Thursday, 2 July 2015

Mark Textor’s “centre-right beliefs”: paternalistic populist pabulum [updated]

David Farrar has just posted a statement of philosophical by spin merchant Mark Textor that’s supposed to be a call to arms for something called “the centre-right.” As a Key Government adviser it’s worth taking note. As a philosophical position statement it seems to amount to can’t we all just get along:

Even outside of partisan party politics, enhanced by media megaphones, a shouting match is going on between a very few. Like many fights, most decent people are silently walking away to avoid it.
Most want the false and divisive constructs of politics to go away: Christian versus non-Christian, middle class versus others, country versus city, indigenous versus non-indigenous, bosses versus workers.
Promoting these suit the shock jocks on the right and outrage merchants on the left looking for micro audience-based sales. I find that this is leading many decent-minded conservative centrists to question their beliefs.
A modern alternative affirmation of conservatism is needed for those who have walked away from the shouting. Here’s a new one for them ….

We’ll get to his “new one” in a moment. The basic point he makes first though has been said before but far more fundamentally, not just as a “stance” but as a fully-fledged philosophical position. It’s been said before by Frederic Bastiat, who identified around the time New Zealand was being born that, rather than antagonisms, as long as plunder is outlawed human beings have fundamental harmonies that encourage peaceful co-existence. But those who favour plunder

have found fundamental antagonisms everywhere:

    Between the property owner and the worker.
    Between capital and labour.
    Between the common people and the bourgeoisie.
    Between agriculture and industry.
    Between the farmer and the city-dweller.
    Between the native-born and the foreigner.
    Between the producer and the consumer.
    Between civilization and the social order.

And, to sum it all up in a single phrase:

    Between personal liberty and a harmonious social order.

And this explains how it happens that, although they have a kind of sentimental love for humanity in their hearts, hate flows from their lips. …

Like Textor, Bastiat understands these alleged antagonisms are inflamed by plundering pygmies seeking rents. But Bastiat then sets out over the course of his book-length Economic Harmonies to explain, well, the natural economic harmonies between each of these so-called antagonists. Which is more than just spin.

Nevertheless, it got me wondering what Textor himself, a master spin merchant, wanted to inflame hereby. What is his “modern alternative affirmation of conservatism” I wondered?

Textor’s statements [along those lines] are:

  1. We respect the continuity, strength and certainty that the rule of law and our constitution brings.
  2. Conservatism is about resisting gratuitous change, but not resistance for its own sake.
  3. Our economy must be managed according to the principles of a fair, competitive and open market, but the end point is not the economy itself but a better life.
  4. If you are a citizen of this country, you have equal rights and, yes, equal responsibilities to other citizens and the country.
  5. We will not tolerate the intolerant.
  6. Those who obtain the privilege of leadership; be parental in nature: respectful and aware of true needs of those under your care, but be clear and consistent in your actions.
  7. Work and enterprise brings dignity and the opportunity and vibrancy [sic].
  8. Conservatives conserve important things.

Nice-sounding pabulum. “Not a bad list,” says David Farrar. But is it? Is it really?

  • Start with number 5 since it’s most topical: “We will not tolerate the intolerant.” But the test of free speech is not when someone says something you that doesn’t offend you, but precisely when they do. This, says Textor, we should not tolerate. And the Government he advises has just passed the Harmful Digital Communications Bill to ensure they won’t.

That’s not just harmless pabulum.

  • What about 8: “Conservatives conserve important things.” What’s important? Judging by the actions of the Government he advises, and from the Harmful Digital Communications Bill they passes, obviously not free speech. From its treatment of Christchurch, obviously neither property rights nor democracy.
  • 4. “…you have equal rights and, yes, equal responsibilities to other citizens and the country.”  The only responsibilities any citizen has is those they have voluntarily assumed, and these are certainly not assumed equally. To enforce un-named responsibilities is to obliterate the rights. Textor invokes rights only to diminish them.
  • 7. “Work and enterprise brings dignity and opportunity and vibrancy.” The primary point of work is production for consumption. It is no more the role of government to direct either, any more than to enforce an ethic of work for work’s sake.
  • 3. “Our economy must be managed …” As folk from Cantillon to Smith to Mises to Hayek have pointed out, and citizens from Greece to Puerto Rico to Venezuela are learning anew every day, when the government “manages” an economy what you achieve is very definitively not a “fair, competitive and open market.”
  • 2. “Conservatism is about resisting gratuitous change … “ Even if that means resisting rolling back programmes of the previous government that you once identified as “communism by stealth.”  So more accurately then, conservatism is about swallowing dead rats.

But as Rand used to say, never bother to examine a folly; ask yourself only what it achieves. What this achieves, hopes Textor is stated very clearly in his point 6:

“Those who obtain the privilege of leadership; be parental in nature … “

That, right there, is the very essence of his “modern conservatism.” In a word: Paternalism. Nanny knows best. Government for simpering idiots who need to be told how, when and with whom they can behave.

Isabel Paterson once observed,

"If you hear some bad collectivistic notions, chances are that they came from [modern] liberals. But if you hear or read something outrageously, god-awfully collectivistic, you may be sure that the author is a conservative.”

Textor’s whole cracker-barrel political philosophy amounts to enforced parental oversight for grown adults.You would have to be a simpering idiot to buy it.

UPDATE: Assuredly no coincidence NBR hosts a big (paywalled) interview with Key in which

Key says National is toast if it just bumbles on:

If we don’t continue reinventing ourselves with new policies and new ways of doing things, a refreshed mandate, if you like … [voters] get to 2017 and they will say ‘well you’ve run your race, you were there to do a certain thing for us and you’ve done it.’

Given that the bulk of the Key Government’s three terms to date have been holding the line against “gratuitous change” (see point 2 above), which as amounted to forcing the rest of us to swallow Clark and Cullen’s dead rats, I wonder what “it” actually was?

Answers on a postcard, please.

1 comment:

  1. "Like many fights, most decent people are silently walking away to avoid it."
    Err, no. Decent people try to work out who is the aggressor and who is the victim and go to the latter's aid if they can without much risk to themselves, assuming the police aren't about.
    But isn't that so typical of conservatives - the wish to avoid having to make a judgment of good and evil and to thereby avoid defending the good.


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.