Uniting the Non-Left 1986

This was written in 1986 in response to a piece by Greg Sheridan in The Weekend Australian describing three strands of right-wing thought and floating the idea of a merger. He pondered the prospect of some masterly theorist effecting a ‘dazzling synthesis’ of market liberalism, cultural conservatism and the thoughts of BA Santamaria.

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. [yes 1988 is later than 1986. The article went to The Australian and probably other places but it did not find a home until it was published in 1990 by the Victorian student newsletter Liberal Voice. It was on my website at this address and it is in this collection of Hayek papers. The good news is that you can read the introductory essay without buying the book!  I strongly recommend a free read of the Introduction because it gives some handy historical context to the battle to revive classical liberalism that started in the 1970s.]

If these tensions reflect fundamental differences, then the groupings of the ‘non-left’ [the term that I use since I renounced “the right”] 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 on two points –  the use of state power to enforce moral principles and the domain of economic policy. In each case the nub of the issue is the extent of state intervention that is appropriate.

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 which includes Hilaire Belloc and is equally suspicious of capitalism and communism.

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 examine 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 kind of conservatism that Hayek renounced in ‘Why I am not a conservative’). Some  humanitarian elements were carried forward by Fabians [I was young and naïve then] 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.

As Hayek noted, 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 [not fair].

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 [we thought], it is important for the ‘dries’ to become more active in the debate on values and the broader cultural agenda.

Liberty Quote – The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. — Edmund Burke

This entry was posted in Australian Story, Classical Economics, Conservative politics, Cultural Issues, Rafe. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Uniting the Non-Left 1986

  1. Struth

    Don’t over think things rafe, the left aren’t united either.

    EG, if you oppose the left, you are obviously right wing.

    non left………………………………….what a wanker.
    sorry but …………………….bloody hell.

  2. Rafe Champion

    The left are united on core principles that are easy to define and their differences are the in-house feuds and vendettas fought over doctrinal details and the leadership of the movement that occur among all kinds of fundamentalists. In contrast, what is the common core of fascism, zero state anarchism, classical liberalism, cultural conservatism, the Religious Right and the ‘modern liberalism’ that we find in the Liberal Party?

    The leftists who abuse the ‘right’ have probably never even encountered a decent presentation of classical liberalism or cultural conservatism (that are twins, joined at the hip) even at university.

  3. jupes

    The one principle the right can agree on is racism.

    SloMo admitted this when he described the Christchurch fuckwit as a “right wing terrorist”. This despite his ‘manifesto’ being chock-full of left wing drivel.

  4. Bruce

    The terms “Left” and “Right” originated with a herd of totalitarian French revolutionary sociopaths. The ONLY functional difference between the “factions’ was on the decision whether the kill the enemies of the state and then steal their stuff, or steal their stuff first and then kill them, after the usual show trial.

    So, where do REAL PEOPLE fit?

    Apart from their usual roles as slaves or landfill?

    The totalitarian, statist “Left” won the language wars decades ago, mainly because normal folk continued to believe that words actually meant what it said in the dictionary; thus, anyone now less left than Pol Pot is a “Fascist / backslider / thought-criminal / right-wing extremist”, etc..

  5. billie

    anything said that the left don’t like, is “hate speech” and once it is labelled, then ideas are dismissed, the name calling begins and ends up with extreme right wing fascist etc

    the Christchurch gun nutter, regardless of him being a leftie had his manifesto labelled hate speech and therefore it follows he is a right wing whatever

    my point is, hate speech is now linked to the right

  6. struth

    There is the cultural Marxist left….and then there is the plain old national socialists.
    There is a big division in the labor party because of this and you just saw boris storm into power because of it.
    They are bitterly divided.
    Look at the Democrats in the USA.
    The same.
    The great thing about a free capitalist country is it doesn’t need wallies sitting around over analysing it and musing over how it should be shaped.
    It doesn’t need shaping.

  7. jupes

    my point is, hate speech is now linked to the right

    Yes. By the Prime Minister.

  8. struth

    Hate speech is not officially linked to the right.
    How quickly some take the decrees of leftists as if it’s it’s now rule of law.
    Hate speech is a lefty thing.
    I’m right wing and proud of it.
    I’m not from the side of politics which had Hitler Stalin Marx etc.
    I’m for freedom and the individual.
    Don’t let lefties make you deny what you are as they spin their shit as all should have by now learned.
    The slightest appeasement or concession only makes them go harder.

  9. Rich

    Its a political trichotomy that is irresolvable because those who value freedom versus those who value stability are mutually exclusive.

  10. tgs

    Great article, Rafe. Very enjoyable and interesting read.

    Might cause some backlash here (ignore it) as whenever tensions between classical liberals and conservatives are brought up that seems to happen. Particularly as the cat drifts further into conservatism and away from classical liberalism.

  11. Entropy

    Why should those that value autonomy and freedom align with conservatives? Conservatives after all protect institutions first and foremost, when the original purpose of an institution has long been abandoned and the institution taken over by the collectivists for their own ends. Even more bizarre are the institutions established by the left that conservatives end up fighting to conserve.

    Australia is full of such examples.

  12. struth

    I’m a conservative because I want to conserve that which gives me freedom.
    Libertarians think freedom is the natural state of man and no institutions are needed.

  13. Elderly White Man From Skipton

    I’m wondering why it would matter that liberals and conservatives differ? Surely the point is in exercising influence over unchecked power? Surely people should disagree on many things. Parliament is supposed to resolve that. The point of agreement should be in ensuring that political power is closely observed and accountable. In truth, a lot of what passes for debate is simply tribal warfare among different groups of rent-seekers.
    It remains a mystery to me that conservatives and liberals are not much more demanding of simple devices like audit and public reporting requirements to impose more public exposure of the power brokers.
    Obeid, for example, was holding leases over public assets managed in his portfolio as Minister and owned land subject to mining permits issued by his crony. Personally, I’d love to see all the personal ownership and political links in large scale re-zonings around Sydney in the last three decades. There is no reason at all that this stuff, which often drives costs for the public, should not be open to easy scrutiny.

  14. John of Mel

    those who value freedom versus those who value stability are mutually exclusive

    How so?

  15. Roger

    He pondered the prospect of some masterly theorist effecting a ‘dazzling synthesis’ of market liberalism, cultural conservatism and the thoughts of BA Santamaria.

    The closest we’ve come is Cory Bernardi.

    Perhaps that should be qualified: He had the synthesis but not the dazzle.

  16. Neville

    Struth

    Hate speech is a lefty thing.

    Agreed, and it has been for a l-o-n-g time now. It’s part of the lefties toolbox for dominating the “narrative”. Probably began in the original ‘cultural criticism’ days, slightly post-Frankfurt School

  17. Nob

    Early Federation-era politics had Free Traders Vs Protectionists.
    I still think that tells you more about current Australia than Left Vs Right.

  18. Sinclair Davidson

    No. Just no. Even fuck no.

  19. stackja

    Nob – Free trade works alright when fair.

  20. Rafe Champion

    I’m a conservative because I want to conserve that which gives me freedom.
    #MeToo

    Funny how conservation was ok applied to the environment and we used to have a sensible conservation movement until the left converted it into something else, as they always do.

    Yes I know there is a danger of over-thinking and Gerard Henderson had to remind me that not everyone turns to Hayek for recreational reading.

  21. Rafe Champion

    I know we want to be able to communicate effectively with checkout girls and truck drivers. But they are not beyond snobbery themselves. When I drove to the Hunter with Ruth Park to visit some sacred sites of Les Darcy we stopped for breakfast in a roadside diner at Freemans Waterhole. We were chased out of the carpeted section that was reserved for truckies and we had to eat our mixed grill in the lino area. As an aside, political correctness was just getting into food choices and we furtively glanced around to see if anyone was watching while we piled into a good old fashioned heap of steak, chops, sausages, fried eggs and chips with some token lettuce and tomato on the side. No facebook to record the experience, that was 1995.

  22. Rafe Champion

    Gratuitous advertising – the Les Darcy book.

  23. Goanna

    On the ascendancy of the left.

    In the old days, university-level education was rare. At the start of the First World War, only one in 30 American men was in a college or university, so student deferments were not culturally significant. By the time of Vietnam, almost half of American men were in a college or university, and student deferment remained in effect until well into the war. So if you were rich enough to study art history, you went to Woodstock and made love. If you worked in a garage, you went to Da Nang and made war. This produced a class division that many of the college-educated mistook for a moral division, particularly once we lost the war. The rich saw themselves as having avoided service in Vietnam not because they were more privileged or—heaven forbid—less brave, but because they were more decent.

    https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/roots-partisan-divide/

  24. Simple Simon

    Rafe wrote that:
    The left are united on core principles that are easy to define and their differences are the in-house feuds and vendettas fought over doctrinal details and the leadership of the movement that occur among all kinds of fundamentalists. In contrast, what is the common core of fascism, zero state anarchism, classical liberalism, cultural conservatism, the Religious Right and the ‘modern liberalism’ that we find in the Liberal Party?

    And so yet another non-Leftist obediently lies down in the chalk outline drawn on the pavement by the Left, only to wonder why he is then cordoned off with yellow tape saying ‘Do Not Cross’.

    The Left expends a great deal of energy to control language and so discourse; it makes no sense to think that the ‘non-Left’ can win by unthinkingly abiding by the Left’s lexical limitations.

    To include fascism on ‘the right’ is wrong not only analytically and ontologically but also politically, trapping one, as it does, in the Left’s ideological trick. The fact that in order to manage abroad and spin at home the alliance with the previously anathematic USSR during the Second World War your ‘non-Left’ acquiesced in the mislabelling of National Socialism and Fascism as ‘right wing’is no reason to continue with that lie in the present. In fact, doing so is one important reason for the current ideological, political and cultural weakness of your ‘non-Left’ today: through not only associating (incorrectly to the point of calumny) your ‘non-Left’ with National Socialism and Fascism but also obscuring the common basis of the atrocities of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Abimael Guzman (he of the Shining Path) and Hitler.

    Any serious examination of fascism must conclude that it was (like national socialism, and like communism and international socialism remain) a collectivist reaction to industrialisation and the fragmentation of traditional social, cultural, economic, and political relations that the latter brought about. Fascism, like other left-wing ideologies such as communism, international socialism, and national socialism, is fundamentally collectivist and State-centred; they all seek to repair industrialisation’s fragmentation through a neo-collectivism. In the case of fascism, the individual is to be bound to the State as closely as the surrounding sticks are bound to the central axe of the fascist symbol, the fasces.

    The reason that Rafe (and others) struggle to see a common core of fascism, zero state anarchism, classical liberalism, cultural conservatism, the Religious Right and the ‘modern liberalism’ that we find in the Liberal Party, is because there is none; this grouping is of the Left’s invention, for its own convenience. (It particularly reflects the cultural circumstances of the US Left; hence ‘liberalism’ hijacked to disguise culturally unacceptable (to Americans) ‘socialism’, the absurd mishmash but scary-sounding ‘Religious Right’ (itself meaningless except in the US, given the secularism in other advanced countries)

    If Rafe’s ‘non-Left’ is to be taken seriously it must first of all, and as a matter of some priority, talk in its own terms and not allow it to be constrained by the Left’s.

    Rafe did have a point when he wrote that:

    The left are united on core principles that are easy to define

    Stalin, Mao, Castro, ‘Che’, Pol Pot and other countless comrades all understood the following:
    ‘All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.’
    Who said it? — Benito Mussolini.

  25. Howard Hill

    Entropy
    #3351785, posted on March 11, 2020 at 9:28 am

    Why should those that value autonomy and freedom align with conservatives? Conservatives after all protect institutions first and foremost, when the original purpose of an institution has long been abandoned and the institution taken over by the collectivists for their own ends. Even more bizarre are the institutions established by the left that conservatives end up fighting to conserve.

    Well written that man..

  26. Iampeter

    To be Right Wing is to stand for individual rights, rights-protecting government and capitalism.

    This cannot be reconciled with conservative collectivism of religion, tradition, nationalism, etc.
    It has nothing to do with random word soups about “family” or “spirituality” or “culture” or any other cargo-cultist-like terms thrown around by those trying to discuss politics with no understanding of politics.

    It’s also not about “the extent of state intervention that is appropriate.” This is what leftists debate among themselves and separates the full-scale authoritarians from the more moderate thugs.
    Those who are actually Right Wing have actual alternative ideas to the Left. They have actual positions on the what and the why of government, based on an actual understanding of political theory, which in turn is based on an actual understanding of the more fundamental branches of philosophy that need to be properly understood and integrated before you can even begin discussing politics.

    So there’s nothing to “unite.” The “non leftist” can’t even label themselves as an alternative to the left. They “renounce” being on “The Right.”
    They are just a different flavor of collectivists and so even calling themselves “non left” is innaccurate. Conservatives, et al, ARE leftists.
    They just don’t know enough about politics to realize it.

    Stop trying to attach yourself to actual Right Wing movements, while renouncing their fundamentals at the same time.
    Stop trying to tie yourself to those who actually have alternative ideas to the left, few though we may be, to gain credibility for a politically illiterate, religious, leftist hodgepodge of nonsense.

  27. Struth

    Why should those that value autonomy and freedom align with conservatives? Conservatives after all protect institutions first and foremost, when the original purpose of an institution has long been abandoned and the institution taken over by the collectivists for their own ends.

    Bullshit.
    Proof?
    We, conservatives fight for our freedom giving, wealth creating institutions, whereas this statement is actually a libertarian’s admission to just surrendering them to the left.

  28. Struth

    Case in point, nation states and borders.
    Can’t have freedom and democracy without them.

  29. max

    I am a conservative by way of three phenomena that have linked together American conservatives since about 1920: (1) anti-Communism; (2) free market economics; (3) conservative social theory.

    Free-market economics has been with us ever since the Spanish school of Salamanca in the early 16th century. It has been improved on repeatedly, culminating in the Austrian school of economics.

    There was also a British school of economics that was free market, which we obviously date with Adam Smith in 1776, although David Hume’s anti-mercantile essays on free trade in 1752 came earlier.

    Then there is the political legacy of Edmund Burke. He was a follower of Adam Smith, and Adam Smith was a follower of Burke. Burke believed in slow, evolutionary social and political change. He was a social evolutionist, as was Smith. He opposed centralized political revolution as a way to increase liberty.

    The enemy of free market economics is obviously socialism and communism in general, but also the statist extension of mercantilism that is represented in the United States by Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, both of the Roosevelts, and the followers of John Maynard Keynes. In other words, the mixed economy is the other enemy. It is the dominant enemy today.

    There is of course the other strain of thought in the West, Christianity. It is dominated either by Roman Catholicism or by Protestantism, but both of them have proven impotent to resist the spread of the Social Gospel and liberation theology. The present Pope is a liberation theologian. In the United States, most denominational leaders and most seminaries, if they preach anything about economics, preach some version of the mixed economy, either in the form of the Social Gospel or a more radical form of liberation theology. That is to say, neither the Catholic hierarchy nor the Protestant establishment has been able to offer a theological challenge to either Keynes or Lenin.

    So, conservatism in America is a mixture. It is mainly dominated by the Hamiltonian’s. They are the defenders of the mixed economy. They are the defenders of Empire. Their Trinity in American history is made up of Hamilton, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. Their acolyte was Henry Clay. They were all defenders of a strong national government. They were all advocates of central banking.
    We have not had anything resembling an American political philosophy of conservatism. That is because it has been made up of irreconcilable parts. There is no way to reconcile Hamiltonianism with Austrian economics. There is no way to make the philosophy of empire consistent with free market economics. There is no way to get Keynesian central planning consistent with Austrian school economics, and it is a stretch to get it to work with Milton Friedman’s Chicago school. Friedman made his peace with the Federal Reserve System. He made his peace with the methodology of mathematical empiricism: an appeal to supposedly neutral economic facts to justify economic theory. Without these agreements, Friedmanites and Keynesians would have no common ground.

    https://www.garynorth.com/public/14821.cfm

  30. Entropy

    Bullshit.
    Proof?
    We, conservatives fight for our freedom giving, wealth creating institutions, whereas this statement is actually a libertarian’s admission to just surrendering them to the left

    Struth, so conservatives would support the sale, windup or decimation of the ABC, to give one obvious and simple example?

  31. Iampeter

    Case in point, nation states and borders.
    Can’t have freedom and democracy without them.

    What about “families” or “institutions?” What about other random words strung together to pretend you’re saying something political? Did you even think about that?!

    Also, word to the wise, if you support democracy then you don’t really support freedom. This would be another example of conservatives using words they don’t understand. Not even how to use them correctly in a sentence.

    Struth, so conservatives would support the sale, windup or decimation of the ABC, to give one obvious and simple example?

    Mate, over the last year alone, conservatives on this website have called for regulating tech in a slimy and dishonest fashion. They’ve also supported dragging employers to FWA when a Christian is fired. They’ve supported suing universities when they fire people for reasons they disagree with politically and Rafe himself even called directly for the Prime Minister to do something when Folau was sacked.
    That’s without even getting into the fact that over the last few decades conservatives have led the way on EVERY left wing agenda, from gun buybacks, environmentalist regulations to middle class welfare in general.
    Whether they supported dismantling the ABC would still not even come close to changing the fact that conservatism is completely left wing.
    Not that they have any plans to do anything to the ABC other than to keep guaranteeing it’s funding, just like Abbott did when running for office.

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