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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

liberalism v community « Previous | |Next »
July 30, 2011

David Runciman in a review in the London Review of Books of The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox: The Oxford London Seminars 2010-11 (ed. Maurice Glasman et el) introduces the idea of Blue Labour, its antagonism to liberalism, and rescuing democracy from liberalism.

RowsonMbanks.jpg Martin Rowson

For Glasman one of the problems with liberalism (understood in terms of intellectual heritage and political instincts) is:

the inability of liberal politics to resist the depredations of international finance capitalism. This is the real passion that motivates Blue Labour: a sense that the country has been raped by the bankers, and all on the watch of a Labour government. They want someone, or something, to stand up to what the editors call in their introduction ‘the destructive, itinerant power of capital’, and they are acutely conscious that New Labour barely even put up a fight. That’s because liberals never put up a fight: all they do is talk about individuals, with their rights and responsibilities, their choices and their freedoms, without noticing that individuals are like confetti in the face of the whirlwind power of money.

An example is the way that the Blair government was beholden to the City of London--finance capital. Obama rescuing Wall Street is another example.

The other problem for liberalism from Blue Labour's perspective is that liberals prefer concepts to concrete experiences. In the end, they prefer nice ideas----like justice, equality and fairness--- to real people and life as it is lived. Glasman thinks in terms of ordinary people, their disempowerment by the powerful forces of the global economy, local struggles and community organisation and reinvigorating democracy. The emphasis is on mutualism, organising from the bottom up and local communities participating directly in their own welfare provision---strong and united local communities looking after themselves.

The Labor Party in Australia, with its espousal of the neo-liberal policies and emphasis on ‘aspiration’ and consumer individualism, has too often neglected precious aspects of our identity and our relationships with one another, riding roughshod over popular attachment to the institutions, places and traditions that we hold dear. In the process, Labour has allowed the conservative side of politics to own too many symbols of national identity and belonging.

If some issues really can be effectively tackled at local level--heritage issues in a capital city, then some challenges are systemic and national--the challenge of bringing about a fairer distribution of resources and in dealing with the pressing environmental issues, and require coordinated national and international action.

Democracy can stand up to capitalism. It succeeded pretty well between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the oil crisis of the 1970s, but it requires politicians to harness the power of the democratic state to broadly redistributive ends, which command the general assent of the people they represent.

Will the social democratic parties of today be able to do this?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:01 PM | | Comments (7)


The world according to Thatcher: " know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first..."

So if you can't look after yourselves.... meh....

There is a parallel argument going on in the US, too. See this blog post by L.Kenworthy:

Kenworthy suggests a non-Union "progressive" politics is a second-best, and I, too, am sceptical of the value of local and/or interest group associations as substitutes for organised labour. However, I do note that outfits like Greenpeace have had some successes, and maybe that's some kind of model.

It is a great post, but one dares not comment further (yet to read link, anyway), prior to revealing ones own prejudices and dreads.
I tend to tentatively link to a incident of political pantomimary locally, last week, though.
Rann's attempted correction of Russell Wortley on a suppressed report, and subsequent ousting of the premier, by the dominant right- astonishing arrogance from the factions is what I have in mind.

An example of local communities fighting global capital in Australia is the fight over coal seam gas mining in NSW (and Queensland?)

The technique used in coal seam gas (CSG) mining and hydraulic fracturing is called ''Fracking'' . This is the practice of using high-pressure pumps to inject a mixture of sand, water and a cocktail of toxic chemicals into gas wells to release unconventional gas.

Greenpeace or Get-Up are more ngo's. Another example of local community is the resistance in the Tamar Valley and Launceston, Tasmania. to prevent Gunns from setting up their Pulp Mill on the Tamar River.

It's interesting to see that, in the context of the US at least, even such a centrist commentator as J.Quiggin bypasses intricate questions like unions/ no unions and goes directly to advocacy of revolution:

"My analysis is quite simple and follows the apocryphal statement attributed to Willie Sutton. The wealth that has accrued to those in the top 1 per cent of the US income distribution is so massive that any serious policy program must begin by clawing it back... If their 25 per cent, or the great bulk of it, is off-limits, then it’s impossible to see any good resolution of the current US crisis".

I think in the current US that would be incitement to revolution. I just hope poor old Prof. Q. doesn't get renditioned to some God-forsaken CIA torture farm for posting it.

I forgot the link to Prof. Q's remarks: