Jack George

Naked Politics Blogger

Peter Hitchens, the well-known Daily Mail columnist, wrote a piece renouncing Thatcherism, Reaganomics and the rest of the neoliberal ideological baggage. For those of us never taken by dog eat dog capitalism, this might appear as an obvious step into the light. In a word, he admits that he was wrong.

What his realisation illustrates is a recurring theme in the break of contemporary conservatism. A realignment of the political stars where money is not the only right-wing god. It is reclamation of the intangible, the love for one’s community that cannot be replaced by the motive for profit. As Hitchens puts it, “Soviet-style slowness was bad, but surely better than total indifference.”

Of course, at its heart, such a distancing from free-market dogma, is a plea for Brexit. As such, it illuminates the divide between David Cameron and other, more conservative, conservatives. Which is it that commands the most importance? Money or tradition? Growth or security?

What is supremely curious about statements like Hitchens’ is how they mirror the thinking of much of the contemporary left. In rejecting multi-national corporations in favor of the more local, the more familial, the columnist straddles a similar to line to mayoral candidate George Galloway who wants out of the EU largely in order to avoid the tellingly secretive TTIP agreement.

But taking such arguments to a wider scale, conservatives who advocate for relative international isolationism, Brexiters, Trump etc. mirror in many ways the grassroots community concerns that trigger and stimulate anti-gentrification, anti-imperialist and identity politics movements on the left. They care about their own interests and want to protect these from outside interferences—usually caused by the movement and attracting power of capital.

The Iraq war can serve as a good case example. The prospect of oil money, allied with the pseudo-benevolence of exporting democracy, allowed the invasion to seem both profitable and moral. The counter-argument, that killing hundreds of thousands of civilians on the back of evidence-free fear-mongering was wrong, relied on a notion of the sovereignty of others but also a deeper belief that it might be none of the West’s business.

Nonetheless, in a global economy, it will be hard for any nation or ideology to detach itself entirely from the flows of wealth and influence that permeate the planet. But avoiding direct interference and focusing on the potential wealth within one’s own nation may be less damaging on a world scale.

Of course the benefits of global markets are manifold and hard to argue with. Extreme poverty drops around the world, education rates rise and worldwide death from conflict reaches new lows. The loss is less clear and one that some of the more bellicose and controversial of our representatives, Farage, Galloway, Johnson, will be left to attempt to articulate.

The European referendum is a fascinating event insofar as it allows a clear measure of which of these fancies dominates in a modern western state, one that has benefited hugely from interactions, immoral or otherwise, with places beyond its shores.

The divide thus presented, which will see cross-party support on either side, touches upon a central question in contemporary thought, equally relevant for progressives and conservatives alike: do we like where we are going? Is it ourselves we should care for most? Should the whole world be prey to the same machinations or should we each be allowed to choose our own path?

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Last Update: April 28, 2018