Friday, February 07, 2014

Can Elle Hardy's definition of the right hold?

I was interested to come across a post at The Guardian titled "What's wrong with the Australian right - and how to fix it." It's written by a young woman named Elle Hardy. She claims to be a rightist, but here's the problem. She attempts to define the right as follows:

It is of course difficult to define the range of views held under the banner of those who consider ourselves "right", as it spans conservatism and liberalism. But broadly, we can class our fundamental beliefs as follows: limited government, belief in the rights of the individual, and the desire to preserve the institutions that make our democracy function.

This is the problem with attempts at "fusionism" between conservatism and liberalism. The fundamentals of liberalism remain untouched, and the role of conservatism is limited to preserving liberalism itself.

That's why Elle Hardy has not escaped that limiting framework of politics, in which the big debating point is still how to best regulate a society made up of millions of abstracted, interchangeable individuals each in pursuit of their own self-interest.

For left-liberals the answer is regulation by an interventionist, technocratic state. For right-liberals like Elle Hardy the answer is regulation by the free market (and along the formal lines of statements of individual rights). She sees the market as a source of morality and freedom; her politics is a vision of Economic Man. And so she writes:
Intellectual and moral leadership is required to bridge the gap between populist policies, with which we must grapple as ardent democrats, and the promotion of fundamentals such as free markets and natural rights.

She complains about the left,
rejecting the benefits of technological advancements such as fracking and necessary workplace relations changes to compete in a globalised economy. We need to build the intellectual heft to prosecute the case against the propensity for government intervention.

And that,
As many of the left devote their time to demonising capitalism, posting comments from their iPads, it is crucial that we continue to endorse its benefits and inherent morality...Foreign ownership of farms, and the natural shift of our economic base away from manufacturing are both positive things, and we cannot allow a selective fear of Chinese capital to flourish.

Even when she writes to defend civil society, she does so in reference to the market:
A strong civil society helps to keep government out of our lives, strengthens our interactions with the free market, and aides inclusiveness

Which leads me to the main point I want to make. We are kidding ourselves if we think that this right-liberalism is a suitable vehicle for defending the traditions we belong to. To help prove my point, take marriage as an example. What does someone with Elle Hardy's mindset think about marriage?

Not much. She writes:
Historically, the institution has much of which it should be ashamed. Marriage likely evolved due to men’s desire to secure their agricultural and human property, and ensure legitimate succession...

Marriage has been antithetical to liberty for the majority of human beings who have inhabited earth throughout the ages, most notably women (or girls, as so often has been the case). Today, in many parts of the world, legalised marriage continues to be a tool of oppression...

The history and traditions of marriage show it to be a patriarchal institution of the highest order. 
Why, then, are Western liberal democracies so polarised between defending and fighting for something which has been such a pejorative concept to so many, for so long?

According to Elle Hardy all that matters is the right to choose whatever we want as long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of others. Therefore, the state should not restrict who may or may not marry; marriage should be a private matter in which we might marry a group of people if we so desire:
When Kevin Andrews preached his views to us last year, he disguised socio-economic disparities to make the case for marriage in his book Maybe “I do” – Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness. Central to his argument was the logical fallacy of the slippery slope: “Once the state can no longer insist that marriage involves a commitment to a member of the opposite sex, there is no ground (other than superstition) for insisting that marriage be limited to one person rather than several.”

There is no justification in his diatribe as to why government should play a role in enforcing this view. The principles of liberal democracy hold that consenting adults should be able to make any union they so wish, provided it does not interfere with the rights of others.

There is simply no role for state regulation of group marriage, homosexual marriage, or heterosexual marriage in a democracy

Finally there's this:
That which we know as marriage – a nice, albeit expensive, celebration of commitment, which comfortably dissolves into drunkenness and bad dancing – is not a bad thing in and of itself. On a semantic level, it would be futile to try to stop the use of the word marriage, or to change its heteronormative nature. But it is important for people to be able to define marriage of their own free will.

We must immediately, symbolically, give all people the right to marry whoever they choose.

I rest my case. This is liberalism and not anything that can truly be termed conservatism. She does not want to conserve an institution that is inherently meaningful, she wants to uphold the right of the individual to self-define what the institution means. It is the right of autonomous choice that matters to her and this leads her to take a very negative view of marriage as being an impediment to individual freedom, rather than an institution which fulfils aspects of our natures as men and women; which provides a relatively stable environment for the expression of marital and parental love; and which encourages individuals to invest in the societies they belong to.


  1. It is ironic that she should use the example of same-sex marriage when talking about the "logical fallacy" of the "slippery slope." Slippery slope arguments are not, in fact, fallacies, since some processes do have positive feedback loops (the process of sliding down a slippery slope, for instance). In any case, when sodomy was decriminalized a few decades ago, anyone who complained that this would lead to same-sex marriage could have been accused of this bogus "slippery slope fallacy." As it happens, no one made that argument because no one knew how slippery the slope actually was. Ditto no-fault divorce and a host of other social innovations.

    An operating definition of a true conservative might be a man who believes that all slopes are slippery, and most are studded with crags and jagged rocks

    1. Yes, a fallacy is defined as an argument that uses poor reasoning. Therefore, whether or not a slippery slope argument is a fallacy depends on whether it is supported by a logical argument or not. If I were simply to assert "smacking of children should not be banned because if it is banned it will lead to a decline in GDP" then that would be a fallacious use of a slippery slope argument. But if Kevin Andrews were to argue in support of his position something along the lines that "marriage between a man and a woman supports the ideal of a two person marriage because it can be envisaged as a union of two distinct but complementary parts that together form a whole union" then he has described a process by which one event (revoking the heterosexual nature of marriage) leads on to another (marriage is opened up to multiple partners). It may be proved correct or false but it is not a fallacy.

  2. Libertarian conservatism will ultimately lead to more government, not less. Even if the government stops promoting "heteronormative" values, people will notice that such values are still the norm. Some of them will argue that popular prejudice is imposing that norm and therefore limiting our free will. So there will be demands that the government intervene and set things right. Since most people are heteronormal by nature, there will then be demands to beef up this intervention. And a ratchet effect will begin ...

    Libertarian conservatives may not be among those who make those demands, but they create a political environment where such demands become inevitable. Somebody should be making the counter-argument that free will is limited by human nature and that there is nothing wrong or evil in these limitations. In fact, these limitations are adaptive; they have developed over a long period of time to help us survive and reproduce. Unfortunately, we cannot count on "conservatives" to make that kind of argument.

  3. She seems to be economically right-liberal and socially left-liberal. In Britain even our right-liberals don't talk like that about marriage (yet).

  4. Just as an aside from the main thrust of your post, this quote struck me:

    "Intellectual and moral leadership is required to bridge the gap between populist policies, with which we must grapple as ardent democrats, and the promotion of fundamentals such as free markets and natural rights."

    Is she saying here that right-wing elites must do whatever they can to defeat the political inclinations of most people while still keeping some pretense of letting them rule? That's certainly what the elite of the Left believe.

    1. Yes, I think she is saying something like this. She is embarrassed that Tony Abbott is focusing on issues like border control. She accepts that democracy involves the getting of popular support but wants people like Abbott to inspire that support, morally and intellectually, on the basis of her own preferred policies of free markets and individual rights.

  5. "Foreign ownership of farms, and the natural shift of our economic base away from manufacturing are both positive things, and we cannot allow a selective fear of Chinese capital to flourish."

    Oh dear. 100% kool-aid. Three strikes and she's out. Somebody send her books by Pat Buchanan, Ian Fletcher, or Paul Craig Roberts, to dispel the free-trade myths. There are fruit farmers committing suicide in Australia because of the devastation of free-trade.

  6. Sounds more like a gatekeeper than any kind of conservative. They always said the plan was to dominate both sides of the divide and frame the issues and paradigms accordingly.

    1. Well put. It's that framing of politics to keep debate within liberal bounds that, unfortunately, rank and file traditionalists were not good at opposing in the past. Instead, traditionalists just tended to attach themselves to right-liberal parties and to be content with some conservative sounding appeals to nation or family at election time. The task is to assert a politics that expresses a principled traditionalism.

  7. Right-liberals are a more dangerous enemy than leftists. The right-liberal dominance of supposedly conservative parties promotes the illusion that we have democracy. It makes people think they have a choice when in fact it's merely a choice between two evils. I suspect that right-liberalism is actually supported by a tiny proportion of the population. Most people vote for parties of the right because they want conservatism, not right-liberalism.

    Right-liberalism, like leftism, is an ideology of elites by elites for elites.

    1. I think you're right that right-liberalism is not deeply popular (at least not in Australia). But it dominates on the right because it has institutional support (business associations, economics faculties, certain media outlets).

    2. I don't think so. Parties always follow popular vote, and, let's face it, majority of ''right'' voters today are not socially/culturally conservative, they vote for their ''right-wing'' - capitalism and individualism (both without any restraints and therfore antithetical to conservatism). Contemporary right shuns any element of social/cultural conservatism because they believe that it creates bad image and will lose votes for such policies. Most of the Westerners who claim to be ''conservative'' usually know nothing about the orgins and the real meaning of that word.

  8. Typical case of libertarian disguising as conservative. If you check out her twitter page, you'll se she descibes herself proudly as ''rootless cosmopolitan''. How is that compatibile with anything right-wing, if conservatism starts with rootedness, restraints and devotion to a place? She is simply looking to sell her liberal-libertarian ideology to conservatives, or she really seems to think there is something conservative about individual rights and liberal democracy. That's the problem with nowdays western conservatism that it has been to much poisoned with libertarianism. In my view, liberatarianism, liberalism, socialism all sprung from the same, and I don't want any of it.

    1. Anon, I missed that. I went and checked out her twitter page and sure enough "rootless cosmopolitan" is the first thing she describes herself as.