Russell Taylor: Right and Wrong

As long as I’ve been writing for Bogpaper, I’ve received feedback along the lines of “I like your style, but your arguments are a bit nuts” – which is to say I have a tendency to portray the Left as a sinister cabal, hell-bent on world domination. Guilty as charged, I suppose. I’m definitely prone to lurid hyperbole, but that doesn’t mean that what I have to say is a put-on. I’ve no doubt that left-wing ideologies are wicked, and that their believers are guileless fools or power-hungry schemers. If anyone’s nuts, it’s the people who cling to these beliefs in spite of the incalculable harm they have done over the years.

Most conservative newspapers and blogs adopt a more moderate tone. They assume that people on either side of the political divide are generally reasonable and decent, and want to create a better world. We’re like football fans who can’t agree on the best team to put out: we have our differences, but our love of the game will see us through. In fact, we’re playing different sports and have radically different ambitions. It’s all very well having a conversation about making a better world, but unless we agree on what it looks like, we’re just talking past each other. We all want to live in a just society, but what does justice mean? Is it equality of outcome or a meritocracy? This is a fundamental difference between Left and Right, yet it is often assumed that we all want the same thing. We don’t.

This is why so much conservative punditry is craven and dull. The bold right-wing certainties of thirty years ago have given way to a simpering acceptance that we should tone it down and find some common ground. Screw that. I’m not afraid to say that Right is right and Left is wrong. We’re the good guys in this battle, even if we’re frequently portrayed as the crooks. We have facts, history and reason on our side, and I see no reason to concede an inch to the Left, because I reject their opinion of what a fair and decent society looks like.

We on the Right come in peace. We don’t want to lecture you, bully you, or take your money. We don’t want to deny you choice or inflict dismal public services upon you. We don’t want to carpet the countryside in wind turbines or bury it under concrete. Providing you do no harm to others, we want you to be free to do as you please. Be a success or be a layabout, but be it on your own head. Judge and prepare to be judged. Work alone or work together. Your choices, your responsibility, your life. No rulers, just people, working voluntarily together towards whatever goals they consider important, driven by a desire for something more, something better. Does that really sound so bad?

Apparently so. There are aspects of the right-wing vision that some people don’t like: the absence of a benign paternalistic authority, the emphasis on personal responsibility, the need to compete with others, the lack of any assurances, the possibility of thwarted ambitions and of having your shortcomings exposed and judged. These are such appalling prospects for some that they not only reject free societies but idolise their mirror image as something supremely honourable. Whatever is done in the name of that rival cause, no matter how disgusting, can be pardoned because it serves a higher truth. The same acts committed by the other side, however, are beyond the pale, because they are done with evil intent.

This ideological blindspot was highlighted during the recent spat over the Mail on Sunday’s attack on Ed Miliband’s father. The counsel for the defence of Ralph Miliband could see nothing wrong with his beliefs. It fell back on the traditional practice of treating Marxists as proud idealists, whose beliefs have been systematically corrupted by rotten regimes. The gulags, the poverty, the shortages, the dehumanising oppression: these are proof of a revolution betrayed and in no way stain the purity of the idea that lurks beneath the fathoms of blood spilt in its name. Supporters of Western socialism are apparently as disgusted as anyone else by the atrocities of communism.

I find this hand-washing disingenuous, because the Left has a long and friendly relationship with tyranny: from the Guardian’s sycophantic interview with Lenin and its blind-eye reporting of the Ukrainian famine through to the canonisation of Che Guevara and modern expressions of sympathy for al-Qaeda. Throughout the Cold War, socialists were equivocal in their condemnation of communist oppression, even when proof of its crimes became common knowledge. Peter Hitchens tells a story about his days on the Left, when his comrades refused to support the Polish Solidarity movement against the communist government. Despite all their highfalutin drivel about looking out for the common man, when push came to shove they sided with the state.

Western academia is full of left-wing intellectuals who rage against their own societies and cosy up to despots, yet are feted as clever, principled folk, who deserve to be listened to. Noam Chomsky, for instance, is a traitorous enemy of freedom, yet is somehow recognised as an important political activist, whose opinions merit respect. Then there is the population control crowd, which includes such cuddly figures as nice old man Sir David Attenborough, animal botherer Chris Packham, and ex Newsround favourite Jonathon Porritt. Here are people who want to organise a bloodless cull of the human race, using techniques straight out of Mao’s China, yet their ideas are treated as if they are height of good sense. If Nigel Farage was behind the Optimum Population Trust, leftists would be comparing him to Eichmann, but because it came from their own team, they’re all ears.

The gap between rich and poor is a source of endless outrage among leftists, but the carnage committed in trying to close that gap is apparently no big deal. It’s just a regretable trade-off, like missing your kid’s school play for a client dinner. Eric Hobsbawm, the acclaimed Marxist historian and friend of the Miliband family, claimed that the tens of millions killed by communist regimes would have been justified had the Red utopia been realised. This astonishing admission should have lost Hobsbawm his membership of the human race, but his reputation was unharmed – at least in left-wing circles. A similar sentiment from a Nazi sympathiser would have been rightly taken as proof of their depravity, but from a Marxist it’s nothing to get excited about. One can only conclude that in the topsy-turvy world of socialism motive is everything. There is something so noble about the egalitarian ideal that nothing committed in its name, no matter how abominable, can call its validity into question.

It has to be asked: how can an ideology be altruistic if it seeks to persecute or murder the people it is supposed to help? Even in socialism’s watered-down form, as found in the Labour Party, coercion is inevitable; and that’s the trouble with any egalitarian creed: it conscripts everyone to its cause whether they like it or not. There can be no opt-out or else the system is meaningless. It’s a one-way train journey to the promised land and everyone must get on board. There’s no first class carriage, the emergency stop cord has been cut and the only toilet is broken, but hey, at least we’re in it together.

What the Left is saying is that although its policies will probably make us less rich, less free and possibly more dead, they’re worth a shot, because inequality is so much worse. Even if your absolute condition is better in an unequal society, the knowledge that others have it easier than you is so psychologically devastating that you’d be better off giving it up for more equality. If others don’t like it, tough. The dignity inherent in greater equality is a human right, and trumps their selfish obsession with freedom every time.

Equality isn’t an inalienable right because it isn’t our natural state of affairs; but freedom is, because it’s what exists in the absence of coercion. How people use their freedom is up to them. They can even use it to live like good little lefties if they like – to show generosity to others, to mind their carbon footprint, and to be piously non-judgmental – they just can’t force everyone else follow suit. The knowledge that this will never be enough for socialists exposes the dark heart of their beliefs and explains why I expend so much energy criticising them. If that makes me sound nuts, so be it.

19 comments on “Russell Taylor: Right and Wrong

  1. grumpyoldmanuk
    October 6, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    If you’re a bit nuts, then so am I. A thoughtful piece and a pleasure to read.

  2. Brian the Rhetaur
    October 6, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Better and better, Russell

  3. therealguyfaux
    October 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    Billy Joel had it right:
    They may be right. You may be crazy.
    But you just may be the lunatic we’re looking for.

    You penultimate paragraph and the one preceding it, by the way, are being acted out in the “Obama Drama” in Washington DC right now. Of course, that wouldn’t have any bearing on your having written this piece right now, would it, though.

  4. David
    October 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    I think these are clear an concise essays. I like to see the cards on the table.

    “Equality isn’t an inalienable right because it isn’t our natural state of affairs; but freedom is, because it’s what exists in the absence of coercion.”

    Is it up to the individual to help avoid unjust inequality – or is there no such concept?

    And do you really think we are ever free of coercion from those with power?

    And by natural state of affairs `I presume you mean some kind of evolutionary imperative to gather as much resources for ourselves, relatives and sexual partners without much worry about those not strong enough to do it themselves. I cant see why else you would use that word – you mean our primate sociobiology?

    • Russell Taylor
      October 6, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

      No, we’re never entirely free of coercion, but we should seek to live with as little of it as possible. I’m not sure what you mean by unjust inequality, but in a freer world we would be at liberty to reward people in exchange for the help they offer us. We would be the judge of what’s valuable and what’s important, not some self-appointed moral guardians who think they know best.

      Freedom is our natural state of affairs because it is what exists in the absence of manmade constructs like governments and laws. That’s not to say that we can do without either, but they should be limited in what they proscribe.

      A society in which there is no top-down compulsion to share the wealth isn’t one where we just look out for ourselves. It’s one where we are free to be generous to others on a voluntary basis. The beauty of the free market is that it compels us to consider the interests of others.

      Sure, that means a lot of the good will shown is ersatz, but so what? The alternative, whereby tax money is given to causes considered worthy by the powers that be, is much worse. Once you’ve paid your taxes, you are absolved of any imperative to be ‘good’. There is no need for kindness, because you’ve subcontracted that responsibility to the government. The free market, on the other hand, requires you to show consideration for others on an ongoing basis and to hone whatever talents people consider useful. Surely that is of greater benefit to society?

    • Rocco
      October 6, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

      David, my friend, I know your keen on this nonsense that free markets are all about killing poor people, and libertarianism is a more extreme version of Fascism, but you’re way off the mark, dude. From a socio-biological point of view, sharing with others and caring for the weaker members of the group, were the most valuable traits for our primitive ancestors. In an unforgiving environment, without any notable trade, medicine, or labour saving technologies, not being ‘a nice sort of chap’, would be no good at all. For one thing, you’d be so unpopular you wouldn’t be able to pass your genes on.

      In fact, it might well be the case that individualistic political theories are so unpopular because people are hardwired, from an evolutionary perspective, to favour altruistic behaviours.

      • therealguyfaux
        October 6, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

        Herbert Spencer himself, he of so-called Social Darwinism, recognised that mankind could not have evolved socially as much as we have done if there were no impulse to help those in need, even if merely crassly done in the expectation of the return of the “favour.” Of course, old Herbie argued that culture’s evolution was Lamarckian– “use it or lose it”– you enculturate succeeding generations by building on what’s already there and adding to it.

        But obviously, any attempt to describe humanity in that way runs afoul of “morality,” or more correctly, moralists– the nerve of someone saying that human behaviour is a function of “what has worked so far” and that, as a culture, we transmit this knowledge to those with the (genetic?) predisposition to hear it and act upon it!

        But it is well, and not just from some sort of Ayn-Randian-PC-impulse, to distinguish “altruism” from benevolence. The former is a fraught term, which connotes that for the avoidance of all moral doubt, one accede to the interest of the other in preference to that of oneself. The latter, though perhaps a more free-floating term, connotes a more-well-considered good will borne towards all in the absence of there being any reason not to do so– i.e., the default position of “you are my friend until you prove yourself unworthy by taking dreadful advantage of my kindness.”

        Spencer, by the way, never called himself a Social Darwinist, and would have bridled at that thought being put about. He considered his work more descriptive than normative, and it is only in the 1940’s that it is thought to call him such. His thesis was essentially that the maintenance of any social welfare system which does not take into account the need for those who have made bad choices in their life, to change those choices, does not conduce to a society’s reaching a sort of acme. Si monumentum ad ignorantia Spencerismi requiris circumspice. And not from the moral viewpoint, either– on a balance-of-benefit basis, it’s just better all told to tell those whose indigence is “their own fault,” if you will, to straighten up and fly right, so they don’t hog all the help that could go to those whose misfortune is not of their own
        making.

      • Rocco
        October 6, 2013 at 11:54 pm #

        Aye. You’re quite right. I should have gone with “benevolent” rather than “altruistic””.

      • David
        October 7, 2013 at 12:34 am #

        No – you misunderstand me, I am only asking questions, and I agree broadly what you have just said.

        I am trying to dig down that’s all. You see just as the radical left paradoxically seam to justify forcing people to ‘share’ – or whatever, nearly everyone on the Libertarian, in line with the right, seams to show contempt, not just for the mechanisms of re-distribution, but for all people who may at present rely on these mechanisms.

        Of course people who exploit these mechanisms deserve contempt, but I have yet to see anything in libertarian philosophy that explicitly deals with how ‘freedom’ equates to making sure nobody gets less than they deserve.

        I want to know why this is.

        Rand for example talks vaguely about compassion and charity, but it does not seam central to any creed that ‘helping out your fellow man’ is important.

        I want to understand ‘The Virtue of Selfishness’.

      • Rocco
        October 7, 2013 at 12:56 am #

        David, libertarians reject redistribution because it’s theft.

        Freedom does not equate to ‘not getting less than you deserve’. (I suspect you don’t mean equate, but I can’t think what you do mean.)

        People who exploit State services are not deserving of contempt.

        Ayn Rand is not vague when she talks about compassion and charity. She takes great pains to explain her position. So, if you want to understand “The Virtue of Selfishness”, I suppose you could try reading it. (That’s not sarcasm, by the way, it’s a book of hers.)

        Hope this helps.

      • Rocco
        October 7, 2013 at 1:15 am #

        David, regarding “getting less than you deserve”, the question you should be asking is: Who decides who ‘deserves’ what?

        As to whether ‘helping out your fellow man is important’, this is something everyone must decide fire themselves. In a laissez faire society, if you, David, wished to give to charity, or set up a charity and try and convince others to give to it, no one would stop you.

    • Russell Taylor
      October 7, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

      David, one of my favourite Thomas Sowell quotes is: “The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.” This is an important question, the answer to which determines your place on the political spectrum.

      I think that we the people should decide what’s best, and I think that free markets are the means of people expressing their preferences to others. Socialism is attractive to those who find that their interests differ from everyone else. It’s the product of alienation from a society that has failed to endorse their sense of entitlement.

  5. g1lgam3sh
    October 6, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    I still have a little collection of some of your more coruscating ‘tayles’ comments from DT blogs.

    As always a cogent and trenchant delineation of the left.

  6. g1lgam3sh
    October 6, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

    I still have a little collection of some of your more coruscating comments on DT blogs.

    As always, a cogent and trenchant deconstruction of the narcissist left.

    • Russell Taylor
      October 7, 2013 at 11:45 am #

      Hang onto them. They’ll be worth a mint when I win that Pulitzer Prize!

      • David
        October 7, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

        @ Rocco –

        I literally meant “I want to understand ‘The Virtue of Selfishness’ ” – I would not quote a book I had not read, and I am by no means not the only educated person who struggles with some of her key definitions. They can seam very lucid ideas, other times, like Necker cube Illusions they shift their gestalt when you try to nail down the terms.

      • Rocco
        October 7, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

        David, sorry my reply came across badly – it was very late, and I’m not as young as I used to be. Look, mate, I’m not a Randian, but I’ll give out my best.

        Rand’s position on charity is that private charity is fine. If you’re giving to a cause that you value more than you value keeping the money you give, you should give to it. In fact, not giving to such a cause would be irrational given your values.

        Compassion as in giving to a cause that you don’t value, is to new rejected.It would be irrational to act in such a manner, that is, to destroy what you value for the sake of what you don’t value.

        If you look up her interview with Playboy magazine (and you should) the interviewer tries to catch her out by asking if out would be immoral, on her philosophical grounds, to take a bullet for her husband. She tells him to stop bring so foolish – of course it’s not wrong to die for a loved one. In fact, insofar as her life wouldn’t be worth living without get husband, it would be wrong to not choose to die to save his life.

  7. tallbloke
    October 6, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    On the whole, Brits are a pragmatic bunch who don’t really want to be swept up into a movement which goes too far left or too far right. So they vacillate between Tory and Labour, blissfully unaware that they are living in a one party state which is evolving not in the direction of their (slight) preference for soft left or soft right, but in the direction of technocracy, control, and separation of the priviledged from the hoi polloi.

    The British political class, whatever their badge, came from the same schools, did the same PPE degree, and have their snouts in the same trough. They are narrow minded and blinkered, and it’s time to replace them with sound minded, more broadly experienced ordinary Brits.

  8. Philip Foster
    October 10, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    It was Chesterton who used a neat (though simplistic) analogy. Suppose a man wanted everything to be his favourite colour – blue let’s say. He would set out to colour everything blue. Each day he might get on slowly or he might get on quickly, but either way, day by day, he would be getting nearer his goal of everything being blue.

    But in the modern world man tends change his favourite colour every day and as a result he doesn’t get on at all!

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