Saturday, 30 September 2017

Why There Is No Such Thing As The 'Centre Ground' Of Politics, And Never Has Been!


Jeremy Corbyn thinks the political mainstream has shifted to the left of centre, and that his brand of politics is going to be the barometer for many more disaffected voters in years to come. It's hard to say how accurate Corbyn's hypothesis is because there hasn't ever really been a political centre. At best, the mythical centre ground has been a kind of weighted average of a diverse range of socio-political views that encapsulate both left and right wing beliefs in both the social discourse and the economic discourse.

Here's how the myth of the centre gathered intellectual traction over the years. Because of all the left vs. right wing squabbling, many people have tried to claim themselves to be the more reasonable moderates that sit somewhere in between two extremes - in the proudly occupied 'centre ground' of politics. But it's just not true that the best position on most social and political issues lies somewhere in the middle - life is just not like that in most other areas of objective truth and empirical facts, and it's not like that in politics either (see here for further reading).

One doesn't adopt a middle position about whether it's fine to drop litter, or whether it's good to put diesel in a petrol engine, or whether it's wise to accept astrology as true, so why should anyone expect a middle position on subjects like abortion, same-sex marriage, price controls, assisted dying, environmental issues, the qualities of trade and the harms of retarding it? People have convicted opinions one way or the other - and the judgement about who is right and who is wrong is one for the intellect and the emotional intelligence.

There is not some kind of central ground comprising a reservoir of middle positions. The weighted average of socio-political views that make up our society is not like mixing blue, red, yellow, purple and green paint, it is more like a deep pool of blue, red, yellow, purple and green coloured balls. Consequently, when political parties try to win elections by appealing to the so-called centre ground, you know what they are really doing: they are trying to win a popularity contest a la carte by selling themselves as a weighted average of society's preferences, which is as illusory as it is empty (see here and here and here for further reading)

Given the foregoing, to what extent, then, is there a genuine appetite for hard socialism, and to what extent is Corbynmania merely an extreme cult of personality movement that has been allowed to get out of hand by a mob of credulous individuals?
 
 
To see why I think it's the latter, consider this hypothetical question: It's the eve of the Labour leadership contest in 2015, and Jeremy Corbyn is tragically murdered by a far right extremist. One of the other candidates (Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall) becomes leader, and we have an alternative history in which there is no cult of personality developing around Corbyn, no huge influx of new party members signing up, no barmy shadow cabinet that wants to take Britain back to the economic plight of the 1970s - just a mainstream, unremarkable, business as usual Blairite leader that may or may not have gone on to win the next election.

I think it's pretty evident that under this scenario, without Corbyn, this mass proliferation of hardline socialism, the putrid sense of envy and entitlement from the young, and the vulgar and aggressive intolerance for people that disagree with them would not have become as mainstream as it has - it would have remained within the remit of the fringe lunatics who stand on street corners with sandwich boards declaring that "Capitalism is Dead".

The other main reason I suspect that the rise of hard socialism is really about a cult of personality is that this generation more than any other is a generation in which the anachronisms of Thomas Carlyle's Great Man theory - that history is written by the impact of a minority of charismatic and powerful men - have been well and truly put to bed.

If Corbynmania is an attempt to blow the dust off the outmoded idea that individual humans are good candidates for being put on pedestals - an idea that was already beginning to die alongside the likes of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Kingsley Amis and Harold Pinter - then the intellectual vacuity of the man and his ideas suggest very much that Corbynmania amounts to a personality cult where the leader's proclamations are uncritically and gullibly swallowed whole by a large group of people that are easily led and easily manipulated into some kind of mass hysteria of nonsense.
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