The liberal, secular world view may hold sway over western elites, but it is struggling to answer the conservative challengeby David Goodhart / March 19, 2012 / Leave a comment
Elite colleges produce WEIRD people: Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic
The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt (Allen Lane, £20)
Together by Richard Sennett (Allen Lane, £25)
A few years ago I was at a 60th birthday party for a well-known Labour MP. Many of the leading thinkers of the British centre-left were there and at one point the conversation turned to the infamous Gordon Brown slogan “British jobs for British workers,” from a speech he had given a few days before at the Labour conference.
The people around me entered a bidding war to express their outrage at Brown’s slogan which was finally triumphantly closed by one who declared, to general approval, that it was “racism, pure and simple.”
I remember thinking afterwards how odd the conversation would have sounded to most other people in this country. Gordon Brown’s phrase may have been clumsy and cynical but he didn’t actually say British jobs for white British workers.
In most other places in the world today, and indeed probably in Britain itself until about 25 years ago, such a statement about a job preference for national citizens would have seemed so banal as to be hardly worth uttering. Now the language of liberal universalism has ruled it beyond the pale.
My fellow partygoers were all too representative of a part of liberal, educated Britain. Shami Chakrabarti, of the human rights group Liberty, has argued: “In the modern world of transnational and multinational power we must decide if we are all ‘people’ or all ‘foreigners’ now.”
Oliver Kamm, the centrist commentator, said to me recently that it was morally wrong to discriminate on grounds of nationality, ruling out the “fellow citizen favouritism” that most people think that the modern nation state is based on.
And according to George Monbiot, a leading figure of the liberal left, “Internationalism… tells us that someone living in Kinshasa is of no less worth than someone living in Kensington… Patriotism, if it means anything, tells us we should favour the interests of British people [before the Congolese]. How do you reconcile this choice with liberalism? How… do you distinguish it from racism?”
It is not only people on the left who think like this. On a recent BBC Radio 4 Moral Maze programme about development aid, the former Tory cabinet minister and born-again liberal Michael Portillo had this to say: “It is quite old fashioned to…