Sunday, 30 September 2012

Postliberalism - rediscovering the "F-word" in Blue Labour and Red Tory


It’s always tricky to use the ‘F’ word when writing about political thinking. It has become so cursed by its association with genocide, racism and war that the thinking that lies underneath is ignored. It seems to me that, unless we act with care, we will tiptoe towards those ideas again:

There is a distinct combination of ideas here – of market-friendly social democracy and a greater respect for “flag, faith and family” social conservatism – that has a natural majority in most rich countries, one that was squandered by the left in the 1980s. (Though the first Blair government had some echoes of it.)

Groups such as Maurice Glasman’s “Blue Labour” and Philip Blond’s “Red Toryism” have tried to turn their parties in a post-liberal direction, with limited success. But the interest in those two movements is in itself a sign that there may be a new intellectual consensus emerging to rebalance politics after the reign of the two liberalisms.

Here we see new language – “post-liberalism”, the two liberalisms – used to replace the older language of past rejections of the enlightenment revelation that we are free individuals. Whether than tones of Hobbes’ Leviathan with its appeal to god and the monarch as the embodiment of statehood or to a 20th century critique:

It is opposed to classical Liberalism, which arose from the necessity of reacting against absolutism, and which brought its historical purpose to an end when the State was transformed into the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the interests of the particular individual.

Today we see in those anti-liberal “Blue Labour” and “Red Tory” ideas another assault on the idea of individual sovereignty. And the attendant policies echo those past ideas – not just “flag, faith and family” (a slogan that the creator of the “F word” would have loved) but the rebirth of protectionism, the corporate state and an obsession with grand projects. For draining the Pontine Marshes read instead HS2, the Severn Barrage or ‘Boris Island’ – great schemes that only the powerful state under inspired leadership can deliver.

At the core of this new philosophy lies state-sponsored community organisation – taking Alinsky’s idea of the inspired activist and twisting it to turn these people into agents of authority wrapped in the cuddly language of the “third sector”. Such people become the shock troops of post-liberalism – the advocates of the new corporate state, projectors of moral judgement and champions of subsuming the individual into an allocated geographic, cultural or social group.

This post-liberalism is founded on a different conception of the state than the “F word” – more local, less anti-clerical and closer to the “F word’s” syndicalist roots. But some of the calls are familiar:

“...we've got to re-interrogate our relationship with the EU on the movement of labour…We should be more generous and friendly in receiving those who are needed. To be more generous, we have to draw the line.”


“a commitment to regional renewal, democratising corporate governance, reform of the firm, a left patriotism, a willingness to work with faith communities and a scepticism of traditional centralising, state solutions.”

As the creator of the “F-word” demanded: active man, one engaged in activity with all his energies: it desires a man conscious of the difficulties that exist in action and ready to face them. It conceives of life as a struggle, considering that it behooves man to conquer for himself that life truly worthy of him, creating first of all in himself the instrument (physical, moral, intellectual) in order to construct it. Thus for the single individual, thus for the nation, thus for humanity. . . .

But above all:

Outside the State there can be neither individuals nor groups (political parties, associations, syndicates, classes)...

So, when those protectionist, anti-immigration, anti-choice, anti-business words drop from the lips of politicians red or blue – couched in a language of populist appeal – listen instead to an earlier post-liberal voice, that of Mussolini, and ask whether we really want those ideas again?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post