Sometimes – often probably – it’s necessary to stop going along with the received wisdom and re-examine the evidence. Which is a pretty vague comment, but in surgical practice it’s an occasional life-saver.
In public life and politics it’s just as essential, but hardly happens. A couple of examples recently make the point.
Firstly, the state knows better than the individual. Nothing better exemplifies the Brown Terror, and the preceding Blair Decline than this concept. It came up in the dying days of the Terror, when leaving our money in our pockets, to use as we please was routinely recast as “taking money out of the economy”. Gordon, Ed and the rest knew better than the people who earned and owned the cash what was good for us. They always did.
Since the Dave ‘n Nick rebirth poor Ed Balls has been flailing around in his doomed leadership campaign, taking occasional time out to castigate Gove’s schools plans – “educational apartheid”, naturally. Blinky’s implication seemed to be that children would be forcibly separated into good schools and shit schools under Gove’s plan, probably according to social class. As the plans are predicated completely on increasing choice in the system, what Blinky was struggling to say, or even admit to himself, was that he didn’t like it, and he knew best what our children need.
In a sumptuously precise dissection, Jamie Whyte in the Wall Street Journal picks Blinky apart, and based on Blinky’s own abuse of the term “apartheid”, neatly demonstrates how inside every bossy socialist lurks a true fascist:
“Most people agree that South Africa’s apartheid laws were abominable. But, after Mr. Balls’s remark, I am not sure we all agree on what was wrong with them. My objection, which I had thought to be universal, is that apartheid limited people’s freedom of association. To take but one outrageous example, it was illegal for a black and a white to marry each other.
But this cannot be what Mr. Balls thinks was wrong with South Africa’s racial apartheid because the social separation that might result from parent-run schools would be voluntary. The Academies Act does not force parents to start schools, it allows them to. Unlike South Africa’s apartheid laws, it does not limit freedom of association but expands it.
Mr. Balls does not object to the Academies Act because it attacks our liberty (since it obviously does not), but because he predicts that people will choose to associate in ways that he dislikes. He thinks people should send their children to schools where pupils come from households of differing incomes, but he doubts they would do so if given a choice. Mr. Balls wants the education system effectively to compel children to attend “socially mixed” schools.
Like the politicians of South Africa’s apartheid era, Mr. Balls is convinced that he knows how people should associate, and he is happy to use the coercive powers of the state to make sure we fall in line…… On the fundamental issue, Mr. Balls agrees with Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of South African apartheid. He thinks the state should make people associate, not however they wish, but according to the “correct” principles. Messrs. Balls and Verwoerd differ only on the details, only on the principles they deem correct….”
He goes on to provide another perfect example that may yet come back and haunt Dave:
“British economist and commentator Anatole Kaletsky recently endorsed the new government’s return to an industrial policy of “picking winners.” According to Mr. Kaletsky, the only reason the policy failed in the 1970s was because the politicians back then had a habit of picking losers. The problem lay not with the policy of forcibly diverting resources to the businesses that, contrary to the judgment of investors risking their own money, politicians deemed winners. No, the problem lay only with the politicians doing the deeming. Picking winners is an excellent policy when administered by the wise politicians of 2010…”
Turning to riskier business, but with the same theme, why do some muslims want to kill us, particularly if we’re American?
Not just 9/11, but in the very many other examples before and after that day. The received wisdom is that they object – in theory more than practice – to decadent Western habits, free societies, the acceptance of free choice in human affairs etc, all underpinned by a rather ill-defined idea that America (and us) have done terrible things to Islam. That’s the theory. There’s a lot more – jihad, Koran literalists and so on – but that’s the main theory. It’s also one eagerly subscribed to by the Guardian, Barack Obama, the BBC (I know, boring, same old list..)
Except that it’s not correct.
“The international order that emerged in the wake of the second world war was based on the assumption that grievances are non-transferable. If one group or nation has a grievance against another, then it is the business of diplomacy to resolve the issue. If resolution is impossible, then we must rely on the balance of power to deter any conflict.
The attacks of 11 September 2001 awoke us to the fact that some grievances are transferable. They arise in one place and are transferred to another; they originate between A and B and are fought out between C and D. The problem confronting the world today is that of the transferable grievance: how to resolve it and – more importantly, since resolution is unlikely – how to deter it…..
We do not explain the 9/11 attacks by referring to a concrete and resolvable grievance against America. It is true that, in the wake of the attacks, various rationales were given: the presence of American troops in the holy lands of Islam; the support given by America to Israel; the gross and pornographic culture of America; the spoliation of the middle east by western values, western commerce, and modernist architecture; the overbearing insolence of McWorld.
But these rationales showed not that there was a single target of the resentment, but a single source. And that source was radical Islam. Hence we should understand the attacks by linking them to Islamist terrorism elsewhere (whether in France or Holland, in Algeria or Bali, in India or Chechnya) terrorism which invariably involves the mass murder of innocents, justified by vague and metaphysical goals that have no real relation to the means chosen to advance them.
Radical Islam has a transferable grievance. True, it is not shared by all Muslims or even the majority of them. But the grievance lies coiled in the heart of the religion all the same, and like every such grievance it does not understand itself….
Muslims want that liberty as much as non-Muslims do: and to obtain it they migrate in their millions from the places where Islam is sovereign to the places where it is not – America being the longed-for final haven. And that is the source of the grievance. Radical Islam is cut off from the modern world: its revelation and its law are by their nature fixed and unadaptable, and the sight of people successfully living according to other codes and with other aspirations is both a cause of offence and an irresistible temptation…..
To Islamic radicals, western societies seem to be evading Islam rather than saying no to it. And this feeds the great illusion that Islam is the destiny of all people everywhere. and that Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, atheism and agnosticism are all defeatible heresies, rather than the firm and considered convictions of those who adopt them. It feeds that fundamental disrespect for the Other which is the great blemish on the face of radical Islam and which Muslims everywhere must learn to overcome.”
Received wisdom: we have offended Islam. True picture: Islamic fascists – that word again – are exploiting a vague transferable grievance, and we’re stupidly going along with it. At least some of our leaders are.
One final point. Jamie Whyte undermines his argument a bit at the end with:
“Mr. Balls is certainly a nicer man than Hitler was.”
Personally speaking, I’m not so sure