Saturday, September 21, 2013

Clegg & the elite consensus

I argued in my last post that there is an elite consensus that:

i) what matters in life is that we make ourselves in the market

ii) it is therefore moral and just to focus on removing impediments to participation in the market, especially by making unchosen attributes like class, sex and race not matter when it comes to employment and earnings outcomes

I had a look at the UK Liberal Democrats site last night and it was mostly in line with my claim. Here, for instance, is what is highlighted in the "What we stand for" section of the Lib Dem website:
"The Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger economy in a fairer society enabling every person to get on in life"

Having a strong economy is a good thing. But if this is the limit of your concept of a good life, or a just society, then you aren't going to uphold the traditional family or nation.

I also had a look at a recent speech given by the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg. Some interesting excerpts:
Here we were, this anti-establishment liberal party

He wants to pretend that he is anti-establishment, despite the fact that his politics are much the same as the other mainstream establishment parties.
I am an internationalist – pure and simple; first by birth, then by marriage, but above all by conviction.

He goes on to add:
And that is the United Kingdom that I want my children – all children – to grow up in: a United Kingdom that defends and promotes its values – our liberal values – at home and abroad.

He is an internationalist who believes that the values of the UK are liberal values. There are two important points to be made here. First, he confidently assumes that liberalism is not just one political philosophy competing for political power, but is something akin to a state ideology in the UK (and yet he still adopts the pretence that he is an "anti-establishment" liberal).

Second, it's not much of a basis for defending a distinct peoplehood. If the basis of being English is adopting liberal values, then how is being English different from being French or German or American, since these countries too define themselves according to the same kind of liberal civic nationalism?

And what if you're one of the many Englishmen who is not a liberal? Is a liberal Peruvian more English than a genuinely conservative Englishman?

Interestingly when it comes to the issue of Scottish independence he attempts to win over the Scottish nationalists by talking much more traditionally about nations and peoples:
Our vision is of a proud and strong Scotland, within the United Kingdom, in charge of its own fate but part of a family of nations too.

I don't for a moment believe that Nick Clegg is really interested in upholding a proud and strong Scotland as part of a family of nations. But perhaps this shows that if nationalist groups were better organised they could influence liberal politicians: that the rhetoric would change as liberal politicians sought to deal with nationalist demands.

Here is Clegg on class:
My brothers and sister and I were always taught to treat everyone the same, not to judge people by their background. We were raised to believe that everyone deserves a chance because everyone’s fortunes can change, often through no fault of their own.

And now, as a father with three children at school, I have come to understand even more clearly than before that if we want to live in a society where everyone has a fair chance to live the life they want  – and to bounce back from misfortune too – then education is the key.

...That’s why I made social mobility the social policy objective of this Government

It's not that everything in this is wrong. I'm quoting it because it's such a common part of the current political consensus. You'd get the same thing, for instance, from the Australian Labor Party.

Note the assumptions in this little passage. The assumption is that the important thing and the thing that people want to do is to be a well-off person with a good job. Therefore, it's important that people can bounce back from misfortune and that education provides social mobility.

But not everyone in society is going to have a glamorous professional career. Nor does everyone really aspire to this. And a job is just one aspect of what makes for a life. If we are to talk about people living "the life that they want" then we need to focus on more than social mobility. What if I want to uphold the historic community I belong to and which forms a significant part of my identity? What if I want to express my masculine being and identity within a stable culture of family life as a father and husband? What if I want to live within a community which strikes the right balance between personal freedoms and a moral culture which promotes integrity and virtue? What if I want to live in a community which is still capable of producing high art? What If I want to live in a community which is not turned against itself and committed to its own dissolution?

Finally, there's this:
If you want to know what I really believe in you will find it in these policies. Using the muscle of the state to create a level playing field when it counts most – when boys and girls are still forming their views, their characters, their hopes and their fears.

That’s why I’m delighted to tell you that we are now also going to provide free school meals for all children of infant school age.

...The Conservatives, on the other hand, have made it clear that their priority is to help some families over others, with a tax break for married couples.

We, however, will help all families in these tough times, not just the kind we like best...

Look again at the focus. The focus is on the state as a guarantor that each child will start out with an equal opportunity - the assumption being that this means an equal opportunity to aspire to a professional job. Therefore, it is the role of the state to make sure that the formation of aspiration (views, character, hopes, fears) is equal amongst children.

Clegg is going to have to go well beyond a free school lunch if this is his intention. After all, previous generations achieved a high level of social well-being by raising children within a stable two-parent family. But Clegg has explicitly rejected this aim, claiming that such families shouldn't be preferred. He wants, in other words, a boy raised by a single mother on welfare to be just as ambitious as the boy raised within a family where there is the model of a hard-working father.

I can't see it working, not even with massive levels of state intervention. And, in the meantime, the role that is meant to be played by parents is usurped by the state. Even the task of providing food for your child.

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