A conflicted right-wing manifesto

Intellectual and practical life is a series of paradoxes and conundrums. I would never follow a purist, though purism can be wonderfully clarifying.

Granted the likelihood of cock-ups, unintended consequences and our general ignorance of the causes and consequences of things, one might suppose that inactivity and scepticism are always the least of evils.

Don’t interfere, might be our watchword.

This sort of logic has tended to apply to those who think the market will work things out for itself, in the end. There is less moral hazard that way. The public and bankers will get punished for excessive optimism and be less likely to have boom and bust in the future.

Likewise, the idle will starve until they learn to work. Even the stupid will educate themselves to the best of their ability, for fear of unemployment.

I am drawn to that logic. I find it quite easy to believe that bankers have felt that wasn’t illegal was allowable and that the disadvantaged think that their suffering must arise from their not having been helped enough. I am out of sympathy with the view – I characterise it as leftist view – that more regulation of bankers and more expenditure on the poor will obviously be the solution to these problems.

I go a bit further. I am inclined to think that the welfare state produced more problems for the weak than it solved for everyone else. That’s to say: without a welfare state, the middle classes and the rich would have looked after themselves pretty well, and there would be fewer poor and they would be less disabled by their dependency.

On the whole, I think the state solves problems very clumsily, with too much interference and almost always at the moment of intense crisis when better solutions were about to be hatched. In this, the smoking ban was introduced at about the moment when most environments were becoming non-smoking.

Whilst this line of argument is one possibility, it is far from being the only one. Well short of communism, which has it own logic, there is the commonplace experience of our fellow human beings. There is not obviously a lot wrong with being Danish or French, and those countries are very obviously not terribly right-wing.  I have a cheerful reply to this argumentative move and it says that Britons have their own strengths and weaknesses, and we have chosen a different path. It is possible that the US ought to tax its rich more and its poor less, and do so as a matter of justice. Ditto, the UK, though the case is less compelling here because the situation is less extreme.

We have chosen a more rambunctious path in which people succeed or fail more brutally. (The US has gone rather further.) I suspect that we need to be tougher – more brutally hands-off – if we are to gain the social advantage of the route we have chosen. But I argue this tentatively.

I fear I am not an extremist by nature. I find it hard to ignore the advice of nearly every economist that in a chronic banking crash, the tax-payer has to provide liquidity. I understand that now that we have a small percentage of citizens who have lost the ability to instil any virtues in their children, we have to work out ways of reaching those children.

I am not an anarchist or a libertarian. I see no obvious ways of emptying our prisons and I can’t imagine abolishing the police or Parliament. Indeed, I admire the British state and strongly believe that in many parts of the world, it is the absence of a state – even of a not very good state – which is the worst disadvantage faced by their citizens.

I am not really a traditionalist. Whilst I love the British army’s ceremonial aspects, I doubt that putting men in robes makes them more suitable for the House of Lords.

I believe strongly in elitism. Our cleverest people ought to be challenged intellectually and celebrated for their achievements. The masses should understand that they can only be led by people cleverer, more committed and tougher than themselves.

But I believe in social cohesion too: we are, individually, useless. Indeed, I believe that a happy society nurtures its elites. I believe in good manners at the same time as I believe in the unique expressiveness of the British.

I am not an isolationist. I believe that the armies of the world ought to be deployed to put right egregious wrongs. Indeed, I believe that the British army ought to be several times bigger than it is, and be at the service of the world. Or rather: I suspect we are the ideal country to field such an army.

You see what I am about here. I want it understood that I am very definitely not a socialist. All my life I have been in an argument – a particular sort of argument – with liberals and leftists. Calling myself a right-winger makes sense, and I mean it. But it is a complicated business.

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Publication date

10 November 2008