12. Well said Sean

    There are several things Libertarianz advocate about which I disapprove, but Libertarians try the hardest of all the parties not to deviate from and to be true to their principles.

    In doing so is the only way it can work.

    The only way I can be free is to ensure that YOU are free.

    I could never see myself voting for anybody else for that reason. The party's principles are far too important in the scheme of things to be compromised, whether you agree with them or not.

    I never used to understand that, and took numerous verbal beatings until the penny finally dropped.

    It was lucky for me that I had respect and admiration for those people I took the beatings from, otherwise I would have told them to piss off, and I would just be another of the sheeple now.

  13. Well, TK I don't regard myself as one of the sheeple, and I'm still uncomfortable about several Libz policies.
    For sure,I subscribe absolutely to concept of individual freedom and the responsibility that goes with it. But there was never yet a political party which didn't become corrupt and unaccountable once in power. The mechanisms intended to control that tendency need to be clearly stated and emphasised again and again.
    The immigration question is just one aspect. The stated policy is in my view workable--in a perfect world where the law is upheld, where institutions and businesses sponsoring immigrants can be properly policed, where background checks are thorough and effective.
    Right now we have none of those things and I'm curious to know what measures Libz would put in place to change that.

  14. But there was never yet a political party which didn't become corrupt and unaccountable once in power.

    The whole point of the LIbz programme, KG, is that there will be no more political parties in power - a view which I share.

    A Libertarian country would certainly not be a democracy, in the debased lefist sense of the word, and would absolutely not have any kind of universal suffrage. The irony of the LIbz competing in the Maorimandered, Leftist MMP system is plain to all.

  15. @Sean "There is probably not a Libz member who doesn't have at least one area of party policy they are not overly hot on for various reasons.."

    I support - absolutely - all of the Libz policies. This is because they are all based on the concept of individual rights. Once you accept this principle, then there can be no other policy which you would accept other than those advocated by the Libz. The difficult thing for people (people new to these ideas) is understanding the importance of individual rights and why it is necessary to adopt a principled and uncompromising approach. That is when a philosophic base can come in handy. It is also why the Libz policies have never changed since the party was established and why they would not change if Libz were to enter parliament.


  16. "I support - absolutely - all of the Libz policies. This is because they are all based on the concept of individual rights."
    Sounds impressive.
    It also sounds unworkable in the real world.

  17. To Mr Tomahawk Kid."There are several things Libertarianz advocate about which I disapprove", um, as Pauline Hansen would say, "please explain?"
    Privately if you wish sir.
    Mr Watkins

  18. Thanks Julian, that's exactly what I was trying to say. If, given a basic premise which everyone agrees with (individual freedom), one can simply hold any policy up to that premise. If it supports it, one should support the policy. Simple. The difference (and what I think KG is getting at) is there's a big difference between *supporting* a policy and *liking* a policy. I absolutely support legalisation of all drugs. I don't *like* it, but there's no other alternative keeping in mind the principle of individual freedom.

    Where things get "unworkable", as KG says, is how to transition from the mess of unprincipled compromise and dependency we have now to a libertarian ideal without self-destructing as a society. That one is for way smarter people than I. It doesn't mean it can't be done though. We're people. We solve problems.

  19. The only way to "transition" is to support moral principle consistently and exclusive of anything else. That necessarily implies immediate and instant change.

    You'd not be wrecking society. That's already been accomplished.



1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.