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How the new 'left' and 'right' meet in the authoritarian middle
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Thu, 2006-10-19 22:36
Many people have been surprised at the alliance of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, men respectively of the right and the left but who share an obviously genuine friendship. The answer to the apparent paradox is to be found in their respective philosophies. The so-called 'philosophies' of the left's 'Third Way' and the right's Neo-Conservatism' to which these two subscribe share more than their promoters might like to concede.
In fact, I would suggest that in all essentials the 'Third Way' is just the mirror image of 'Neo-Conservatism.' It is no accident that George Bush and Tony Blair have become allies; the understanding they so clearly share is born of a common way of seeing the political landscape, and it has lessons for us here in New Zealand.
Let me explain. These two political schools of the right and the left have until recently both of dominated their respective political 'markets,' and they've done so largely by making themselves 'pragmatic on principle': that is, they accept what they view as the 'political realities' of the present ideological and political geography of a country; they concede that capitalism produces rather more than any other alternative yet devised; and they've chosen to shackle the levers of power and the engine of capitalism simply to deliver votes.
That in a nutshell is the 'big idea' behind the ruling ideologies of both the Neocons and the Third Way zealots.
Far from being big ideas, both are little more than strategies for gaining and holding power for their 'side,' but in placing strategy over principles both leave largely bare the question of what they are gaining power for -- the result is that for both schools the pursuit of politics becomes power for power's sake - and we know (and have seen in the NZ Parliament recently) what the pursuit of power tends to do to those who pursue it absolutely. It's not at all pretty, and not all a natural environment in which freedom and liberty can flourish.
Fortuitously, recent posts on the local blogosphere make the comparison between the two relatively transparent. Prof. Brad Thompson's superb analysis of American conservatism gives the necessary keys to understanding the so-called philosophy of Neo-Conservatism; and now and in an apologia to the local left posted yesterday, Labour strategist Jordan Carter summarises for the "further left" the Third Way strategy followed by Labour here since 1993.
As I suggested above, this is hardly a 'big idea' in terms of political philosophy - this is strategy not philosophy, and if I may translate from the language of wonkery above into how it has worked in practice here, the strategy has been this:
The aim of course is not reform per se, except to the extent that reform might attract votes. The measure of success for such a strategy is not the success of the programmes and policies introduced (as demonstrated in the complete lack of interest shown in plummeting literacy and numeracy, increasing (if now-hidden) hospital waiting lists, and the almost complete disinterest in recent poverty surveys showing increasing poverty), instead the real measure of success to such a strategist can be best measured by the number of votes such a strategy attracts. As Jordan boasts:
Never mind the poverty and dependence, feel the power! "We won, you lost, eat that!" The aim of the 'Third Way' strategy is clear enough: it is power. Power for power's sake. The pursuit of power, and the holding of power once gained -- and all policy is geared to that aim, policy as the hand-maiden of power-lust.
In other words, make policy the hand-maiden of power-lust. Third Way leftists and Neocon rightists might start at what they see as different ends of the political spectrum, but they both meet up in the authoritarian middle. Continuing the summary of the Neocons [with Thompson's words double-indented and my own single-indented):
Neocons agree with the underlying moral principles of the socialists; they disagree merely over the best means to achieve their shared ends. As do all good socialists, neocons hold that welfare should be regarded as a right because it is grounded in people’s “needs”—and, as Kristol explains, for the neocons, “needs” are synonymous with rights...
So the Neocon strategy of gaining and keeping power differs in practice only marginally from the strategy of the Third Way; both seek to politicise the delivery of welfare, and in doing so both seek to enlarge and expand the nannying state and put it at the service of buying votes.
In practice, then, Neocons and Third Way strategists are soul-mates. George, meet Tony. Tony, meet George.
The Vision Thing
And at the end of that 'war' -- and just like Labour -- all they are left with is power, and little real idea of what to do with it. And here's the key thing, and it is this: the 'vision thing' is left for someone else to determine,
And therein here's the hope for local politics. As long as Third Way and Neocon strategists eschew ideas and the 'vision thing,' then ideas and vision become (or should become) the province of their ideologic opposition.
The question is, are they up to it?
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