Geoffrey M. Hodgson
Although the two biggest UK political parties are very different in important respects, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservatives under Theresa May have each converged on different forms of pro-Brexit, economic nationalism.
Economic nationalism prioritises national and statist solutions to economic problems. Although it does not shun them completely, it places less stress on global markets, international cooperation and the international mobility of capital or labour. It believes that the solutions to major economic, political and social problems lie within the competence of the national state.
Other countries have turned in the same direction, including the United States under Donald Trump and Russia under Vladimir Putin. Previously, both Soviet-style and fascist economies have embraced economic nationalism. China has continued along this road, even after its acceptance of private enterprise and a market economy.
Economic nationalism has been used successfully as a tool of economic development, by creating a state apparatus to build an institutional infrastructure and mobilise resources. But it brings severe dangers as well as some advantages. Its reliance on nationalist rhetoric can feed intolerance, racism and extremism.
Furthermore, as it concentrates economic and political power in the hands of the state, economic nationalism undermines vital checks and balances in the politico-economic architecture.
As numerous social scientists (from Barrington Moore to Douglass North) have shown, democracy and human rights cannot be safeguarded without a separation of powers, backed by powerful countervailing politico-economic forces that keep the state in check.
From Thatcherism to Mayhem: Tory economic nationalism
In the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher changed the Tory party from a paternalist party of the elite to a more radical, free-market and individualist force, embracing the ideologies of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.
A logical consequence of this market fundamentalism was to embrace the European Single Market, which her successor John Major did in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. But this was too much for the Tory nationalists, who were already turning against the European Union and all its works.
The tension grew within the Tories between those that pursued international markets in the name of market fundamentalism, and those who worried that global trade and the free movement of labour were undermining the powers of the British nation state.
A compromise option – widely touted during the June 2016 EU referendum – was to exit the EU but remain in the single market. But a major implication of this was that the free movement of labour to and from the EU would have to be retained. May became prime minister and declared that Britain would leave the single market as well as the EU.
This marks a major ideological shift within the Conservative Party. The pursuit of free markets, promoted so zealously by Thatcher, has moved down the Tory agenda, in favour of nationalism, increased state control, reduced parliamentary scrutiny, and lower immigration, whatever the economic costs.
Forward together: the new-old Toryism
This shift is signalled by a remarkable passage in the 2017 Conservative general election manifesto:
“We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism.”
This could be interpreted as a cynical attempt to attract some Labour voters. Probably, in part, it is. But there is much more to it than that. It shows how all the whingeing about “neoliberalism” is now outdated and much off the mark.
Crucially, the Tory Party was traditionally opposed to “untrammelled free markets” and it worried about the destructive and corrosive effects of individualism and greed.
As Karl Polanyi pointed out in his classic book on The Great Transformation, the first fighters for factory and employment legislation, to protect workers from the results of reckless industrialization in the 1830s and 1840s, were from the ranks of the church and the Tory Party:
“The Ten Hours Bill of 1847, which Karl Marx hailed as the first victory of socialism, was the work of enlightened reactionaries.”1
Tories like Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, were great nineteenth-century social reformers. The Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli railed against selfish individualism, particularly in his novels. For Disraeli, British imperialism was more important than unalloyed individualism.
May has brought the Tory party back to its pre-Thatcher roots. But, less enlightened than Shaftesbury or Disraeli, she has little appetite for protective legislation or constitutional reform. Instead, she celebrates her own powers of leadership and seeks a mandate to concentrate power in her hands.
She has little enthusiasm for democracy either. If it were not for the heroic efforts of Gina Miller and the decision of the Supreme Court, the triggering of Article 50 – to start the process of leaving the European Union – would have been taken by the executive without a parliamentary vote.
The 2017 Tory manifesto is a maypole for nationalism. “Britain” is one of its most-used words. It says that immigration will be brought down, while existing powers by the British state to read emails and monitor your activity on the web will be increased. She will create an Internet that is controlled by the state. May is developing the infrastructure of an authoritarian nationalist regime.
Bringing the state back in: Labour’s new-old economic nationalism
At least on the surface, there are dramatic differences with Labour’s manifesto, which, for example, contains more measures targeted at the poor and elderly. Labour also gives much more verbal emphasis to human rights and democracy.
But at the core of Labour’s 2017 manifesto is a strong dose of economic nationalism, with Labour’s greatest commitment to public ownership since the “suicide note” manifesto of 1983. There are plans to bring the railways, energy, water and the Royal Mail all back into public ownership.
The 2017 manifesto declares: “Many basic goods and services have been taken out of democratic control through privatization.” But there is little explanation of what “democratic control” would mean under public ownership.
How would it work? Would parliament take decisions on everything? In reality these proposals – whatever their other merits – would enlarge state bureaucracy: there is no explanation how they would extend democracy.
The words “control” or “controls” appear 32 times in the 2017 manifesto. There is insignificant explanation of how “controls” work. The Labour manifesto envisions a concentration of economic power in the hands of the state, notwithstanding its verbal commitment to regional and local, as well as national, public management.
While there are commendable measures to enhance and enlarge an autonomous sector of worker-owned enterprises, there is little recognition of the importance of having a viable and dynamic private sector as well.
Corbyn’s Labour: forward to the past
As May has brought the Tories back to the pre-Thatcher years, Corbyn has brought Labour back to its traditional roots, before the leadership of Tony Blair.
With his 1995 changes to Clause Four of the Labour Party Constitution, Blair brought in an explicit commitment to a dynamic private sector. Labour stood for an economy where “the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation”. Corbyn has returned to the spirit of Labour pre-1995 constitution, even if he has not yet changed the wording.
Corbyn has proposed that Britain can be “better off” outside the EU. He argued that EU rules block the kind of state-heavy industrial policy that he favours. But EU countries such as France and Germany already have strong interventionist policies for industrial and infrastructural development. In truth, Corbyn favours repeated doses of statist socialism in one country.
With some Stalinist exceptions in his coterie, Corbyn and his followers are mostly sincere in their commitment to democracy and human rights. But what they do not understand is that their proposed statist concentration of economic power will undermine countervailing politico-economic forces that can help to keep the state leviathan in check.
Jeremy Corbyn and Hugo Chávez
These countervailing and separated powers are vital. Especially in times of hardship or crisis, there will be a temptation by some in power (at the local or national level) to abuse rights and undermine democracy. Every single historical case shows this result.
Attempts “to take control of the economy”, even with measures of decentralization and local power, have led to restrictions on press freedom, arbitrary detentions, abuses of human rights, and even famine.
Forward together: economic nationalists take the helm
Further doses of economic nationalism may be possible in a country as large as the United States. In 2015, exports from the USA amount to about 13 per cent of GDP. Hence economic nationalists in the USA can reduce trade without too much contraction of the economy. It may turn further inwards, cut imports and still survive a loss of exports.
But the UK has become a globally-orientated, open economy, exporting 28 per cent of its GDP in 2015. About 45 per cent of these exports go to the European Union.
By exiting the EU Single Market, and by walking away from EU trade deals with non-EU countries that benefit EU member states, Labour and the Tories would threaten the UK economy with a massive downturn. The British economy would fall off a cliff.
In this crisis, rightist economic nationalists will blame foreigners and immigrants, and leftist economic nationalists will blame the rich.
It will be “the few” – designated by their ethnicity or by their assets – who will get the blame. Their rights will be under threat, as so will the liberties of all of us. Whatever variety is chosen, economic nationalism could severely undermine the viability of democracy in the UK.
21 May 2017
Minor edits – 23, 28 May, 29 June
This book elaborates on some of the political issues raised in this blog:
Wrong Turnings: How the Left Got Lost
Published by University of Chicago Press in January 2018
Hodgson, Geoffrey M. (2017) Wrong Turnings: How the Left Got Lost (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming).
Moore, Barrington, Jr (1966) Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (London: Allen Lane).
North, Douglass C., Wallis, John Joseph and Weingast, Barry R. (2009) Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press).
Polanyi, Karl (1944) The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (New York: Rinehart). See esp. pp. 165-66.
Posted in Brexit, Common ownership, Democracy, Donald Trump, Immigration, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party, Left politics, Liberalism, Markets, Nationalization, Politics, Populism, Private enterprise, Property, Right politics, Tony Blair, Tony Blair, Uncategorized, Venezuela
Geoffrey M. Hodgson
Where are these quotes found?
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
“If a man takes a wife … [and] did not find proof of her virginity. … If … the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death.”
“When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the … God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails.”
“If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.”
“If you hear in one of your cities … anyone saying that some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ … then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly. If it is true … you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it and all that is in it …”
“A woman must learn in quietness and full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; she is to remain quiet.”
All six quotes are from the Bible: the sixth is from its New Testament (see, respectively, Leviticus 20:13, Deuteronomy 22:21, Deuteronomy 21:11, Deuteronomy 25:12, Deuteronomy 13:12-15, Timothy 2:1). None of these quotes is from the Qur’an.
During March 2017 on Twitter I asked people to identify the source of each quote. In each case a minority (of between 7 and 25 per cent) guessed (wrongly) that the quote might be from the Qur’an. A majority identified the correct source in the case of the first, second and fifth quotes only.
The source of each quote can be easily discovered via Google. Maybe some people checked online before voting. In which case the unaided errors are likely to be larger.
Addressing this quiz, I wish to make two points. The first concerns equitable treatment of religious texts. The second concerns the possibilities of reform in different religions. The second point is more complex than the first.
It is quite rare to find people quoting statements like the above from the Bible. But herein lies a contradiction. Muslims are often judged by their religious texts, but the same standards are less widely applied to Christians.
Sadly, in these dangerous times, there is a rising tide of anti-Muslim prejudice. To fuel this, some quote such inequitable or punitive statements from the Qur’an or Hadith, some chilling in their medieval intolerance. People should be aware of all the important messages in the Qur’an. But they should also be aware that the Bible is equally discriminatory and punitive.
Neither does the New Testament absolve Christianity. The religious laws in the Old Testament were not overturned by the New. Jesus himself is reported as saying: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. … Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17-18). St Paul in Colossians (3:18) and in Ephesians (5:22-24) instructed women to submit to the commands and desires of their husbands.
Anti-Muslim bigots want to stop Islam but they do not want to offend Christians. Yet Christianity too has been responsible for a great deal of discrimination around the world. Its ancient punitive laws are no better than those found in Islam. Many Christians have moved on, to preach love and charity. But my initial point here concerns the texts themselves.
The intention here is not to let Islam off the hook. Quotes can be found in Islam’s Qur’an or Hadith that are discriminatory or brutally punitive.
If anti-Muslim bigots were really concerned about some aspects of Islamic religious law, then they should show the same concern about backward statements in the Bible, which are supported by some fundamentalist Christians. All religions have problems – not just Islam.
To defeat the hard right we have to acknowledge that there are popular fears about Islam, albeit often ungrounded in fact. Simply decrying such worries as racist, especially in the wake of terrorist attacks by alleged Muslims, helps to amplify the right-populist fear that elites are covering up the truth. While vigorously defending the universal right of peaceful worship, we should be able discuss the flaws in any religion.
Religion and law
Some problems with religion are bigger than others. These concern not simply the written word itself, but how it is interpreted and the extent to which it is followed. Here there are important differences between major religions.
This leads me to my second point deriving from the quiz above. This point requires an examination of the institutional nature of a religion and its relation to law.
For most (sadly not all) Christians and Jews today, the Old Testament is no longer regarded as supreme law. It does not overturn state laws. Believers are not generally obliged by their religion to punish those that break its rules. Believers agree to accept the authority of democratic states, even if they contradict their religion.
Crucially, despite sharing its Abrahamic roots with Judaism and Christianity, Islam currently sustains a different relationship between law and society. Those that miss-label criticism of Islam as “racism” inadvertently and inappropriately shift attention onto ethnic or racial characteristics, thus ignoring the social rules and norms that religions infuse into cultures.
We need to consider how a religion works, at the level of the promulgation and practical enforcement of its social rules.
The evolution of Christianity
Christianity became the dominant religion in the West when, in the fourth century AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine favoured it, and suppressed other religions. Established as the official religion of the Roman and Byzantine empires, it came to dominate the elites of medieval Europe and spread via colonialism to other continents. Although some were willing converts, many other ordinary people were obliged to become Christian because their rulers hitched onto that faith. It was largely a top-down process, often imposed by higher authorities.
In Christian Europe most ordinary people were denied access to the Biblical texts until the Reformation. In England the Bible was not widely available in English until the seventeenth century, at a time when a large majority of the population were illiterate. The Bible was used selectively and deviously by those in power, to maintain the authority of the state and of the nobility. They did not devolve matters of judgement or punishment to ordinary people.
The chronic disadvantage of the ruling-class monopoly of access to religious texts in Christian Europe was the suppression and ignorance of the population. But the top-down imposition of Christianity did allow for more flexibility. Official doctrine could shift as new circumstances and interests emerged.
When mass education belatedly spread in Europe in the late nineteenth century, its peoples were already entering a more secular and enlightened age.
The adaptability of Judaism
Even before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, the Jews were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. Catastrophic destruction in their homeland in Judea led to a further diaspora. The Jews were always in a minority in the places that they were tolerated. They retained their religion and customs, but otherwise adapted as much as possible to local laws and traditions.
For example, laws that required them to kill apostates (Deuteronomy 13:6-10) were eventually abandoned in deference to the laws in their host country. Adaptation was the necessary (but sadly sometimes insufficient) price for their survival.
Dispersed from their homeland, the Jews had to survive as minorities within other states. While keeping their religion, they otherwise adapted to local laws and customs.
Enforcement mechanisms in Islam
By contrast to Christianity, Islam has remained to a large degree a devolved system, with rules enforced by religious conversion and the dedication of its adherents. It offers powerful incentives for conversion and strong disincentives against apostasy.
Islamic scriptures provide a complex legal system governing the spheres of work and civil society, as well as of the family. The enforcement of these rules relies primarily on religious adherence and devotion, with less reliance on legal authority buttressed by the state.
Islamic religious and legal rules developed in communities where states were often weak and societies were fragmented into tribes and clans. Although Islamic legal texts decree that rulers have the duty to enforce laws, many of these laws are derived from religious sources and believers also have an obligation to enforce them.
Islam spread over a vast territory, encompassing many different languages and ethnicities. It did not rely on a strong, centralized, state apparatus. The shared, engrained, cultural dedication to religious rules made a smaller state possible.
Consequently, many legal rules in Islam are enforced bottom-up, by the authority of God as devolved to believers, rather than top-down by the authority of courts or governments.
Islam’s problems with modernisation
Despite its enormous cultural and scholastic achievements, especially from the eight to the thirteenth centuries, Islam turned out to be less adaptable than Christianity or Judaism. It relied on educated local observance from the bottom up. Within a state it was typically the religion of the majority rather than a minority.
Although there was scope for different interpretations, the Islamic fusion of law with religion created a largely conservative system of belief. In addition, the devolution of rights of legal judgment and punishment to individual believers contrasts with legal norms in the modern West, where citizens are prohibited from taking the law into their own hands.
A key problem with Islam is that many of its adherents have not yet modernized and accepted the practical supremacy of secular law. Backward cultural practices, often transmitted from less-developed countries with weak legal systems, have survived among Muslims, and are sustained by the religious customs of immigrant communities. Many Muslims do not accept the authority of secular law and democratic government above that of their religion. Many Muslims live in, or originate from, underdeveloped countries that have not experienced an equivalent of the Enlightenment.
Although the overwhelming majority of Muslim immigrants in developed countries comply with the law and shun violence, some still put religion above law and above democracy. Within this group there are some violent extremists.
This problem stems from the religiously-motivated, devolved mechanisms of reactionary rule-enforcement and punishment within Islam. We should recognize this problem, as well as the hugely valuable, past, present and potential contributions of Islamic culture to Western democracies.
The Muslim reformers
We should support the efforts of those Muslims that are trying to reform and modernise Islam, just as Christians and Jews have largely accepted the authority of secular law. We should not simply oppose all criticism of Islam, for fear that it might offend or cause division. Instead, we should add our voice to the modernisers, in their struggle against fundamentalists and conservatives.
The reformers have issued a Declaration defending gender equality, freedom of speech and freedom of religion, stating that they are for “secular governance” and “against political movements in the name of religion.” They have called for the separation of “mosque and state”, so that law rests on secular rather than religious authority. This is the route towards a tolerant and inclusive society, within a framework of universal human rights, democracy and secular law.
Accordingly, we can accept multiculturalism if it means recognition of cultural diversity, but we cannot accept multi-legalism. Diverse peoples must live together, but within a single framework of law, under a democratic political system.
Unreformed and discriminatory versions of Islamic law represent a problem for any society that is based on Enlightenment principles, and which requires obedience to laws that are enacted by the state. It creates major difficulties for integration and assimilation.
We must, of course, protect the freedoms of Muslims and others to worship, to express themselves, and to obtain a livelihood. Cultural and religious diversity can greatly enrich a modern nation, but only if the state legal system and over-arching secular values remain healthy and intact. Such a diverse society requires a just legal system and strong secular values, not least to protect the human rights of members of minority religions or ethnicities.
The strident but imprecise rhetoric of “Islamophobia” – advanced among others by politicians trying to capture the votes of Muslims in Western democracies – has blocked serious discussion of the merits and demerits of Islamic institutions. It can undermine careful and scholarly attempts by Muslims and others to identify where these institutions are in need of reform.
It cannot be repeated often enough that informed criticism of some Islamic rules or practices is not equivalent to bigotry toward Muslims. Racism, and persecution of Muslims, are serious problems and should be vigilantly opposed. But the option to criticise Islam, Christianity or any other set of beliefs, is an important human right, and it should be protected.
26 March 2017
Minor edits – 5 June 2017
This book elaborates on some of the political issues raised in this blog:
Wrong Turnings: How the Left Got Lost
Published by University of Chicago Press in January 2018
Posted in Assimilation, Christianity, Democracy, Immigration, Islam, Judaism, Left politics, Liberalism, Politics, Religion
Geoffrey M. Hodgson
The political earthquakes of 2016 are probably the beginning of a series of major ruptures in world politics. Donald Trump was elected in the USA, Britons voted for Brexit, Turkey lurched toward dictatorship, Brazil ejected a democratically-elected president, Russia extended its global influence, and China tightened internal security while building military bases in the South China Sea.
From America to Asia, authoritarian nationalism is on the march. The future of old alliances is cast in doubt, raising a renewed spectre of global war.
These seismic changes should prompt us to reconsider our priorities. Is ‘neoliberalism’ – whatever that means – our main enemy? Or is it rising authoritarianism and nationalism instead?
We have been here before, albeit with much less dangerous military weapons. The rival imperialisms of the nineteenth century led to the First World War. Collapsing imperial dynasties triggered revolution in Central and Eastern Europe. Communists successfully seized power in Russia in 1917. Post-war political and economic turbulence led to the triumph of fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain. Imperial Japan invaded nationalist China.
I am not suggesting that history will repeat itself in the same way. But it is important to understand how the tectonic plates of political change affected the way we understand and map political positions, and the way in which we prioritise political issues.
The thirty-year squeeze (1918-1948)
Europe suffered economic depression for much of the interwar period. The financial crash of 1929 exacerbated the crisis and led to a collapse of world trade. Liberal defenders of the market economy were put on the defensive: capitalism seemed at the end of its tether.
Beatrice & Sidney Webb
Meanwhile, some intellectuals from the USA and Britain – including Labour stalwarts George Bernard Shaw and Sidney and Beatrice Webb – visited the Soviet Union brought back glowing accounts of an expanding economy and a joyful population. (The Soviet propagandists explained away disasters such as the Ukranian Famine as resulting from sabotage by rich peasants or foreign agents.)
With the crisis of capitalism, the rise of fascism and the apparent success of Soviet Russia, many British and American radicals became Communists or fellow travellers. For them, liberalism and the defence of the market economy seemed a weak or unviable option.
The choice seemed to be between two forms of authoritarian government: much better the one that proclaimed equality and opposed racism. (But in reality, the Stalin regime promoted antisemitism, genocide against several other ethnic minorities, and dramatic internal inequalities of power.)
Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill in 1941
The alliance between Russia and the West in the Second World War smothered criticism of what was really going on within Stalin’s regime. But, with the beginning of the Cold War in 1948, socialists were forced to make a choice between either supporting an antagonistic and undemocratic foreign power, or aligning with the USA and its allied democracies.
Labour under Clement Attlee aligned with the West. But rose-tinted visions of Soviet Russia or (from 1949) Mao’s China lived on among he Left.
In major European democracies, the thirty years between the end of the First World War and the start of the Cold War had seen liberalism squeezed, between socialism on the one hand, and reactionary authoritarianism on the other.
‘American imperialism’ and the rise of neoliberalism
Things were different in the USA, which polarised between forms of Republican conservatism and Democratic liberalism. But rising tensions in the Cold War, and the eruption of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, made American-style liberalism less attractive for the global Left.
Marxist-led national liberation movements in Cuba, Indochina and elsewhere kept the collectivist vision alive for the Left around the world. Liberalism was see as the fake ideology of American imperialism and the global bourgeoisie.
Some have argued that neoliberalism was reborn in the 1970s, when conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher adopted a vision of expanding markets and a contracting state. Although the Left could never agree on what ‘neoliberalism’ meant, they mostly agreed that it was the main enemy.
Much of the Left, throughout the world, had never got rid of its agoraphobia – its fear of markets. Private enterprise and market forces were always and everywhere seen as the problem. Liberals, who defended private property and markets as well as human rights, were mocked as the bourgeois enemy.
Our brave new world
But the global tectonic plates are now shifting abruptly, in an erupting national and international crisis, as big as anything since 1948.
Nationalist leaders strut around the world stage. They stock up their nuclear and conventional arsenals and jostle for geopolitical advantage.
Torture is endorsed. Journalists are threatened or imprisoned. Scientific findings on climate change are denied. Intellectuals and experts are ridiculed. Ignorance and dogma are celebrated. Truth is swamped by lies. Legislation protecting workers and the poor is undone. Minorities are attacked and made scapegoats. Racism is given licence. People suffer discrimination on the basis of their religious or other beliefs. Democratic systems are damaged. Judges and lawyers are treated as traitors. The rule of law is undermined.
In this dangerous new world, it matters less whether that railway is nationalised or whether water distribution is in public ownership. Forms of ownership are always secondary to the actual provision and distribution of vital goods and services. But when our rights and liberties can no longer be taken for granted, questions over forms of ownership move even further down the ranking of priorities.
The ubiquitous, trivialising idea that the Left is defined in terms of public provision, and Right as private provision, is historically recent and a gross reversal of their original meanings. It is also a polarisation of lesser relevance in this world of rising authoritarian nationalism.
Our fundamental rights, our liberty, and the rule of law are now increasingly threatened. Their defence becomes the great struggle of our time.
This lesson is hardest for Americans and Britons, who were spared domestically from the jackboots of twentieth-century despotism. Struggles for British and American national liberty are beyond living memory. We have grown fat and lazy on the fruits of the liberal order. We have taken for granted its institutions and underestimated their fragility. We must repair our vigilance.
The liberal opportunity
For 100 years, for the reasons given above, liberalism has been marginalised. Now is its opportunity – indeed its urgent necessity.
Unlike our grandparents in the crisis-ridden 1930s, we have seen the socialist experiments of the twentieth century and counted their cost at 90 million lives. History and social science have more to teach us. If we wish to learn, we can know more about how markets work. We can understand the informational, organisational and other impediments to comprehensive national planning. We can appreciate why countervailing politico-economic power, based on a strong private sector, are necessary to buttress democracy and resist authoritarianism. The twentieth century has taught us these lessons.
The old Marxist mantra of bourgeoisie versus proletariat is also ungrounded in reality. Instead we have a highly fragmented working class, much of it enduringly aligned with authoritarianism and nationalism. Marxism relies on a quasi-religious and nonsensical belief that the working class – whatever it actually believes or strives for – carries our human destiny.
Class struggle has mattered, but it has never been the main motor of history. What have mattered more have been struggles for power, by individuals, dynasties, nations, religions or ideological movements.
The Storming of the Bastille in 1789
Liberalism was one of those movements. Based on the imperatives of equality and liberty, it matured in the Enlightenment.
Liberalism rose up in the English Civil War of the 1640s, in the American Revolution of the 1770s, and in the French Revolution of 1789, in titanic struggles against despotism and oppression.
Now, once again, liberalism is centre stage, as the enemy of authoritarian nationalism.
The liberal rainbow
Its allies are not those who pander to authoritarianism by eroding civil liberties, or do the spadework of the nationalist Right by making immigration (rather than assimilation) a foremost problem. The prime allies of liberalism are all those who defend liberty and human rights. But therein lies a concern, which must be discussed.
From the beginning, liberalism has harboured different views on the role of the state and of the degree of state intervention required in the economy and society. On the one hand there are liberals – sometimes called libertarians – who wish to minimise the role of the state.
John Maynard Keynes – another great liberal – argued that state regulation of financial markets and counter-cyclical expenditures are necessary to stabilise the capitalist system. Keynes showed that economic austerity is a flawed doctrine. Government deficits are best reduced by growth: budget cuts can contract the entire economy and make the problem worse.
There is a spectrum of views between individualist and social-democratic liberalism, but all liberals are united in their defence of individual liberty, human rights and political democracy. The diverse colouring of this rainbow does not diminish its united opposition to the dark intolerance and division that is exacerbated by authoritarian nationalism.
The struggle for liberty and equality has always been vital. But many twentieth-century radicals were diverted by the delusions of socialism. The renewed rise of authoritarianism has shown us again that liberalism is the vital political movement of the modern age.
28 January 2017
Minor edits: 29 January, 1, 16 May 2017
This book by G. M. Hodgson elaborates on some of the political issues raised in this blog:
Wrong Turnings: How the Left Got Lost
Published by University of Chicago Press in January 2018
Allett, John (1981) New Liberalism: The Political Economy of J. A. Hobson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press).
Beveridge, William (1944) Full Employment in a Free Society (London: Constable).
Clarke, Peter (1978) Liberals and Social Democrats (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Claeys, Gregory (1989) Thomas Paine: Social and Political Thought (London and New York: Routledge).
Courtois, Stéphane, Werth, Nicolas, Panné, Jean-Louis, Packowski, Andrzej, Bartošek, and Margolin, Jean-Louis (1999) The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press).
Hodgson, Geoffrey M. (2015) Conceptualizing Capitalism: Institutions, Evolution, Future (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Hodgson, Geoffrey M. (2017) Wrong Turnings: How the Left Got Lost (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming).
Keane, John (1995) Tom Paine: A Political Life (London: Bloomsbury).
Keynes, John Maynard (1936) The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (London: Macmillan).
McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen (2017) ‘Nationalism and Socialism Are Very Bad Ideas: But liberalism is a good one’, Reason.Com, February. http://reason.com/archives/2017/01/26/three-big-ideas
Monbiot, George (2016) ‘Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems’, The Guardian, 15 April. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-ideology-problem-george-monbiot.
Townshend, Jules (1990) J. A. Hobson (Manchester: Manchester University Press).
Venugopal, Rajesh (2015) ‘Neoliberalism as a Concept’, Economy and Society, 44(2), pp. 165-87. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03085147.2015.1013356.
Posted in Brexit, Common ownership, Democracy, Donald Trump, Immigration, Karl Marx, Labour Party, Left politics, Liberalism, Markets, Nationalization, Politics, Populism, Private enterprise, Right politics, Socialism
Geoffrey M. Hodgson
Racist nationalism has returned from the fringes to mainstream politics. In 2016 it played a major role in the Brexit vote in the UK, in the election of Donald Trump in the US, in the presidential election in Austria, and in developments in many other countries.
Racism and other forms of discrimination, including by gender or belief, must be defeated. The Left has played a major role in countering racism, and it should be give due credit for that. But in some other respects the Left on this issue is weak and misguided.
Some things we cannot talk about – but we must
Some things have become difficult to discuss. I once tweeted the (obviously true) statement that “Islam is religion, not a race”. A fellow tweeter immediately assumed that I was some kind of bigot and responded “ugh!”
In this reactive climate it has become difficult to raise concerns about (say) Sharia law without being branded racist or right-wing. Discussion ends. But the fact that rightist bigots – such as Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders – go on about Sharia law does not mean that we cannot discuss it.
Of course, Muslims and others suffer significant discrimination, in Britain and elsewhere. In recent months, Trump has been responsible for major anti-Muslim outbursts and has whipped up violent anti-Muslim sentiment in the US.
We must defend the full human rights of everyone, including members of all faiths. But this does not mean that we must refrain from criticising religious doctrines.
On the contrary, our failure to discuss these issues has favoured conservatives over reformers within these religions, has allowed religious extremism to ferment, and has repeatedly played into the hands of the reactionary and extremist Right.
I explain here where and how the Left has got things wrong in this area. I concentrate mostly on the moderate Left. The sins of many on the Far Left are much worse, including their support for fanatical, religious, “anti-Imperialist”, extremists in Palestine, Iran and elsewhere.
The election of Trump is a wake-up call. We need to find more effective ways to counter racism and other forms of discrimination. We need to find ways to make multi-religious and multi-ethnic communities more inclusive and cohesive.
Immigration – beyond the numbers game
The recent massive increases of immigration into Europe and elsewhere are a fact. But at least as far as the UK is concerned, it has been shown that the economic benefits of immigration are positive.
But much of the political debate is about immigrant numbers. The Tories ignore the economic evidence and start a Dutch auction of targets, to stem numbers. A large part of the Labour Party, facing a seepage of its working class support to UKIP, moves in a similar direction.
Of course, mass immigration becomes a problem when there are not enough school places, health services are severely stretched, housing is limited and inadequate, and the transport infrastructure groans from decades of under-investment.
Labour is internally divided between those that want to restrict immigration, and the leadership around Jeremy Corbyn who propose no restrictions at all. With some notable exceptions, what is missing is a discussion prioritising assimilation.
The Casey Review
The recently-published, government-commissioned report by Louise Casey suggests that “the tough questions on social integration are being ducked”. Casey and her team found evidence that black and minority ethnic groups are still suffering from discrimination and disadvantage and responses by government and others are inadequate. While she found some evidence of integration, in other areas the outcomes were different:
“In some council wards, as many as 85% of the population come from a single minority background, and most of these high minority concentrations are deprived Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage communities.”
These concentrated enclaves are more difficult to assimilate and create particular problems for women:
“this sense of retreat and retrenchment can sometimes go hand in hand with deeply regressive religious and cultural practices, especially when it comes to women. These practices are preventing women from playing a full part in society, contrary to our common British values, institutions and indeed, in some cases, our laws. … I’ve met far too many women suffering the effects of misogyny and domestic abuse, women being subjugated by their husbands and extended families. Often, the victims are foreign-born brides brought to Britain via arranged marriages. They have poor English, little education, low confidence, and are reliant on their husbands for their income and immigration status. They don’t know about their rights, or how to access support, and struggle to prepare their children effectively for school.”
Casey argued that fears of being labelled “racist” have prevented society from challenging sexist, misogynistic and patriarchal behaviour in some minority communities. Her report cites claims that some Sharia councils had supported the values of extremists, condoned wife-beating, ignored marital rape and allowed forced marriages.
Her report concluded with a rallying cry:
“The problem has not been a lack of knowledge but a failure of collective, consistent and persistent will to do something about it or give it the priority it deserves at both a national and local level.”
But to “do something about it” requires a clearer understanding of the problems involved and what kind of policies are needed to deal with them. Some people have criticised Casey’s empirical claims and more research is clearly required.
As several authors have pointed out, multiculturalism is an ambiguous concept. In one sense, at least, it is unobjectionable. All civilisations have drawn and benefitted from cultural variety. Western countries today benefit enormously from the influx of ideas, skills, fashions, cuisines and experiences that successive waves of immigration have brought. This has been true for millennia. It is no less true today.
Institutions are the stuff of society: institutions are systems of social rules. Some rules – concerning dress and fashion for example – can change profoundly without social collapse.
Other institutions – particularly in law and politics – are the outcomes of centuries of experience, deliberation and experimentation. We cannot put these in a culture-mixing food blender without tearing apart the fabric of society and wrecking social cohesion and solidarity.
Much discourse about multiculturalism ignores these differences in types of rules and institutions. Everything is placed under the vague and overly-capacious category of “culture”, assuming everything can be mixed at will. This soup-making, food-blender approach is dangerous and misconceived.
Some parts of the Left have embraced normative cultural relativism. This is the view that one person’s morality is as good as any other. It is said that there is no “objective” or “correct” morality. No overriding importance is given to democracy or to the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights. Other cultures have different codes and priorities: let them be.
According to this view, asking people from other cultures to adopt our over-arching laws and values is seen as a manifestation of “oppression” or “Western imperialism”. We have to be very careful not to jump to the conclusion that Western moral values are superior. But that does not mean that we should reach no judgmental conclusion at all.
For example, in her 1999 book The Whole Woman, the self-declared “Marxist” and iconic feminist Germaine Greer asked us to refrain from criticising female genital mutilation, on the grounds that it would impose our cultural values on others.
In his excellent book What’s Left? Nick Cohen gives some further examples of highly misguided cultural relativism, including attempts by feminists and leftists to defend the Indian practice of burning widows alive after the deaths of their husbands.
Analytically, this kind of cultural relativism has major flaws. First, it falls down in dealing with changing attitudes through time in one country. A cultural relativist, time travelling back to 1800, could raise no objection to slavery, or to the lack of women’s rights. If one morality is as good as any other, then there can be no moral force for change.
Second, it is internally inconsistent. Cultural relativism denies that our values are valid or suitable for other cultures. Why should this normative claim (that we should not impose our normative values on other cultures) be adopted by others in different cultures? By the logic of cultural relativism, thinkers in other cultures are not obliged to be cultural relativists. The whole argument is self-defeating.
Third, cultural relativism degrades the role of morality, by treating it as a matter of individual preference. The whole point about morality is that it transcends individual preferences. Moral claims (be they right or wrong) are universal. Humans have developed systems of morality to provide us with rules that help social cohesion while simultaneously protecting individual rights and liberties.
Reticence to act – condemnation of action
As well as the benefits of cultural enrichment, mass immigration has also brought problems of assimilation. In the UK there are large communities where many people do not speak English, or remain ignorant of prevailing laws and values that have evolved over centuries to keep our society together and to protect our interests.
Many of these immigrants had limited experience of any Western-style democracy and had an inadequate appreciation of universal human rights. Many came from rural areas in undeveloped countries, where the state was weak and social and business interactions were governed by custom and religion, based on ties of loyalty to family and clan.
Faced with this issue, many progressive politicians have adopted a stance of ultra-tolerance and inaction. Consider the question of language. Should immigrants be obliged to learn the language of their new country, so that they can understand its culture and its laws? Some other countries take this on board.
But such an assimilationist policy in the UK was highly controversial as late as 2001. In that year, the Labour MP Ann Cryer bravely argued that many Muslims were held back economically and educationally by language difficulties. The problem was especially severe among Muslim women.
But she was faced with criticism and scorn from the Left. Shahid Malik, then a senior member of the Commission for Racial Equality and of the Labour Party National Executive Committee, and subsequently a Labour MP and government minister, responded to Cryer: “Her arguments are sinister and they have no basis in fact … she is doing the work of the extreme right wing.”
Promoting faith schools
Schooling must be central to any viable integration programme. Young people need to learn about the struggles for democracy, independence, rights and human emancipation, throughout the world. They should be free to discuss and evaluate all these things.
Such a broad education is less likely in a school that is linked to one particular religion. Instead it would be more viable in secular schools with pupils from multiple religions, classes and cultures. Broad-based secular education is even more vital in multi-cultural and multi-faith societies.
After coming to power in 1997, Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair promoted a programme of expansion of faith schools. But a 2001 report commissioned by Bradford City Council concluded that its communities were becoming increasingly isolated along racial, cultural and religious lines, and that faith-segregated schools were fuelling the divisions.
In 2001 there were riots in Bradford, which spread to other northern cities. Yet in the same year the Labour Government proposed a large increase in the number of state schools run by religious organizations.
By 2002 there was a major public row, with accusations that some pupils were being taught creationism in and that homosexual acts are against God’s law. Campaigners for women’s rights expressed concern that conservative religious teachers were instructing young girls that women should take a secondary role in society.
Despite his previous opposition to Blair, in 2016 the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn expressed his support for faith schools. No major UK political party has dared to come out against them. They are being vigorously promoted by the current Conservative government.
Faith schools have hindered assimilation
David Bell warned in a January 2005 speech to the Hansard Society – when he was Chief Inspector of Schools – that a traditional Islamic education did not equip Muslim children for living in modern Britain. He said: “I worry that many young people are being educated in faith-based schools, with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society.” He continued:
“We must not allow our recognition of diversity to become apathy in the face of any challenge to our coherence as a nation … I would go further and say that an awareness of our common heritage as British citizens, equal under the law, should enable us to assert with confidence that we are intolerant of intolerance, illiberalism and attitudes and values that demean the place of certain sections of our community, be they women or people living in non-traditional relationships.”
His comments were condemned as “irresponsible” and “derogatory” by some senior Muslims, but supported by Trevor Phillips, then chair of the Commission for Racial Equality.
In another lecture Bell said: “We can choose … whether we want to bring our diversity together in a single rainbow or whether we allow our differences to fester into separate cultures and separate communities.”
Phillips came to the conclusion that increasing self-segregation of British communities along ethnic and religious lines was a major threat to national integration and to Enlightenment values. Young people were being brought up with insufficient awareness of these values, in closed communities where extremism could fester.
Ken Livingstone, then Mayor of London, attacked Phillips for “pandering to the right”. During a televised discussion, the prominent Labour Minister David Miliband shook his head and described Phillips’s remarks about community segregation as “fatuous”.
Since then, Phillips’s concerns about social segregation in British communities have been vindicated by several experts, while other evidence indicates a small amount of progress. Even the most optimistic reading of the evidence suggests a serious and enduring problem.
On faith schools, the Casey report noted their role in institutionalising segregation:
“The Government had attempted to alter the segregation of pupils in faith schools by introducing admissions criteria for new faith-based Free Schools. But these did not seem to be having an impact on the diversity of minority faith schools … [their] admission policies do seem to play a role in reinforcing ethnic concentrations.”
But Casey did not take the final step. She wrote: “ending state support for all faith schools would be disproportionate”. But how serious do the problems have to become before it becomes proportionate?
Rather than relying on failed palliatives, state-funded faith schools should be phased out. Taxpayers should not subsidise religion: religion and the state should part company.
A recent poll found that an overwhelming majority of the British public opposed religious discrimination in faith school admissions. Making all faith schools non-discriminatory in terms of religion would be a big positive step.
Ed Husain was born and educated in Britain, where he obtained a Master’s Degree. He was drawn toward extreme versions of Islam and was persuaded that Western democracies are irredeemably corrupt and must be replaced by a theocracies based on Islamic law.
After several years he renounced his former extremism, but retained his Islamic faith. In an interview he revealed the segregated life of his upbringing:
“The result of 25 years of multiculturalism has not been multicultural communities. It has been mono-cultural communities. Islamic communities are segregated. Many Muslims want to live apart from mainstream British society; official government policy has helped them do so. I grew up without any white friends. My school was almost entirely Muslim. I had almost no direct experience of ‘British life’ or ‘British institutions’.” (Quoted in Cohen 2007, p. 378.)
British policy-makers have welcomed diversity. But they have defined needs and rights via the ethnic categories into which people were placed, using those divisions to shape public policy. The result has been a more fragmented society, which has nurtured extremism.
In the name of multi-culturalism, Britain has become a more divided society, where inclusive, universal, Enlightenment values are often side-lined or unknown. These communal enclaves, found in France and Belgium as well as Britain, have become hothouses for violent extremism.
Hassan Butt was born in Luton in England in 1980. In 2000 he travelled to Pakistan and worked for the Taliban and other jihadists against the West. Subsequently he renounced his anti-Western views.
Butt explained that “Islamic theology, unlike Christian theology, does not allow for the separation of the state and religion … [they] are considered to be one and the same.” Consequently, since there no righteous Islamic state is deemed to exist, the extremists have “declared war on the whole world”.
Some on the Far Left disowned Butt for betraying the struggle against “Western imperialism”. He was also criticized by one member of the “Stop the War” movement, who is a leading supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, for his “call to change the face of Islam” (Cohen 2007, pp. 371-2).
Butt’s response was clear: “I believe that the issue of terrorism can be easily demystified if Muslims and non-Muslims start openly to discuss the ideas that fuel terrorism.” However, many on the Left, as well as the Right, are not helping this process.
Successive British Prime Ministers have reacted to the threat of Islamist extremism by calling for “British values”. After claims that some schools in Birmingham were promoting Islamist extremism, in 2014 the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron outlined plans to put the promotion of “British values” at the heart of the national curriculum for schools. This is now official policy:
“Schools should promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”
But the official government document outlining this policy mentions respect and tolerance for other races but fails to mention discrimination against women or gays. It rightly mentions the freedom to “choose and hold” any faith, but not the freedom to exit a religion without sanction. It mentions “individual liberty” only once, and fails to uphold freedom of non-violent expression, including when it may cause offence.
Are these omissions an accident, or are they designed not to offend a particular religious minority?
Another problem here is not the values as such, but their nationalistic description as “British”. Democracy was not invented in Britain: Ancient Athens and Viking Iceland have much earlier precursors. The US and France have much earlier claims to the values of liberty and religious tolerance. Britain legally discriminated against Protestant nonconformists and Catholics until the nineteenth century, and it still bars any Catholic from becoming its sovereign.
Apart from being misleading and inaccurate, the label of “British values” would hardly be effective in preventing a young Muslim from being radicalised. On the contrary, the label can help bolster the misperception that Britain and the rest of the West are at war against Islam. This nationalistic labelling readily allows the distortion that “British values” are being promoted by the UK authorities in a global effort to counter Islam.
It would be more accurate and effective to label values such as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and freedom of worship as “universal values” or “Enlightenment values”. They are not simply values that British residents and citizens should adopt. Other countries should promote these values too.
Polly Toynbee is a leading progressive, and vigilantly anti-racist, British journalist. Yet in 2004 she was proclaimed by the Islamic Human Rights Commission as the winner of their “Most Islamophobic Media Personality” award.
In her words, she received this ridiculous appellation because she “had challenged the legitimacy of the idea of Islamophobia and warned of the danger to free speech of trying to make criticism of a religion a crime akin to racism.” She rightly noted that the “occasional note of reason from moderate Islamic groups is so weak it hardly makes itself heard”. She highlighted the difficulties involved in starting a serious dialogue on this issue.
The failure to distinguish racism from criticism of religion sadly remains widespread. Many on the Left have done excellent work since the 1970s in campaigning against racism, fascism and discrimination. But the frequent confusion of criticism of religion with racism has diverted their efforts.
It must be repeated that concerns about Islam as a belief system are not equivalent to bigotry toward Muslims. Racism and persecution of Muslims are serious problems and should be vigilantly opposed. But the option to criticise Islam, or any other belief system, is an important right, and it should be protected.
The term “Islamophobia” is partly to blame. Despite widespread usage, it is rarely defined and there is no consensus on its definition.
Does it literally mean fear of Islam? Or criticism of Islam? Or hatred of Islam? Or persecution of Muslims? Its intended meaning can range from scholarly criticism of Islamic doctrines to racist acts against ethnic groups who are Muslim. These are obviously very different. Yet they are all lumped together under the same label.
“Anti-Muslim prejudice” or “anti-Muslim discrimination” would be much better terms. They accurately describe this very real and sadly widespread problem.
Criticism of religion can be enlightening – indeed a part of Enlightenment (and British) values, from Voltaire to Bertrand Russell. We should also be free to criticise Sharia law, as we are free to criticise other laws.
As Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby pointed out recently, there also needs to be a discussion about the doctrinal links between religion and extremism:
“This requires a move away from the argument that has become increasingly popular, which is to say that ISIS is nothing to do with Islam, or that Christian militia in the Central African Republic are nothing to do with Christianity, or Hindu nationalist persecution of Christians in South India is nothing to do with Hinduism.”
Extreme and draconian statements can be found in the Old Testament of the Bible as well as in the Qur’an. Believing that they are obeying the word of God, these texts have spurred violent religious extremists, as we are all sadly aware.
Nevertheless, many modern Christians, Jews and Muslims have accepted the power of state law over religious law. They obey the laws of their country. They do not kill homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13), or slay apostates (Deuteronomy 13:6-10), or stone to death a bride who is not a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), or rape non-Muslim women (Qur’an 23:1-6, 70:22-30), or make war on unbelievers (Qur’an 8:12, 9:5, 9:73, 9:123).
We must help this vital transition from regressive religious law, toward a recognition of modern secular law and democracy. But we do not do so by pretending it is not needed, or refusing to discuss it, or branding those that discuss it as “Islamophobic”.
Signs of hope
On a more positive note, the authors of the 2007 Policy Exchange Report argued for a change of approach. The government and others “should stop emphasising difference and engage with Muslims as citizens”.
Policies of “group rights or representation” for specific Islamic communities are likely to alienate other sections of the Muslim population further. These well-informed remarks went against much of the then-current local and national government policy.
The authors continued: “The exaggeration of Islamophobia does not make Muslims feel protected but instead reinforces feelings of victimisation and alienation.” They also called for “a broader intellectual debate in order to challenge the crude anti-Western, anti-British ideas that dominate cultural and intellectual life. This means allowing free speech and debate, even when it causes offence to some minority groups.”
We need to be honest. Extremist religions of all kinds can threaten liberal, democratic and Enlightenment values. Christianity in particular has been violently repressive and brutal. Some religious sects today are fanatical and intolerant.
These issues need to be openly discussed, in a civilised manner. They should not be swept under the carpet by those on the Regressive Left who act as if they do not understand the difference between race and religion, or would shut down critical discussion of a religion because it might be wrongly construed by others as an attack on a minority, or by other politicians of any stripe who are simply too scared to take the issue on.
In an immensely positive development, the “Muslim Reform Movement” was launched in 2015. In their inaugural statement they defended freedom of speech, gender equality, a secular state and the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights. They noted explicitly that freedom of speech included the right to criticize Islam: “Ideas do not have rights. Human beings have rights.”
By contrast, the blanket and ill-defined leftist rhetoric of “Islamophobia” does not help those Muslims who are struggling to reform and modernise their religion. Instead, the more conservative leaders of Muslim communities protect their regressive and reactionary views behind its smokescreen. Modernising Muslims are thus impaired by an unwitting coalition of leftists and Muslim conservatives.
Responsibility lies on both sides. In a climate of open discussion, we all need to be vigilant against acts of hatred or violence against Muslims and other minorities.
Initiatives to preserve liberal values in a multi-faith and multi-ethnic world should be welcomed. In addition, the Left needs to re-establish its links with the Enlightenment and its project to separate church from state. Within any society, freedom of worship should be protected, as well as the freedom to criticise religion.
Inward-looking, unreforming, dogmatic religion is a major barrier to assimilation. The Left needs to learn that lesson, and to encourage open discussion of the issues involved.
6 December 2016
Edited 7th and 10th December 2016, with thanks to Andrew Ross. Further edit, 23 January 2017.
My forthcoming book elaborates on some of the political issues raised in this blog:
Wrong Turnings: How the Left Got Lost
To be published by University of Chicago Press in November 2017
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