Friday, 1 October 2010

When We Were Social Democrats

Whilst I don't like to idealise any type of society or overstate the influence of an economic system on the psychology of the people, it does strike me as interesting that before we were diverted from the road to serfdom, Britain showed resilience against terrorism that seems astounding to someone who has lived through the hysterical 'war on terror' in neo-liberal privatisation-mad Britain. From Simon Jenkins in The Guardian:

'In the mid-1970s, the Provisional IRA staged some 50 explosions in London, subjecting the city to far greater mayhem than today. Somehow we survived without the gargantuan counter-terror apparatus in place today. The bombing campaign came nowhere near toppling the British government or infringing the liberty of the state.'

Well, some Irish Catholic immigrants might not have felt that the British state was a model of liberty at the time and it would be ridiculous to ignore the very real human rights abuses that the state carried out against many innocent Irish people. However, it does seem to me that the British government overall did handle the IRA terror threat with a certain level-headedness. As a historian, I'm often interested in how Heath and Wilson will be remembered. Those who lived during their time seem to have remarkably low opinions of them (it is notable that Jenkins treats the attitudes of the time as common-sense without praising Heath or Wilson). Perhaps this is bi-fold: firstly social democracy may be more appealing as a dream than as a reality. Secondly, I think that the boomer generation spent so much time hating authority with values, that they would be hard pushed to recognise that we've gone backwards.

Be that as it may, I do think that history will be more generous to the people they fought against and criticised than it will be to those they supported and who are now destroying what their parents struggled for.


  1. Very insightful post, Gregor. I generally don't like to engage in generational warfare, but I think some Boomers fail to realize how good they had it compared to their parents and perhaps compared to their children (we'll have to wait and see on that last bit).

    Economic liberals benefit from the fact that their system's heyday is far enough into the murky past that people often fail to realize how awful it was under classical liberal economics. On the other hand, many people remember the periods when Keynesianism ran into problems, like in the 1970s.

    In my own personal experience with economically right-wing Boomers, the 1970s is recounted as a kind of decade from Hell. To be honest though, I think I'd take stagflation over the brutal deflation we have now.

    On the topic of terrorism, I think much of the overreaction is being fed by the private security industry that has made a bundle out of the War on Terror. Security is one of the few growth industries left in the United States.

  2. @John
    Thank you for your comment. I also generally dislike generational warfare. I think especially in America it is adopted by the right to attack retirees. However, in Britain it's a bit different. the British boomer generation really has failed to see the type of world they've helped create and how by any objective standard the social democrat world they came into gave them many more opportunities than we have.

    As for 70s, it's the same here in a sense, but according to polls, Brits were happiest in the 70s which was also the most egalitarian decade in Britain.

    Muito obrigado!
    (is that right? I have recently started trying to learn Portuguese)