Auto-liberals, Corbynistas and modernity #1
I posit that we have mass-produced Auto-liberals who are mostly graduates, or soon will be. They have unthinkingly picked up a variety of narrow, intolerant, Bossy Liberalism which assumes that only the soft-left Green worldview can be open-minded, inclusive, progressive and fair. They constitute a good deal of the success of the delusionist (old-hat, half-baked) Corbyn tendency within the Labour Party.
NB: For a historical and philosophical background try: Auto-liberals, Corbynistas and modernity #2
The June 2017 election shows us that for now, as for at least 30 years, the centre-left of politics is in trouble. I presume that Auto-liberals went with Corbyn’s more or less “Loony Left” but might easily have gone elsewhere had there been a suitable offer, perhaps from a party more like “Old Labour” or even “New Labour”. It is an oddity that the young Auto-liberals who became the new Corbynista showed that, as well as being virginally naive (say, over Corbyn’s lifelong agendas), they were vulgarly bribable (say, over tuition fees), and quite dim (say, in believing bobbies on the beat could counter Isis).
Despite this rather rude introduction, these 1500-odd words are designed to be read by Auto-liberals in the hopes that they will recognise themselves and reconsider.
Auto-liberals, Corbynistas and modernity #1
Outlining the problem
British politics is a good deal more complicated than it used to be. The old right-left, Conservative-Labour matrices don’t work well. There are assumed to be new and notable chasms between young and old, cosmopolitan and suburban, state-dependent northerners and entrepreneurial southerners, and – above all – between the graduate and the merely secondary educated classes.
We now have the Auto-liberal graduates amongst whom the under-40’s are especially ignorant and virginal, at least as to history, economics and politics, and the moral philosophy they claim to follow. In definace of the complexities of the age, they have simply gone left-ward. But at least they have started to vote. Previously, their view of public involvement seemed limited to charity marathons and the (un)social media.
Any serious party – whether old or as yet unborn – has to tailor itself to appeal to these “liberals”, but also to educate them as to why “liberalism” is a creed which legitimises many different political and moral approaches, one or other of which can appeal to what we now think of as “right” and “left”, or any other of the old political narratives.
It’ll be a long haul. Since the 1960s at least, large numbers of graduates have shown themselves to be pretty delusional: many of them compounded a dreamy liberalism with the angry politics of the Loony Left. Historically, the left-voting liberals soon came to loathe the pragmatic, modernising Labour leaders who have led governments. Had Jeremy Corbyn won the June 2017 election that process would presumably may have been very intense, rapid and educational for the young Auto-liberals. Even now, Labour may easily betray some aspect of the Auto-liberals’ tender but ardent idealism.
The Auto-liberal defined
I have elsewhere coined “Bossy Liberal” for a class of liberal who is, in effect, the opposite of the more obviously classical, tolerant, Hands-off Liberal. Bossy Liberals presume that they have some right to prescribe and proscribe what others should think and feel, and they tend toward at least soft-left green thinking as to the need for plenty of state involvement, especially in tax-and-spend and the provision of welfare. Auto-liberals are usually Bossy Liberals, but this new coining of mine is intended to capture the way this class of liberal unthinkingly picks up its views, osmotically, tribally, without reading, argument or challenge. Auto-liberals become so virally (and often it’s an online virus) from role-models in the arts and media, and from indoctrination, especially at university, where the creed is promulgated as a matter of academic and pastoral habit.
I have met a good deal of Auto-liberalism in person, and of course seen it endlessly on TV. It is vital to see that this liberalism is an attitude and almost a religion long before it is an argument; it is a matter of tribe and identity rather than of intellectual conviction. (In the second part of this pair of posts, I look at that matter.) It is encapsulated in almost all remarks by Luvvies. It is the informing spirit of much Guardian and Observer writing. Auto-liberalism is opposed to the Conservatives; to Ukip; to any patriotism which comes close to xenophobia; to any view of sexual politics which is not vigorously feminist and supportive of any demands made by gender minorities; to any view of minority “communities” which suggests they should aim at integration; to the idea that state involvement in welfare and the arts might usefully contract, maybe gradually; to the idea that the state should be able to un-encrypt any online messages. Auto-liberalism is vaguely “for” Google and Apple without spotting that these are aiming at a massive wallet- and mind-share and that Facebook and Twitter barely deserve the Social Media label.
Auto-liberalism is importantly defined by its attitude to racism. Anti-racism is its bedrock on which other, lesser constructs stand. This follows the logic that Hitler and the Nazis were first and foremost racists and are plainly beyond the Pale. By then fudging a link between mere nativism and racism, and between any sort of traditionalism and authoritarianism, Auto-liberals can ban a huge range of the less-enlightened, less “progressive”, conservative forces from their comfort zone. [I look at those dimensions in a down-loadable 13,000 word essay, Bossy Liberals and Fascism: 100 years war.]
The really troubling part of the illiberalism of the modern Auto-liberal graduate young is that they do not seem to understand that their avowed creed ought to tend vigorously toward pluralism. They are as conformist, and indeed respectable, as their liberal forebears were rebellious. They are hideously prone to peer pressure. They inhabit a cultural and political monoculture. Instead of seeing that the intelligent, questioning, liberal ought to appreciate that there are many ways of skinning almost any cat – political, economic, social, or cultural – the Auto-liberal seems to hunker down in a comfort zone and find the rest of the world ugly and incomprehensible.
Partly because of tuition fees and student loans, there is a new and expanding mass-production of Auto-liberal graduates, who have very little experience of life, know no exigencies, have no sense of history (old or new), a broad distrust of mainstream politics, and certain confident mantras about fairness (whose inherent vagueness does not worry them). Universities are factories of an unquestioning, narrow, unquestioned liberalism whilst the scope of the ordinary “liberal” education (its basic framework of the “humanities”) seems to have been lost. Modern graduate Auto-liberals look like – and have proved to be – ideal fodder: they are the “useful idiots” of the Corbyn Labour Party.
Historically, Auto-liberals have mostly been soft-left Green in party choices. The new young Auto-liberals are accidental Loony Lefties. Very few see a smaller state as an attractive proposition.
We need to show the young liberal that the creed does not trump the traditional, or instinctual, or unreconstructed, or the prejudiced. Its role is first to understand, and then perhaps to challenge, the person who instinctually responds to the needs of family, tribe or country; or the person who is unthinkingly guided by faith; or one who lives by inherited prejudice rather than tutored open-mindedness. But the young liberal needs – as a matter of liberalism – first to empathise with these people who seem so illiberal and then to wonder how to propound their own views . The Auto-liberal young ought, modestly, to see that any of the tribes they despise may be braver, kinder, more useful socially, than the liberal who despises them.
The Auto-liberal needs to see that liberals do have to empathise very widely. But they cannot assume that to be liberal is to be merely tolerant, forgiving and permissive. Eysenck characterised liberals as tender-hearted, open and generous as against the reactionary’s being hard-hearted. But this is a crude and probably a flase dychotomy. To put it simply and clearly, the liberal needs to be hard-headed about being tender-hearted. In all sorts of areas, tough love may be the kinder course, as well as pragamtic and intelligent. There is a definite case – a highly debatable one – for the neo-Liberal economic creed of a free market, creative destruction, greed-works sort of capitalism. There is also a case – a very strong one, perhaps a German one – for trying to limit its excesses without killing its vigour. Even the Loony Left believes capitalism is so strong it can be milked every which way. All and any of these cases have always been debated as matters of experience and intellect, both as to the getting and spending of wealth. The Auto-liberals have not yet joined those debates, except with a strong predilection for the socialist case.
One can play similar mind-games with policy on drugs, immigration, globalisation, protectionism, education and welfare. Indeed, it is important to do so.
I think this political, cultural and economic discussion will be very difficult to achieve. The Auto-liberal has so far been defined by intellectual incuriosity and inflexibility. And though they are mostly graduates, they do not like longform reading.
The best challenge to Auto-liberalism may come, as so many changes do, by the drip-drip of understanding by Auto-liberals that better sorts of liberal are developing different points of view. We see the beginnings of this with the immigration debate, with Trevor Phillips, Paul Collier and David Goodhart – who seem to be impeccable liberals of the easily-recognisable sort – suggesting a wide range of reasons why enough is enough. A magazine like Standpoint determinedly fields arguments from the Civilised Right, and most of the material is plainly liberal. Much writing by Institute of Economic Affairs authors is an account of the human merits of the free market and the demerits of the socialist welfare state.
Maturity and fashion both come into this. Auto-liberal graduates will become thrusting young players in the worlds of capitalism, bureaucracy, and the professions. Those in the private sector will tend to become Tories, and change Toryism in their image. Those in the public sector (widely defined to include those sectors much subsidised b y the state) may tend to the left. and perhaps remain fairly ossified. But we can hope that some Auto-liberals will also mature into enterprising centrists of some sort. And they may even find that the entrepreneurial working class – White Van Man – is right there with them in these modernisations.