Friday, 25 February 2011
A Decent Perspective
A while back I came across a blog by a young man who claimed to be a professional writer and whose hero was Cristopher (sic) Hitchens. I'm not connecting to his blog because I never want to visit it ever again, but I was curious to see that new decents are still sprouting up.
Of course, decency never died; to paraphrase Frank Zappa it just smells funny: just look at Te Graun's constant attack on the Russians for not electing an oligarch-friendly regime. For those lucky enough not to know what a 'decent' is, it's someone who claims to be left wing. Just that they support American Imperialism and often support neo-liberal economics.
However, there is actually a really thin line between decents and a vast section of the left. In a sense their major crime in the eyes of other left-wingers is to ally some left wing ideals (hatred for religion and patriotism blended with an apocalyptic view of a preordained moral order that is unavoidable for any country) to the neo-conservative goals of a Pax Americana.
In some ways this isn't as daft as it sounds, especially if you take the historicist view that Western values are universal and that secular economic and social liberalism are unavoidable destinies for all nations. In fact I thought during the Bush presidency that Pat Buchanan and The American Conservative actually put forth the most convincing arguments against neo-conservatism, avoiding the fool's game of how many corpses would be on either tab but arguing that the Christian West has ideals that are not common elsewhere, that invading a sovereign state is wrong, that killing is wrong, that using state violence is wrong and that respect for one's country and respect for other countries are two sides of the same coin.
It does seem to me by contrast that the mainstream left failed for trying to play the utilitarian arguments against military intervention when it was all up in the air. However, going deeper I'd say that for all its hatred of religion, the mainstream left has a profoundly religious mindest which makes it an ally of fanaticism, both Islamic and Neo-Con: the axiomatic view that all manifestations of all religions are all uniquely bad and stupid. Subsequently the complex history of faith, reason and politics in the West are just simplified into a morality fable where 'we' (meaning people who've achieved very little) have defeated 'the religious' and managed to find art and science ex nihilo in the 19th century.
You might think that this is drifting a bit from the topic of decents, but in fact this is a core plank of decency: that the Nosferatu of faith will skulk way when the bright light of atheism appears: maybe this bright light will need to be white phosphorus, but a bright light nonetheless.
The problem is that if you sign up to this historicist view, then you are signing up to a view of history which is very similar to that of the decents and of the neo-cons and (for opposite reasons) the fundamentalist Christian right.
It is because I cannot share this view of history as a morality play that I tended to think of myself as a conservative who supports cradle to grave welfare, nationalised industries, nationalised land, full negative liberties for all minorities, generous immigration, freedom of speech, opposition to censorship, employee's rights, skepticism about the power of the state to control drugs, trade unions and tight regulation of banking.
Whilst I think it's quite a bit simpler just to call myself a Christian leftist, I do wonder indeed if being 'left wing' really does carry this curse of historicism. Of course the mainstream neo-liberal right not only is more historicist, it is also more influential whilst the paleo-con right has its own flaws and indeed seems to have gobbled up the majority of decents. Still, whilst the most prominent decents have either repented or jumped ship, I do think that the left needs to really rethink its views on the philosophy of history and whether all the nations on earth should be forced to 'progress' towards a culture created by white guys who speak English.