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July 22, 2009



Good one, Chris. Seems that soft'n'cuddly sentiment and/or thoughtless right-onism are now mistaken for being left wing. Where's the rigour? Where's the intellectual force? Personally, I think the whole Open Left project is to be mistrusted - especially with 'Jackboots' Purnell involved. Maybe it's well-intentioned (or maybe it's not...) but I can only see it further emasculating what remains of the Left in the UK.


Well said. It sounds like the Open Left contributors are exhibiting liberalism's usual neglect of power.

I wouldn't write off 'human nature' quite so quickly. The point about 'human nature' is not that it's monolithic: to think that we're inherently greedy and stupid is as mistaken to think that we're inherently sharing and cooperative. We're all capable of both, but which aspects of our character come to the fore depend on the social and institutional structures within which we operate. Given the more egalitarian social structures you propose, it's likely that the 'better' aspects of human nature would become more prominent. But the Open Left contributors have things the wrong they round. They pretend that nice human nature will make the world better, as opposed to a better world allowing nicer aspects of our character to flourish.

Luis Enrique

Both right and left often claim to have a more optimistic view of humanity than the other, and even though I think of myself as a lefty and being optimistic about humanity sounds like a nice thing, I can't help feeling the righty claims are better justified on this one ... it seems to me that lefties are more often saying people cannot fend for themselves, people don't know what's good for them, and also a tendency to blame things on general nastiness, greed and stupidity rather than on structures.

Chris Williams

Me, I take a very dim view of human nature and _thus_ am a leftie. We need systems in place that reward our bonobo tendencies and punish our chimp ones.

As for the crack about trade unionism, that's the one that Lenin used to the Workers' Opposition in 1918: "We've won, comrades, so there's no need for unions now." Proclaiming year zero is a bad thing, but proclaiming the arrival of the promised land and the end of politics (thus the end of political rights . . .) isn't an especially good idea either. If we can make trade unions unnecessary (for everyone? all the time?) they might wither away of their own accord, but there are big problems inherent in defining the Utopian Moment, after which all bets are off.


"it seems to me that lefties are more often saying people cannot fend for themselves, people don't know what's good for them, and also a tendency to blame things on general nastiness, greed and stupidity rather than on structures"

It depends what you mean by 'lefties'. The views you ascribe to them are characteristic of liberals, but just about the polar opposite of what socialists think.


In this sense, I support radical institutional change - greater redistribution plus equality of power

Right on. Let's steal from those who've got off their butts and made something of themselves and redistribute it to the professional welfare recipient. Then we'll let the new comrade work for the same wage as everyone else.

The country needs doctors? On a standard wage, he'd be better off stacking supermarket shelves - same money, less angst.

The great socialist panacea.

Equality of power? You mean taking it from the global socialists like Brown and giving it back to the citizen and to small and medium businesses? I could definitely go for that one.

Luis Enrique


I'm confused - are you saying that liberals thinking people cannot fend for themselves, blame nastiness etc. while socialists think people can fend for themselves and blame structures rather than greed etc.?

actually, I'm prob to blame for confusion because it's hard to distinguish between the two positions I've set up: socialists can blame everything on the structure that is 'capitalism', righties on the structure that is the welfare state, government etc. so it's not obvious one side is inclined more toward structural explanations.

But don't you think lefties seem to say people need help fending for themselves, because they are made to want things they oughtn't by advertising, need protecting from banks offering them loans they shouldn't take out, shop at supermarkets whereas in fact supermarket are bad etc. etc. Isn't a righty more likely to say people to borrow money sensibly, buy things that please them, and shop how they want to shop?

Nick Ball

jameshigham - i know it's hard for people like you to grasp this, but the ONLY reason you have the CHANCE to make something of yourself is that you were born into the right circumstances. By CHANCE. Right place, right time. I quote Chris:

"This is why I believe redistribution is so important; my conception of justice requires that we compensate people for bad luck over which they had no control."

I suppose you would have made just as much of your life if you had happened to be born in Ecuador? Or in the year 1252AD. Or even as an amoeba?

Rob Spear

Declaring yourself of the left is a cheap way of signalling what a nice, moral person you are, as far as I can see. Like wearing a caftan and rainbow gumboots, sort of.


Nick, there are countless examples of people making good. The whole thing about Essex boy is that. I was born into modest circumstances myself but did have, as you might be intimating, a public school education. But I certainly wasn't born into it.


@Rob - what you say might be true of some. But not me. I'm a nasty bastard.
@James - I do mean, in part, taking power from Brown to give to small businesses. One of New Labour's many unpleasant features has been its over-regulation and kowtowing to big business. Paul posted well on this:

Larry Teabag

Perhaps being on the left just means acknowledging the existence of genuinely disadvantaged people, rather than believing that the population is divided into "those who've got off their butts and made something of themselves" on one hand and "professional welfare recipient[s]" on the other.


I'm inclined to agree with Rob. A lot of people seem to hold political beliefs mainly to demostrate what nice, compassionate people they are, to people who are not paying much attention.

Think of the sort of people who banned mines from hiring women to work underground, to demonstrate how nice to women they were.


"I suppose you would have made just as much of your life if you had happened to be born in Ecuador? Or in the year 1252AD. Or even as an amoeba? "

I think it's sad how amoebas have been overlooked and mistreated. Amoebas of the world unite!

Richard Hancock

Maybe it's best to define left in relation to right, e.g. by looking at certain situations and stating how each would react?

For example, if people experience tough times, I think the left would want the state to intervene, whereas the right might expect charities to help out. (So the left taxes, whereas the right assumes philanthropy.)

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This is just one idea, and perhaps displays no more than my limited imagination. If there are better ideas out there, that amount to more than "implement something called "market socialism" and then - alacazam! - full employment!" then I'd love to hear them. http://www.watchgy.com/ mostly bank deposits, fell by £143.2bn in Q1. And of course there’s no guarantee such buying will continue.

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