Micklethwait & Wooldridge opine on a Conservatism in need of reform. Old Socialist comments

Micklethwait & Wooldridge (M&W) begin their essay with Ambrogio Lorenzetti fresco of 1339, ‘The Allegory of Good and Bad Government’. What can two Oxford grads offer but the most highfalutin historical reference, yet obscure enough to evoke a kind of awe, in the thought of the reader? In sum, it is an allegory on ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Government. In their telling, political scientist Samuel Lubell enters their melodrama, and he postulates that there are two Parties , the party of ‘the sun of the sun’ which creates the light and heat, and a “party of the moon,” which ‘shines in the reflected radiance of the heat thus generated’.

In this paragraph M&W apply their borrowed frame to British/American political history:

Ever since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the right has been the “party of the sun” in the United States and Britain. Now it is in danger of becoming the party of the moon unless it radically overhauls both its personnel and its ideas. Certainly, it has ended up on the bad-government side of Lorenzetti’s fresco.

M&W present to the reader with this characterization of ‘Left’ governance since 1979:

Since 1979, the left has managed to install only four people in the White House or Downing Street — Bill Clinton and Barack Obama on one side of the Atlantic, and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown on the other (and the latter never won an election). The right has established a clear advantage in two things — practical competence and intellectual dynamism.

This parade of ‘Leftists’: ‘Bill Clinton and Barack Obama on one side of the Atlantic, and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown‘. What significance might the reader attach to M&W’s proclamation of Conservatism’s ‘practical competence and intellectual dynamism’ ? E.g. The Depression of 2008? What do all these ‘Left’ politicians have in common? Both The New Democrats, Clinton and Obama, and New Labour Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are Neo-Liberal just like Reagan and Thatcher.

In an American political context the reader need only look at Obama’s praise, not of FDR, but of Reagan.

“I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what’s different are the times. I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.

“He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the 60s and the 70s, and government had grown and grown, but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people just tapped into — he tapped into what people were already feeling, which was, we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.


A further long quote from M&W is revelatory:

The first is a traditional advantage of conservatism. Both Republicans and the Tories have based their electoral appeal on the idea that they will do a better job of looking after your money and protecting your country than the other guys. Vote for the left if you want to build castles in the air. But if you’re more interested in preserving the value of your house and keeping criminals off the streets, then vote for the right.

Not content with just the above M&W continue their unstinting praise for ‘Conservatism’ in all its attachments to demonstrably failed policies- in an American context look at the Neo-Liberal Clinton’s and Welfare Reform, Crime Bill, and the catastrophic repeal of Glass-Stegall! M&W praise ‘Conservatism’ yet its attachment to intellectuals like Milton Freedman and James Q. Wilson are part of an alliance of Conservatives, with the equally toxic Neo-Liberalism: that demands a strong state to protect the hallowed Free Market. This utterly antithetical to Reagan’s battle cry of ‘government is the problem’! Or Mrs. Thatcher passing out ‘Road to Serfdom’ as if it were a party favor. Not to forget the most politically exploitable ‘Leftists’, and their attachment to a corrosive Anti-Capitalism!

However, the right has also been more dynamic, generating the intellectual light that the moon can do no more than reflect. Since 1979, modern conservatism has produced nearly all the important ideas that have changed the political universe, from privatization to welfare reform to “broken windows” crime policy. These ideas may sound obvious today, but they were widely regarded as “crazy” when they were first floated in the work of maverick intellectuals, such as Milton Friedman in economics and James Q. Wilson in social policy. Indeed, those ideas became so mainstream that they changed the left, too. Clinton and Blair, the two most successful left-leaning politicians of the past 40 years, were often accused of being conservatives. Clinton balanced the budget and reformed welfare. Blair gave his party a new name, New Labour, and abandoned the dream, laid out in Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution, of nationalizing the means of production.


The real problem with ‘Conservatism’ is that in America, its titular head is a TV Game Show Host, Donald Trump , whose political precursor was the Tea Party, that devoured itself in a permanent revolution, and found Trump’s ‘Brand’ very easy to embrace with a kind of fervor. With the rank and file and office holders eventually acceding to his power. And in Britain Boris Johnson, a political Know Nothing, yet he managed to accomplish Brexit, yet still maintains his status as political buffoon.

Old Socialist

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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