Saturday 4 June 2022

Centering The Right.

It's All In Our Heads: Prefixing right and left with the word “centre” was once a gesture of moderation, intended to reassure voters that the people being put up for election by these “mainstream” parties weren’t crazies. Today, however, the use of the word in relation to parties like America’s Republican Party, Britain’s Conservatives and Australia’s Liberals is, simply, inappropriate. These are no longer centrist parties, they’re unabashed promoters of the policies of the far-right.

IF PETER DUTTON is the answer, then the question should never have been put! The predicament of the Australian Liberal Party, left with no choice but to go from bad to worse, encapsulates the dilemma confronting all of the world’s centre-right parties.

Prefixing right and left with the word “centre” was once a gesture of moderation, intended to reassure voters that the people being put up for election by these “mainstream” parties weren’t crazies. Today, however, the use of the word in relation to parties like America’s Republican Party, Britain’s Conservatives and Australia’s Liberals is, simply, inappropriate. These are no longer centrist parties, they’re unabashed promoters of the policies of the far-right.

As such they have nothing positive to offer an electorate slowly becoming aware of just how much the planet will have to face – and overcome – in the years ahead. If they do not already, these voters will soon comprise a clear majority of their respective populations. In order to rip-up this emerging majority’s preferred policy track, it will be necessary for the parties of the far-right to rip-up democracy as well.

America’s Republican Party is leading the way in this regard: passing voter suppression legislation and shamelessly gerrymandering congressional districts in its favour. Britain’s Conservatives are more dependent on the fundamentally undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system than ever. Boris Johnson’s 80-seat majority in the House of Commons was won with just 43.6 percent of the popular vote!

The fate of Australia’s Liberals was sealed by many factors, but their country’s complicated (and rort-resistant) preferential voting system must be counted among the most important!

Now, it may be that a comprehensive rorting of the democratic system is the far-right’s preferred option. Being the sworn enemy of moderation and compromise, extremism may simply be unwilling to countenance either. Assuming, however, that the far-right’s objective is not the “illiberal democracy” currently on display in Hungary, Brazil, and the Russian Federation, what must these errant movements do to earn the reapplication of the trusted centre-right label?

The answer provided by the Australian general election is unequivocal. No party of the centre-right can any longer afford to do anything other than affirm its unqualified belief in the science of Climate Change.

The social and economic consequences that follow logically from that crucial affirmation explains why far-rightists are so unwilling to make it. To meet the challenges of Climate Change it will be necessary to rebuild the machinery of collectivism. The state will have to become much, much larger, and the taxes of the super-wealthy will have to be set much, much higher. Since a small state and low taxes have constituted the sine qua non of centre-right parties since (at least) the late-1970s, what does that leave for them to champion?

The answer, surely, lies in what liberal democracy has always demanded, and will continue to demand, of the party system. At least one major party that is devoted to the protection of the rights of the small against the depredations of the large.

Individual liberty, with all its trappings – most particularly the freedoms of speech, communication, and association – would seem like the logical place to start. Building from there, a centre-right party should champion entrepreneurial enterprise and the creation of small businesses. It should also argue for what the Europeans call “subsidiarity” – the idea that decision-making bodies should remain as close as possible to those most directly affected by their decisions.

The new rule-of-thumb for the parties of the centre-right should be: big is oppressive, small is beautiful.

The political-economy of fighting Climate Change will ensure that this contention between bigness and smallness remains a constant theme of political debates for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, left-wing parties will also find themselves struggling to retain their centrist credentials. The temptation to simply crush any opposition to their radical measures will be very strong. Already, right across the planet, citizens of democracies have experienced how forcefully the state feels entitled to respond to a system-threatening emergency. The global Covid-19 Pandemic has revealed just how difficult defending the rights of the few can become when governments are confronted with the urgent demands of the many.

In the new political configuration that is fast approaching, individuals and communities will have need of centre-right champions. If only to remind us that a planet without freedom isn’t worth saving.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 June 2022.


John Drinnan said...

You assume that the so -alled Left has remained static, Where The Democratic Party and the British and \NZ Labour Parties have drifted into a never never land that is authoritarian Andidentarian, and has little interest in rhe tradition of being Left, It is too early to predict the path of Australian Labor The issue is polarisation on both sides, and the lack of interest amon g both sides in the working class

David George said...

Aside from the very loose use of "Far Right" aside, a good essay in the end.

I agree, the emerging front must surely be the issue of state power over our discourse; the increasing moves to overtly control and covertly influence opinion. The governments, aided by their legacy media and academia allies, are moving to counter anything, even hard data, that disagrees with the official narrative. The totalitarian impulse to control what we see, hear and think is on the rise and Jacinda Ardern one of it's leading proponents.

I suspect (hope?) that, no matter the efforts to instill fear and thereby empower, that there will be a strong aversion and a resistance.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

God help us all, David is still convinced that it's the left that is the danger to free speech. Ignoring Florida and much of the American South, Hungary, India, Poland,, not to mention countries where the right has a significant input into policy as a coalition member. You can actually see what the right does when it's unfettered and has a majority in government. Newspapers are neutered, opposition parties are persecuted, information is restricted. An freedom of speech is essentially gone. Tell me David what has Arderne done to match any of this?
God, I sometimes worry about people's ignorance, but to accuse Arderne of being totalitarian goes beyond ignorance towards insanity. And what worries me a little is that we see this all over news site comments and the blogosphere – especially the right wing blogosphere, because that's pretty much all it allows and most of its sites.
The radical right are creating de-democratised regimes using a culture of victimhood, and the idea of groups being "left behind" very similar to what happened in Germany in the 1930s although perhaps not quite as extreme. They are stoking fear and resentment in order to be able to introduce more and more authoritarian measures. Freedom, especially for minorities is disappearing, or has disappeared.
They are "reevaluating" the role of the state, and are abandoning civil society. There using public media and the public service for their own political ends. They think that the government not only has a right to but should be able to structure the lives of its citizens. They are sponsoring paramilitary organisations, and a military education for the young. (I'm pretty sure the latter would go down a treat with a number of commentators here because it would "make men of them".) And the norms of liberal democracy have almost disappeared. So tell me again David, what has Arderne done that comes within cooee of any of this? And tell me again how the left is a real danger to freedom of speech, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.:)

David George said...

GS. I didn't mention the Left/Right issue so please don't attribute that distinction to me. Obviously authoritarian/antidemocratic/antiliberal practices have and do exist in the extremes of both sides of the political fence - as points alludes to in his essay.

There is, no question, a thinly disguised totalitarian impulse within our present government.

Are these the works of a totalitarian government or not?

*The removal of democratic referendum rights.
*Pervasive and blatant propaganda campaigns in support of the agenda.
*The tacit approval of ethno nationalist vigilantes.
*The no jab no job abomination.
*The blatant Rotorua electoral gerrymandering along racial lines - voted for by the Green imbeciles as well.
*The three waters and health board centralisation and unelected control heist.
*The undisclosed He Puapua agenda.
*The implementation of opaque surveillance Quangos.
*The promotion of public snitching?

There's plenty more I could add.

David George said...

Just in case you're thinking the "surveillance state" is just a conspiracy theory or was only implemented for the covid "emergency", think again. The new Labor Australia Stassi:

"It has been revealed Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has a data agency to monitor Victorians’ everyday activities, including social media sentiment and credit card transactions.

The Sunday Herald Sun has obtained documents about the agency, called Insights Victoria, under freedom of information laws.

The publication found the dashboard, which is updated daily, uses publicly available data, but also “commercial in-confidence” and “sensitive” data not permitted for third party or public release.

It was set up as part of the government’s Covid response in August 2020, but a September 2020 briefing note said the system would evolve and inform decision-making beyond Covid, Herald Sun reported.
A guide said the document was “designed to be the single truth source” for government.

The documents show access to all data was granted to Victoria Police chief commissioner Shane Patton, chief health officer Brett Sutton, emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp and Mr Andrews’s private political staff.

Ministerial private offices and senior public servants had some access to the system on a need-to-know basis.

Opposition Treasury spokesman David Davis said the fact Mr Andrews’ political staff had full access suggested he was prepared to use the data for political ends.

“In the new Insights Victoria with his intrusive and powerful deep dive IT system, monitoring Victorians every digital move, cross tabulating their personal information, Andrews has more power than Big Brother,” Mr Davis told Herald Sun.

“This really feels like a Brave New World. It truly does have the feel of a dystopian society where one man and his office have overweening power buttressed by access to unprecedented streams of personal information.”

I'm sure Klaus Schwab (and his acolyte Jacinda) will be impressed.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Even if all those things you mention are antidemocratic David, which they are not, you are still here to witter on about them aren't you? If you lived in various Eastern European countries, you would have been cancelled one way or another – perhaps with a blob of ricin in in your porridge. All countries have provisions for a state of emergency. George Washington mandated smallpox vaccines for his soldiers. In world Wars one and two, young men were snatched from their homes and sent off to fight without so much as a how do you do.

Forgive me if I assumed that you didn't realise there were impulses from the left and from the right, because you have never mentioned the ones from the right, which are far more intrusive and far more dangerous. Perhaps it's a blind spot?

David George said...

Jacinda has initiated the new agency Whenua Taurikura; "translates to a country at peace".
In a truly Orwellian move this outfit, charged with promoting social cohesion and rooting out extremism appears to have a highly divisive extremists (Joanna Kidman) in charge. What could possibly go wrong.

The Chosen One's commitment to peace and cohesion? "Who am I as an Indigenous scholar; and, who are we as Native scholar-activists? Settler/Colonizer, we are your worst nightmare."

Not sure how much of a scholar or how indigenous she is. Perhaps it's like gender now - all you have to be is "identify with" and you are. Make no mistake, these are committed activists with an agenda wholly at odds with their social cohesion claim; promoted and paid for by the the Prime Minister's department. Thanks Jacinda.