The Red Tory bamboozle 11th February 2009
Political oxymorons are the new black— “libertarian paternalism” under Thaler and Sunstein, “progressive conservatism” under Blond. I had trouble with the first and am having even more trouble with the second. Demos, where Blond is now based, has always been the place where easy oppositions were explored and ultimately dismantled, generally for the better. But on this occasion, I suggest this is an oxymoron best left alone.
My problem with progressive conservatism is not whether we can make it happen—it’s whether we really want to buy into such a distorted notion of progress. It reeks of nostalgia for a form of working-class solidarity that was swept aside by the welfare state. While the welfare state has generated perverse effects, the “philosophy of entitlement,” as Blond puts it, isn’t one of them. Instead, the welfare state allows people to feel secure enough to thrive despite the vagaries of the market.
Blond’s argument is a distortion of civic republicanism, offering organic solidarity and a reassuring blanket of civic duties to bamboozle us. But re-read your Rousseau folks—civic republicanism is about emancipation, not subjugation to frightened little communities, the likes of which Rousseau abhorred. All this talk of “remoralising” markets, “relocalising communities,” and “recapitalising the poor” has the tin sound of so much loose change in a Victorian coat-pocket.
Demos is asking the right questions. But we have to find the right answers.
Catherine Fieschi British Council
Philip Blond responds: 17th February 2009
Catherine Fieschi would do well to examine the philosophy she advocates. The frightened little communities that she fears are exactly those to which a belief in Rousseau leads. Geneva’s most famous son abhorred communities that would not accept the general will of the majority. Historically, such views underpinned a popular leftism that ultimately trampled the few and the different, for the sake of the manipulated many. Fieschi dismisses the role of civil power as a parochial paternalism. But intermediate institutions are the only genuine protection for individual freedom against the type of state that Rousseau helped inaugurate. The civic reality of dispersed power and the lived experience of a democratised good are a better political alternative to the ruinous legacy of Rousseau and Marx.
Fieschi represents a failed middle-class leftism, which cannot admit its own part in the destruction of working class life. It remains attached to statism, at least…