Uniting the non-left

First drafted in July 1986 in response to a piece by Greg Sheridan in The Australian but not taken by that newspaper nor Age Monthly Review, or various other avenues until it ran years later in the Victorian student newsletter Liberal Voice.

As the spiritual and intellectual debacle of socialism becomes increasingly obvious to everyone outside the ranks of Western intellectuals, there are signs of increasing tension between various non-socialist schools of thought. For example the IPA Review during 1988 reported a survey of six liberal or conservative columnists on a wide range of issues which yielded unanimous agreement on only three items.

If these tensions reflect fundamental differences, then the groupings of the ‘non-left’ may fragment into warring factions. No doubt some differences arise from misunderstandings which can be resolved, and some simply reflect the different priorities and interests of individuals. Significant differences are likely to arise in two areas: a) the use of state power to enforce moral principles and b) the domain of economic policy. In each case the nub of the issue is the extent of state intervention that is appropriate.

Greg Sheridan provided a useful point of departure in considering these issues when he described three strands of right-wing thought and floated the idea of a merger. In The Weekend Australian (July 12, 1986), he pondered the prospect of some masterly theorist effecting a ‘dazzling synthesis’ of market liberalism, cultural conservatism and the thoughts of BA Santamaria.

He associated market liberalism with the free-enterprise think tanks such as the Centre of Independent Studies. The conservatives tend to be involved with Quadrant, the Association for Cultural Freedom and perhaps the Institute for Public Affairs. Santamaria does not fit comfortably with either of those groups though he has points of contact with both. He operates in a tradition of Roman Catholic thought includes Hilaire Belloc and Chesterton which is equally suspicious of capitalism and communism. (This was first written in 1986, Santamaria is no longer a living presence in this debate).

The synthesis that Sheridan wants to see would combine the economic rigour of the market liberals, with religious and spiritual inspiration, both tempered by the prudence of the conservative.

In Sheridan’s opinion, the economic rationality of the market liberals is too narrow in its focus and it lacks moral, cultural and spiritual depth, a view which is often expressed in the comment that economists know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Against this it can be argued that the classical liberal tradition, epitomised by F A Hayek and Karl Popper is not vulnerable to the charge of narrowness. Indeed, much of the work for the dazzling synthesis has been done by Hayek, senior member of the Austrian school of liberal economists.

Market liberalism aims to protect the private domain of the individual and small groups – including the family – Burke’s ‘little platoons’. This domain is at risk from the hostile activities of individuals and groups who are liable to use brute force or other political means of coercion if they are not kept under control by institutional constraints, a strong liberal tradition and the Rule of Law. In the protected private domain all manner of spiritual and cultural traditions and practices can be nurtured but the barbarism of unchecked power is likely to sweep these things away or else corrupt them by recruiting them to its own purposes, as when Christianity became the official religion of Rome.

Some economic rationalists may need to be reminded that we do not live by bread and technology alone. Our lives gain meaning and purpose from the myths and traditions which constitute our non-material heritage. At a lower but no less important level our daily transactions are dignified and lubricated by civility and good manners. Both the higher and lower orders of this fragile structure of civilisation are perpetuated by cultural practices and by institutions such as the family and the universities. These, like the private domain itself, are under threat from various doctrines and schools of thought that are also part of intellectual heritage. If we lose the capacity to subject our tradition heritage to imaginative criticism we run the risk that the positive tendencies will be driven out by the negatives. Some would say that this process is well advanced.

Economic liberals may sometimes appear to have little interest in these spiritual and cultural matters but this is not entirely true and the impression arises from three reasons. First, it is not possible to talk usefully about every social problem at once and economists tend to talk most about the things they know best. Second, they do not speak with one voice on such matters. Third, they do not see these things as part of the agenda of state policy. Here a basic principle is at stake because they do not aim to impose religious or cultural values, instead they wish to sustain ‘a type of order in which, even on issues which to one are fundamental, others are allowed to pursue different ends’, as Hayek put it.

Turning to economic policy we find much conservative apprehension about the push for deregulation and privatisation. Socialists and many conservatives share a distrust of capitalism due to their failure to appreciate the function of markets and the nature of competition in the marketplace. Competition is commonly regarded as a Darwinian struggle, a war of ‘all against all’, ‘dog eat dog’ with the large and the strong surviving to exploit the weak.

This is misleading because it is not appropriate to describe economic competition in military terms, or to speak of the conquest of a market. It is especially misleading to think that sellers are in conflict with buyers because both parties to a voluntary transaction can be well pleased with the deal. As for competition leading to monopolies (and then to exploitation), the survival of a firm in an open market depends on keeping the customers happy which is the very opposite of exploitation. Monopolies typically arise as a result of state intervention whether by nationalisation or by granting special trading rights. Under these conditions a great deal of activity shifts from pleasing buyers to maintaining or extending the political patronage that led to monopoly status.

It is illuminating to speculate how progressives and radicals lost touch with the classical liberal principles of free trade and human rights. Early in the nineteenth century the two major opposed forces in politics were the liberals and the conservatives (Whigs and Tories). However the rise of socialism and the labour movement upset the balance of power and made the battle of ideas much more complex. By the start of the twentieth century the ideas of classical liberalism were broken up and distributed among various rival groups. Part of the classical heritage that is associated with Edmund Burke, with concern about revolutionary excesses and the tyranny of the majority, was appropriated by backward looking conservatives. The humanitarian elements were carried forward by Fabians and Liberals who could see no way to achieve progress without increased State control and regulation. Free trade was an early victim of the new consensus because not even the conservatives wanted to save it. The Great Depression resulted, followed by the disasters of war. The depth of the liberal decline was recorded by Orwell’s 1945 observation that the British intellectuals of all political shades were more totalitarian than the mass of the people.

With the growing power of the labour movement over the last century, liberals of the classical (non-socialist) variety have been forced into ad hoc alliances with conservatives to resist the socialist thrust of the Left. Consequently market liberalism has become identified as a reactionary movement, aided by the fact that socialism has exerted a hypnotic charm over the majority of intellectuals for two centuries. Hence the importance of Hayek’s piece ‘Why I am not a conservative’ as a corrective. Due to the compromises required for the liberal/conservative alliance in practical politics, the spirit of classical liberalism has languished to the point of death because no party or group sustained it in a pure form. This had been the case with the Liberal Party in Australia which, until the 1980s pursued protectionism in trade and anti-intellectual conservatism on cultural and social issues.

The Rule of Law is a principle that conservatives might be expected to hold dear. But Hayek drew attention to ‘the characteristic complacency of the conservative toward the action of established authority and his prime concern that this authority be not weakened rather than that its power be kept within bounds. This is difficult to reconcile with the preservation of liberty’.

Some conservatives tend to share with socialists a willingness to recruit the power of the state to coerce others where the liberal would allow freedom of choice. Conscription for military service (by the Liberal Coalition Government in Australia) was a case in point and retrospective legislation on tax avoidance was a notable example of the Rule of Law being flouted by another ‘Liberal’ government.

Returning to the matter of pooling resources or merging the intellectual traditions of the non-left, the market liberals may wonder whether the conservatives are prepared to lift their understanding of economics and join the push for open markets, especially in labour. Economic rationalists must strongly contest the right of the state to interfere in the marketplace and thus to threaten the fabric of a democratic and capitalist system which has the potential to let everyone pursue their own interests and improve their lot free from material deprivation, intellectual tutelage and moral or physical coercion.

Liberals have usually been prepared to learn from anyone, including their opponents and over the years they have shed many errors that sustained previous generations, such as belief in the inevitability of progress. With some of the economic battles won [LOL 2017] it is important for the ‘dries’ to become more active in the debate on values and the broader cultural agenda.

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38 Responses to Uniting the non-left

  1. Chris

    ‘LOL 2017’ indeed.
    Great article in its time Rafe. Now we have to synthesise the freedom of Christians to bake gay wedding cakes if they choose, with mandatory wokeness on fantasy ‘genders’ and the unlimited goods of public spending on consumption.

  2. Driftforge

    Almost ironic to see the formation of the non-left into a single unit today simply because of the dominance of the left, rendering the above kid of moot. Maybe it would be better if the above consolidation had been conducted. Anything non-left is now the alt-right; i.e. all the right alternatives.

    But in general, save a dominant left, the right will inherently be divided. Only the move leftwards towards disorder is one towards general unity; any move rightward requires an ordered direction that can and will likely differ from those taken by other groups. This is not a bad thing, save in that it allows the left to flourish.

  3. RobK

    Uniting the non-left is a bit like, well… trying to heard cats.

  4. Rococo Liberal

    If you bothered to read any left-wing publication, you wuld see that they believe that today the right is dominant.
    They are correct, the left is a phantom, people. It has no power more than you invest in it it. The emperor has no clothes.

  5. Entropy

    Excellent Rafe. We really have gone backwards in the last ten years.

  6. Tim Neilson

    Rococo Liberal
    #2446240, posted on July 20, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    RL,they can still do enormous damage. We’ve got Michael Trumble’s government committing to add tens of billions to the deficit before even deciding what it will be spent on, among many other nationally destructive follies, and that’s because of the dominance of the “progressives” inside the bubble where power is wielded. There’s still a lot of work to be done by the restoration movement. Rafe is correct, there are differing groups. Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm set a good example, co-operating wherever they could, and disagreeing politely where they couldn’t. Smashing the Termite wing of the duopolistic cartel is step one, then ejecting the Peanut Head wing from power is step two. Step three will be low taxes and small government. Hopefully we can all agree that step three also includes the permanent rejection of open borders lunacy and identity politics/rent seeking. We really needn’t worry too much about the areas of disagreement till we’ve accomplished those.

  7. Fulcrum

    I’m not quite sure why the UN is viewed as indispensible or even trustworthy but with countless tyrants waging war against their own population the big question is why doesn’t the UN go after the tyrants.

  8. Fat Tony

    Fulcrum
    #2446444, posted on July 20, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    I’m not quite sure why the UN is viewed as indispensible or even trustworthy but with countless tyrants waging war against their own population the big question is why doesn’t the UN go after the tyrants.

    Professional courtesy.

  9. @SeditionaryI

    Unite the non-left? I’d rather not, there are some people on the Right I could never stand with.

  10. Fat Tony

    @SeditionaryI
    #2446489, posted on July 20, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    Unite the non-left? I’d rather not, there are some people on the Right I could never stand with.

    Please explain…..

  11. @SeditionaryI

    Tony, we are all individuals, and as individuals we all have our own perspective and values. There are things I believe and value that you likely don’t and those things may be important to you, so it would be foolish of me to ask you to put those aside just to engage a mutual foe.

    There are sections of the Right that are just as much my foes as those on the Left in general, and I won’t sacrifice my ideals to unite with them just because we share the same foe.

  12. Haidee

    “The restoration movement”. That has a good ring to it.

    I could stand with most people on the Right.

  13. Fat Tony

    @SeditionaryI
    #2446499, posted on July 20, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    There are sections of the Right that are just as much my foes as those on the Left in general

    Prime reasons for being on this blog are to find out that which is not in the MSM and others’ reasoned opinions.

    So, if I may ask, which sections of the “Right” are your foes – and why?

  14. Tim Neilson

    “The restoration movement”. That has a good ring to it.

    The general concept encompasses anyone who wants to reverse the societal destruction being wrought by the current duopolistic cartel that dominates politics.

    People who support say LDP will no doubt oppose a lot of things that ACP wants, and vice versa, and both may have reservations about PHON and vice versa, likewise say Shooters and Fishers.

    But there’s a core of beliefs that they seem to share, including lower taxes, less economy-stifling regulation, rule of law, government to protect liberty rather than suppress it (though there’s obviously plenty of disagreement about exactly how that’s best achieved), reality based energy policies etc, none of which are practised by either wing of the cartel.

  15. @SeditionaryI

    Tony, first to clarify, the Right in Australia is not the same or equal to the Right in the US of A.

    Firstly, the further Right you go in Australia the more the lack of educated substance becomes apparent. I could never stand with the likes of The Australian Protectionist Party, or Reclaim Australia, or United Patriots Front and such ilk as an example. Even though I agree with limiting immigration, I don’t believe in Multiculturalism, I’m an AGW skeptic like many of those in those groups. But what I am not is someone who thinks that foreign trade and investment is destroying Australia, and I am not someone who requires or resorts to vulgarity to present arguments, and I am certainly not someone who uses Patriotism as a thin veil for blatant racism.

    The further Left and the further Right you go in Australia you encounter the same sub-set of Australians, poorly educated welfare hoovering breeders, Bogans. And this sub-set is poisoning both sides of the political divide, and I for one could never stand with such toxic people.

    These people actually make it harder for other Conservatives and Patriots to get heard, they crowd the space with drivel and vitriol that those on the Left use to tar us all with. They need resisting by those on the Right, not effective support by convenient alliance.

  16. Dave in Marybrook

    Seditionary- don’t go thinking that Protectionists, Reclaimers or Patriots are politically Right just because they’re politically incorrect. All of the above, and One Nation to boot, are big gov’t, interventionist Left.

  17. Fat Tony

    @SeditionaryI
    #2446541, posted on July 20, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks for that – I appreciate your taking the time to respond.

  18. @SeditionaryI

    Tony, any time.

    Dave, there is a lot of truth to that, possibly because it is the same sub-set of people at both ends of the spectrum. One socially conservative, the other not, both being economically in the wilderness.

  19. @seditionary, you’re falling for leftist definitions of right wing politics, being by their definition, anyone who disagrees with them, including the near left such as protectionists.

    Even if you were to ignore the economic definition of leftism, protectionism is essentially involuntarism under the guise of nationalism. Involuntarism is essentially forced collectivism, which is by definition leftism. Only outcomes determined by voluntarism can be characterised as right wing in any sense. Protecting export rights at the inevitable expense of import rights in no way represents the interests of freedom in any sense, such as property rights, being fundamentally the right to bear the fruits of one’s own labour.

    For the right to win, it must assert definitions through logic and demonstration.

    Step 1 – reject their language of convenience.

  20. Brilliant article, way ahead of its time

    Thanks for alerting me to BA Santamaria too

  21. Warty

    There is a hell of a lot in Rafe’s thesis here, though I find the at times dislocated thought fragments desperately need further teasing out and expansion. What he has presented would be far more digestible as a ten thousand word thesis, one that develops ideas of Liberalism and Conservatism in an Australian context, but updating it and introducing some of the ideas on ‘Neo Conservatism’ coming out of America, and the way ‘the long march through the institutions’ as produced your Turnbulls (completing his secondary education in the 1970s, and your Christopher Pynes who glorify the entrenched political correctness of his compadres in the current Liberal Party. This is all fertile ground for further thought.
    Seditionary1’s response to Tony is rather interesting too. Not because he puts himself in the centre of his argument, with that hint of moral high ground to it, but also because he touches on similar themes, albeit misunderstanding the electoral disenchantment of the bogans he so readily dismisses. Perhaps the same people that use patriotism as a foil for ‘blatant racism’ (in his mind . . . perhaps).
    I personally have respect for those unable to politely articulate the deep-seated sociological causes for their ill-concealed rage: levels of immigration they never signed up for; inner city fixation on SSM that they abhor; creeping Islamisation that quite frankly frighten and horrify them; and a government that seems unable to pay them even a smidgen of attention, seeing them as the great unwashed, as perhaps Seditionary1 may do (and I do apologise if I’ve got your wrong in all of this).
    I suppose what I’m crying out for is again, greater clarity with your terminology, and greater respect for those who are not the cause of the problems we are experiencing today, but more the effect (and here I’m talking about the bogans, the same ones Paul Murray had his hissy fit, regarding the rotting pig’s head lovingly presented to a Brisbane mosque). Come to think of it, in terms of symbolism, those WRX bogans expressed themselves with great clarity. The only problem was Paul Murray’s confected outrage.

  22. Warty

    Dave from Marybrook, there is a difference between someone who is a political conservative, which Pauline most certainly, and someone who is a believer in Keynesian big government interventionism, which she most certainly is too. It is incorrect to suggest she is on the Left because of her muddleheadedness about economics, because she is in fact refreshingly conservative in the other sphere.

  23. Warty

    Now, I’ve probably gone and upset two, perhaps three people. Can’t help myself.

  24. Tailgunner

    It’s simple.
    No Enemies To The Right.
    We are in a war,like it or not.
    Those misguided “conservatives” in the middle in the bowties deploring the Deplorable Racist Patriots will be crushed.
    Pick your side. With Us, or Against Us.
    There is no other choice.
    Intellectuals are next to useless on a battlefield. Discuss after the smoke has cleared.
    We Are the Resistance.

  25. Rafe Champion

    “At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objectives have differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has sometimes been disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition” Lord Acton, quoted by Hayek at the start of “Why I Am Not a Conservative”.

    Thanks for your input Warty, I would like to have time to join the discussion.

    SeditionaryI you are demonstrating why I don’t identify as Right. I think that using the language of a left to right spectrum is to give the left a free kick.
    The classical liberal position that I defend involves several pillars – the usual suite of freedoms, tolerance (with limits), the rule of law, limited and minimal government and a robust moral framework with things like honesty, tolerance, compassion, responsibility, and what Deirdre McCloskey calls the bourgeois virtues.
    The image of the triangle invoked by Hayek is more helpful than the spectrum although it needs to be updated to give more credit to the kind of conservative that Hayek was not.
    On that point, how weird that the progressive left is so fanatical about the environment [think of old growth forests] (not always sensibly) but they rubbish conservation of valuable elements of culture, like simple common or garden politeness and civility.

  26. Rafe Champion

    Millennial Transmission has picked up how the label “far right” has been used for rhetorical effect by hostile editors on Wiki.

    It has come to my attention this morning that certain political commentators that are sometimes considered to be antagonistic to the left have been listed as ‘far right’ on their Wikipedia page, with the page then being locked from further editing.

    Check out his site for good stuff!

  27. .

    So what do people agree upon?

    I actually fear that uniting might be necessary to avoid an electoral wipeout. I reckon the new Senate rules are so rigged the Senate after the next election will be 33 ALP, 6 Greens, 36 LNP and 1 PHON.

    After 2021/2022, it might be 32 ALP, 8 Greens and 36 LNP.

    For a very long time. A permament left wing Senate for the foreseeable future. Each ALP/Green government would have a rubber stamp and govern like Gillard.

    If you could make common ground across the LDP, ACP, PHON (don’t know about ALA they seem to have split and a new party formed out of them…) it would be great.

  28. Rafe Champion

    On the cultural agenda, mentioned at the end of the piece, after laying a foundation of Popper/Hayek/Bartley material on my website there is a revivalist series addressing the broader agenda.

  29. Philippa Martyr

    Seditionary, I agree with you. The fringes of Australian Conservatives have already been invaded by barely disguised PHON welfare junkies, conspiracy theorists, and – dare I say it – protectionists.

    It’s very frustrating when you really want to talk about the economy, but no one is listening because they’re so busy telling you about the Illuminati halal crystal mind control plot being run out of Julie Bishop’s garage.

  30. Philippa Martyr

    These people seem to think Australian Conservatives is PHON, but led by a white man in a suit and tie, and therefore more believable and more likely to be taken seriously. They are populist in the extreme, driven purely by their perception of individual personalities, and wouldn’t recognise a policy if it bit them on the backside.

    Australian Conservatives will not attract the centre right without a clear, sensible voice, focused on smaller government, lower taxes, and immigration reform. At the moment, these people seem to think that ‘smaller government’ means stopping the lizard entities from putting tracking devices in $5 notes, and building a wall around Manus Island.

    The minute you suggest that ‘smaller government’ might mean cutting middle class welfare, and making other spending cuts that will affect THEM, it’s crickets.

  31. .

    Phillipa

    It is hard to talk about the surveillance state without being told I’m an Imam that wants to import 10 million Muslim Arabs here.

    The fringe dwellers are everywhere and they’re fucking it up for everyone else.

    Bring up welfare reform – the same reflexive, protective behaviour pattern occurs. Oh gee I wonder why?

  32. @SeditionaryI

    These people don’t understand that you may have to give a little to get a little.

    Welfare reform could lead to tax and cost of government reform, which could see people earn better wages. But no-one wants to work and even fewer are willing to stop suckling the welfare teet.

    For Conservatives and Libertarians to win they have to ignore speaking about real reform.

    Which leaves far too much room for the loons to spout whatever nonsense they want.

  33. .

    Indeed, Sed.

    The best thing for the poor would be to abolish excise tax, payroll taxes and tariffs. Also eliminate unnecessary occupational licensing, wage floors and allow at will contracts and relax most if not all FDI rules.

    That would see their incomes significantly rise as well as employment opportunities.

    “You’re a globalist cuck!” – we even have some of these people on this blog actually arguing for a higher minimum wage – which along with their immigration ideas is pure early 1900s ALP policy – wages policies and White Australia.

    I agree though, it has no cut through. Most poorly literate, chronically unemployed people don’t know what occupational licensing is, let alone payroll tax.

  34. Rafe Champion

    Taking up the last comment from . it would be good to have short pamphlets in simple language to explain the benefits of various economic reforms tailored to the level of education and understanding of various groups including the poorly literate unemployed etc.
    In a talk at Mannkal in Perth I made the point that strong libertarians and Randoids might put their bodies on the line to defend freedom but they would do well to come down from the clouds of abstraction in defence of Liberty Enterprise and Capitalism to explain what needs to be done in language designed for people in the street. John Hyde commented that this was a good thing to say and especially in that company.

  35. .

    That would be great. It requires money mostly, but economists, printers, editors and graphic designers.

  36. Philippa Martyr

    Dotty, we agree for once.

    Seditionary, I am concerned that party leadership will go quiet on the painful cuts and hard on the immigration front, which will NOT capture much of the middle ground.

  37. Philippa Martyr

    Rafe, you are right, and it is a cause dear to Tim Andrews’ heart as well – we need to convert these people to smaller government thinking, and get out of our own echo chamber.

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