I was recently talking to Dennis Glover who told me of his October op ed equating the right commentariat with old style Marxists, making the pretty obvious point that most of them began as Marxists. I’d missed it when it appeared. It’s makes a large number of good points so it seems to me. No doubt it’s been discussed a fair bit in the blogosphere already – ‘Eric Blair’ over at LP says that “If you actually go back to the work of the classical Marxists (and I include Lenin and Trotsky in this group), it becomes clear that human rights are at the core of the socialist project.” Somehow I don’t remember all that concern about human rights from Lenin – but I digress.
Anyway, the article reminded me of the great piece John Quiggin’s did for Policy Magazine (yes Policy Magazine under the editorship of Michael James) equating public choice with Leninism.
If there’s some ultimate explanation for this it seems to me a temperamental one. As Heinz Arndt was perspicacious and self-critical enough to observe about his own trajectory from left to right it, is surely fitting that such a transition lead the subject of it to some humility about what they know. Here’s how Arndt put it in a passage my father who drifted from the left to the left of centre regarded as priceless.
In my own case, these political prejudices (if not, I would like to think, the moral convictions) underwent great changes over half a century, from a brief youthful Marxist phase to decades of Fabian-Keynesian views which gradually gave way to … a sceptical – monetarist near-libertarian position … It might be thought that such an odyssey would induce a decent humility: if I could be so completely wrong earlier what grounds of confidence have I that I am right now? I can only shamefacedly report that this has not been my experience.
I guess the thing I dislike about a lot of the right commentariat is the tone of self assurance and of lecturing others. (I’m applying this to people from the right commentariat today, not Heinz Arndt who did not produce any published work that I know of with the hectoring tone I’m talking about – and indeed his shamefacedness above seems like a pretty redeeming virtue above.
In any event, in my little psycho portrait of what the right hectorers of the world are on about, the explanation for where they were and where they are now is that had a deep need to lecture others, to find them wanting, and for there to be One True Way. They just did a 180 and swapped what the One True Way was and then went on with the lecture. The tone of voice never changed.
Still it’s also true that there were plenty of things that were wrong with the left – which many of us appreciate now.