The Moral Basis of Hostility to Free Institutions

- Thursday, 1st November 2001

 

  TEMPLETON LECTURE



1ST NOVEMBER 2001







THE MORAL BASIS OF HOSTILITY TO FREE INSTITUTIONS







Opening Remarks







Introduction





I want to address some issues raised by what might be called the Fukuyama





question.





Has history come to an end?



Has the liberal democratic free market paradigm won?



Is the left dead?  





In short, should we disband the IEA, abandon these lectures and all go home!





I would submit that we could only do that if the moral legitimacy of free markets and free institutions were now recognised across the political spectrum.





And that is far from being the case.





It is true that communism has collapsed in the East.



And an overt commitment to socialism has been found to be an electoral albatross in the West.





As a result, left of centre parties in most western countries have moderated their programmes and altered their rhetoric.



But their default mode still remains a disposition to tax and spend, regulate and control, centralise and bureaucratise, and to replace institutions that have evolved by those designed according to abstract criteria.





Moreover, left-wing views ? hostile not just to free markets but also to rules and institutions which are either the fruit of freedom or necessary for its survival ? are strongly rooted within the intelligentsia.





Those ideas flourish particularly in academe, the public sector, the legal establishment, the churches and the media.



Forced into retreat on the economic front, leftist ideas are on the attack on social, cultural and constitutional issues.





Within the public sector the left can still promote social engineering and from their other bastions they can disseminate their views.





Indeed left-wing views exercise a powerful moral sway way beyond their strongholds.  



They influence private discourse through politically correct language on sexism and racism.  



They generate a climate of respect for anti-globalisation protestors, feminist activists and environmentalist attacks on business.



The advocates of capitalism, free markets and free institutions may ostensibly be the victors on Fukuyama?s world historic view.



But the low esteem in which the parties of the centre right are held throughout the western world demonstrates that they have certainly not been accorded the laurels of moral legitimacy.





What is remarkable is that left-wing attitudes retain not just their resilience but a degree of coherence, despite the collapse of openly socialist parties.



There is no organisation laying down a party line, yet left-wing views seem to constitute a mind set which is able to retain a broad doctrinal consistency.





They are like a religion yet without church, scriptures, prophets or priests.





There are plenty of differences of opinion on the left and disputes about tactics and specific policies.



But there seems to be a cluster of attitudes that those on the left tend to share.





Equally there is a cluster of attitudes that characterise the libertarian/conservative right.



The right of centre has often prided itself on not having an ideology.



But it does have a mind set.





Not everyone on the left of centre shares all the values and attitudes that constitute the leftist mind set.



Still less do they all hold them with equal intensity.



And the same is true of those on the right of centre.





But what is comparatively rare is to find anyone in the thinking classes who straddles the two clusters of ideas.





People may pick either from one set or the other but they rarely pick and mix equally from both.  



As Gilbert & Sullivan put it: 



 "Every little boy and girl who is born into this world alive



   is either a little liberal or a little conservative?



- though I am talking about rival mind sets which do not necessarily coincide with party allegiances.





It is worth analysing these opposing mind sets both to know our opponents and to know ourselves.





Above all, it is important to discover what holds them together.



Is there a unifying principle common to all the attitudes in a mind set?



Or is there an internal logic which holds them together?



Or are they a cluster of views not rationally related but simply hard wired into the brain?





It is important to answer those questions for a number of reasons.





First, if we can understand what holds the left-wing cluster of views together we will know whether they can be countered by reason, by emotion or not at all.





Second, we will better be able to predict the likely new targets for left-wing attack and prepare our defences.





Third, we will better understand the logic of our own position and be able to identify and remedy weaknesses and reinforce strengths.





The Aetiology of the Left (and Right) Wing Mind Sets





A great deal of effort has gone into describing the characteristics which distinguish each species of plant and animal.





But remarkably few analysts have tried to describe the underlying characteristics which distinguish the mind sets of the left and the right.





Intellectual analysis tends to focus on the coherence or otherwise of individual thinkers and the subdivisions and disputes within left and right.





Joseph Schumpeter analysed "The Sociology of the Intellectual? but not their psychology.



Kuehnelt-Lieddihm has listed the characteristic policy positions of the left.



But one of the few, and by far the best, of those who have attempted the task of analysing the mind set is Thomas Sowell in his books ?The Vision of the Anointed? and ?The Quest for Cosmic Justice?.



It is extraordinary that he and his works are not better known in this country.



I declare an indebtedness to him wholesale at this point rather than punctuating my remarks with attributions distributed retail.





I have tied to distil down some of the key components which seem to make up the mind sets of the left and the corresponding position on the libertarian conservative right.










             Left of Centre



             Right of Centre





Mankind is intrinsically good



Mankind is a fallen creature





Evil is the result of society and oppression



Society has had to adapt to the fallen nature of man





Damaging aspects of society need to be swept away and replaced by a better design



There are lots of valuable things in society which need to be conserved and which would be hard to recreate once destroyed





That is a task for an enlightened elite which has thrown off the shackles of the past.    The elite know who they are.



All levels of society have an interest in conserving and building on the products of previous generations.





Institutions can only be good if they are the result of good intentions.



Consequently those institutions which have evolved by human action must be replaced by the constructs of human design.



Institutions which have evolved by trial and error may incorporate far more wisdom and experience than any individual or committee could possibly possess.





A propensity to compare the world as it is with an abstract vision of how it should be.



A preference for comparing like with like ? existing systems with each other.





The world is a zero-sum game:  so poverty of the many must be the result of the riches of the few.



Voluntary co-operation and exchange make everyone better off (but not equally).





Events are analysed in terms of power and military analogies ? winners and losers, command and control.



Events are seen in terms of trade-offs and mutually beneficial exchanges.





Social relationships are about power.   So society is divided into oppressors and victims.



In a free society relationships will only persist if they reflect mutual benefit.





Poverty and other disadvantages are the result of oppression.



The victim cannot be blamed or expected to overcome his disadvantages which should be removed by a benign state.



Poverty and other disadvantages may be the result of either misfortune or improvident behaviour.



Policies should reflect that difference.



We have an obligation to help victims of misfortune to overcome it.





The world is characterised by a tendency to vicious spirals of decline, eg the poor will get poorer unless the state intervenes.



The world is characterised by self-correcting mechanisms, eg a loss of jobs will lead to a decline in real wages generating more jobs.





Freedom is liberation from all rules and authority which have not been designed by the enlightened elite.



Freedom is made possible by moral restraints and prescriptive institutions with natural authority.





Inequalities which cannot be justified should be removed.



Poverty should be relieved.   That will diminish inequality but that is not an end in itself.



Indeed incentives are necessary and inevitably generate unequal outcomes.





Resentment of those better off than oneself is even more important than helping those worse off.



Helping those worse off than oneself is a virtue.   Envy of those better off is a vice.





All differences between individuals, sexes, races, nations and groups that cannot be justified according to some ?rational? criteria must be removed.



We should relish the differences and particularities of groups and nations which emerge naturally.





The universal is superior to the local.



Wider benevolence grows out of loyalty to the little platoons, local and national allegiances.





Support for enlightened policies makes the left morally superior.



Moral virtue depends on personal morality involving altruistic behaviour.





A sense of moral superiority is reinforced by conviction that opponents must have malign motives.



A willingness to accept opponents have good intentions even if mistaken policies.





Sense of superiority vis a vis one?s own society coupled with universalism lead to giving benefit of doubt to nation?s enemies.



Patriotism means giving benefit of doubt to your own country.






I am sure that is not a complete aetiology of either species of mind.





Even so I am not suggesting that everyone on the left or right holds all the attitudes typical of their mindset.



You must judge for yourselves whether they seem to be a reasonable reflection of core left and right attitudes.





What I find remarkable is how consistently these views seem to have characterised left and right for two centuries.





I came across a lengthy poem entitled the ?New Morality? pillorying fashionable left wing views.  



It was probably written by Canning and was published in his journal the ?Anti-Jacobin? in 1798.





It targets a number of these features of left wing thinking.



For example, he mocks the tendency of what he calls "Universal Man? to espouse the interests of foreigners against those of Britain:





            "No narrow bigot he; - his reasoned view



            Thy interests, England, ranks with thine Peru!



            France at our doors, he sees no danger nigh,



            But heaves for Turkey?s woes the impartial sigh.



            A steady Patriot of the World alone,



            The friend of every country but his own.?





He contrasts true practical philanthropy:



"?she, who dries



  The orphans tears, and wipes the widows eyes?



with Jacobin Philanthropy



"whose boundless mind



 Glows with a general love of all mankind?





He warns against the appeal of revolutionary doctrines which enable adherents to feel moral while exonerating them from personal moral restraints:





"The soft seductions, the refinements nice



Of gay Morality, and easy Vice?.







Some may think it unfair to picture left wingers today as more interested in feeling moral than behaving morally.



But the quintessentially left wing professor, Ted Honderich, unthinkingly blurted out the truth, (you may recall that he described Roger Scruton as ?the unthinking man?s thinking man? to earn the rather more damning comeback from Scruton that Honderich is the ?thinking man?s unthinking man?.     He wrote, unthinkingly:



"I do confess that in the disposition of my salary, I have not been very true to the Principle of Equality ??

But, he continues:



"?in mitigation.    Is it not better to be a self-preserving or even self-advertising advocate of a human principle than a more consistent advocate of an inhuman one??





Not the relevant choice, one might have thought





The likes of Polly Toynbee almost daily define their own virtue by contrasting it with the alleged moral turpitude of Tories.



            "their ideas always dangerous ? mean, backward, pinched, petty?







Do these clusters of attitudes tend to be found together?  



Is there a unifying principle, or a logical structure;   are they imbibed together from some common source;   or are they hard wired into the brain?





We can dismiss the latter notion since there are plenty of people who have switched from left to right and vice versa.



It is true that the style of these converts? thinking often retains something of that which they have abandoned.







But that is an indication that ideas influence the way our minds work rather than that any mind set is hard wired into the brain.





It is noteworthy that some of the distinctive features of the leftwing mind set reflect a view of how the world works, rather than how it ought to be.



Those features are more empirical than value laden.





In particular, those on the left have a propensity to see the world in terms of zero sum games, vicious spirals, command and control, and oppressors and victims.



Such phenomena are easily seen as justifying state intervention.





Could it be that the rest of the mind set is a logical consequence of this view of how the world works?





I doubt very much if that is generally the case.



The distinction between left and right is not absolute in these respects.





No-one doubts that there are areas of life which do involve zero sum games (sport for example), vicious spirals, command and control, or oppressors and victims. 



It is simply that the left assume that these phenomena exist where they do not.





For example, the left assume that all differences in performance of racial or ethnic groups or between the sexes must be due to oppression ? ie discrimination.



In some cases that is so.





Discrimination does exist.



It is wrong.



And it can damage people?s lives.





But as Tom Sowell has copiously catalogued, there are many differences which are due to other factors ? differences of culture (?culture has consequences? as he puts it), or behaviour, time spent raising children, etc.





The characteristic of the left is to assume that the world works in these ways even when there is no evidence for it and a great deal against.





It seems likely, therefore, that the left tend to think in these terms because they help to buttress their value judgements rather than vice versa.





Equally, it must be acknowledged that those on the right ? particularly those who merely defend the status quo from which they benefit ? may be predisposed complacently to assume that there are self-correcting mechanisms, or mutually beneficent relationships even where that is not the case.



It is no part of my case that the right wing mind is perfectly rational or free of defects

The Moral Appeal





It seems to me that the central driving force of the left is to do with morals rather than mechanisms.





At its core is a desire to feel morally superior while escaping all personal moral constraints or sacrifices.





The sub-title of Tom Sowell?s book ?The Vision of the Anointed? is "Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy? which makes much the same point.





I am not suggesting that all those on the left are devoid of personal morality and not prepared to make personal sacrifices.





I know of many who are personally virtuous, who give generously of their time and treasure (more so than me, to my shame) to help the disadvantaged.





They may even be modest about their personal sacrifice and refrain from congratulating themselves on the moral superiority which they derive from espousing well intentioned policies.





But they are rare.





The reason for the widespread attraction of these left wing ideas to lesser mortals seems to be that you can have your moral cake and eat it.





That is to say you can feel virtuous by endorsing policies which have virtuous intent without needing to make any personal sacrifice to do so.





At first sight there is a conflict between the desire of many on the left to feel virtuous  and the desire to escape the constraints of personal morality.





In fact, those who repudiate the constraints of personal morality are particularly likely to want to be able to feel morally justified by espousing a virtuous cause.





I must also make it clear that I am not saying that the libertarian/conservative right are all personally virtuous and free from hypocrisy.





If the characteristic leftist vice is a pharisaic self-regard ("I thank thee Lord that I am not like this man a conservative and a sinner?).  The right has its own characteristic vices but they are different.





The second feature underlying many of the views of the left-wing mind set is an exaggerated view of the power of the enlightened mind to obtain and utilise knowledge.





It is perhaps the natural prejudice of intellectuals to imagine that they and their fellows could in principle know all there is to know, and could therefore arrange society better ? given the power to do so.





Hence the propensity of the left-wing intellectual to assume economic planning must be superior to the unplanned market place.



The demise of Gosplan has torpedoed belief in central planning ? yet the same mental logic leads to advocacy of ever greater central regulation and control.





In fact, the knowledge dispersed among millions of not very clever people in society far exceeds anything that could be contained in the cleverest of minds or even the most powerful of computers. 





It required the combination of great intellectual insight and a certain intellectual humility for Hayek to demonstrate that the market is the best way of deploying the information dispersed in the market place.





Put very simply, therefore, what accounts for the attraction of the left-wing mind set and provides its central impulse is that gives a sense of moral and intellectual superiority without requiring personal moral sacrifice or putting ideas to any practical test.





At its most superficial level the left-wing mind set offers its more casual adherents a sense of moral and intellectual superiority without requiring any personal moral restraint or mental rigour.





In its more intense and extreme forms it goes much deeper.





Proudhon in "Les Confessions d?un Revolutionnaire? wrote:





"It is surprising to observe how constantly we find theology at the bottom of our political questions?. 





And the prophets of leftism do manifest a religious view albeit a perversion of orthodox religion.  They arrogate to themselves, as Sowell says, the roles of "God on the first day of Creation and on Judgement Day  - rather than what lies within our knowledge and power to control?.





Filled with anger at the way the world is, they want to sweep it away and with it all the moral constraints on themselves.





Marx expressed these sentiments in a poem written in his youth.





            "Then I will wander godlike and victorious



                        Through the ruins of the world



            And, giving my words an active force,



                        I will feel equal to the Creator.





There are echoes of millenarian heresies which have erupted in times of turbulence throughout Christendom and which similarly combine these dreams of destruction, to achieve complete liberation from all restraints and godlike power to usher in a new order.





But they are heresies for all their use of Christian symbolism.  When Christ was on earth many hoped that He would be an earthly Messiah who would destroy the established order and establish the Kingdom of Heaven by force as an earthly kingdom.  That is precisely what He refused to do.  He resisted the fourth temptation in the wilderness to establish an earthly kingdom using coercive power.  His role was to make the ultimate sacrifice for mankind not to impose God?s will on mankind.





Which is why the Christian left always seem rather uncomfortable either with Christianity or with the left, at least in its more naked forms.




What I hope the analysis of the left-wing mind set reveals is that it is not only about economic redistribution and control.





It also tends towards hostility to all differences between people and groups of people which cannot be ?rationally? justified.





It is against all institutions and rules which are not the result of human design according to abstract criteria.





It is hostile to all natural authority.





And it is opposed to the restraints and demands of personal morality.





As a result it tends to be antagonistic to the family; it is no respecter of the prescriptive judicial liberties which have evolved in this country (like trial by jury, double jeopardy, etc.) and are now under threat; it disavows the authority of teachers and can be corrosive of educational standards; it tends to deny the possibility of one culture being superior in any way to another while at the same time decrying the desire of the West or Britain to take pride in their own culture; it is keen to remodel evolved institutions like Parliament, the monarchy and the first past the post voting system on some supposedly ?rational? criteria.





It is in these fields that the battles of tomorrow will be fought.  Those who instinctively believe not just in economic freedom but in free institutions generally,need to gird themselves for the fight.





How best can we undermine the force and appeal of the left-wing approach?





The strength of the left is threefold:   moral, intellectual and economic.



            - their sense of moral superiority



            - the apparent internal logic of their tenets



            - and their base in the public sector which exempts them from the need



             to submit their ideas to any practical test.





We need to counter all three.



The Moral Front





We need constantly to expose the moral vacuity of a position which enables people to feel good without doing good.





Several decades ago I, somewhat tongue in cheek, published a proposal for a Voluntary Equality Tax.





It would provide a mechanism for the champions of equality to put their money where their mouth is.





By ticking the VET box on their tax return they would allow the Inland Revenue to remove any income or wealth in excess of the national average and redistribute it to whichever underprivileged group or public service the taxpayer designated.





For some reason the idea failed to catch on among those who are normally so keen to promote a more equal society!





We need constantly to find ways of puncturing the sanctimonious self-righteousness of the left.





Ridicule apart we need to reassert the moral superiority of voluntary acts over coercion; the necessity of freedom for moral behaviour; the propensity of people to behave more responsibly the more responsibility they have over their own lives; the intrinsically personal rather than collective nature of moral behaviour; and therefore the need for individual adherence to moral codes to guide and restrain behaviour.  Our reluctance to invoke state sanctions to enforce good behaviour makes it more, not less, incumbent on us to preach and advocate the moral virtues ? not to mention trying to practice them ourselves.





We need, not least, to recognise that helping the helpless is a crucial part of public policy as well as part of our personal obligation where we can help someone directly.





There has been a tendency to suppose that because the right is, or used to be, alone in supporting market solutions to problems we should only concern ourselves with problems that lend themselves to market solutions. 





Of course, we are only in a position to help the needy as a result of the success of the market.



And it is important to improve its working so that more people are able to participate in it and fewer need external help.  



But manifestly there are many who through frailty, misfortune and even improvidence, do need our help.



That help must be primarily delivered by social security and welfare programmes.



Believers in freedom should be every bit as interested as the statist left in ensuring that such help is generous and reaches those who need it.



We do not have to limit ourselves to advocating ways in which the voluntary sector can supplement state systems and free enterprise can improve their effectiveness ? though both are desirable.



We can and should also be keen to improve the state system itself.





The moral self-satisfaction of the left is not simply a source of gratification to adherents but a source of authority over others.



Those who have few clear moral beliefs are easily cowed by those who have powerful convictions and are prepared to express them.





The willingness of a politically correct minority to condemn any remarks which draw attention to anyone?s sex, race or ethnicity or to differences between such groups has led to an almost universal self-censorship in these matters.





It is now more acceptable to use the foulest of obscenities than to include women under the term mankind or to explain racial differences in terms of anything except discrimination.





No-one should want to abuse any fellow human being.   But what is odd about the PC embargo is its selective nature.



They condemn abuse of those groups accorded the status of victims but are more than tolerant of vicious criticism of whites, heterosexuals, males, Christians and, above all, conservatives.





We should not be oversensitive about this.





I was taught that:





"sticks and stones



may break your bones



but words will never hurt you."





Unfortunately, although the hurt is minimal the harm is substantial.



If the left identify the key values and institutions of Western liberal society with the "white patriarchy" and are allowed an open field in denigrating members of those groups who constitute the majority, that will help undermine the free institutions on which we all depend.



So it is vital that we are as assertive of conventional moral values ? including genuine tolerance and charity towards our neighbour - as the left are in asserting their twisted moral creed.



The Intellectual Front





As well as deflating their moral pretensions we need to sap the left?s intellectual foundations.



As Proudhon indicated, the ultimate questions are theological.



So I believe we need to reaffirm certain key theological truths:



- God has given us free will so that we, not society, are ultimately  



  responsible for our actions;



            - mankind is a fallen creature;



            - our nature is flawed not perfect, nor perfectible by social reform;



            - Divine Providence has enabled us to adapt to our flawed



              natures, while retaining our freedom, through the development of



   private property and other free institutions;



- but we can only maximise our freedom and well being by  



  accepting moral constraints, our obligations to others and the



  authority of institutions which have been found necessary to make



  society work.





The  Economic  Front





Denis O?Keefe has pointed out in his IEA booklet ?Political Correctness and Public Finance? that such left wing attitudes have their base in the public sector.





They thrive there because their proponents are not required to find customers for their ideas nor to subject them to any practical test.





The ordinary taxpayer is financing an intellectual assault on much in which he or she believes.



The public have also unwittingly paid for ideologically driven education experiments ? for example flawed reading methods over several decades.





The last thing we need to do to defend freedom would be to launch a MacCarthyite purge of academe or the classroom.





But maybe the more our educational institutions are financed in a way which reflects student and parental choice and the more schools and colleges are evaluated by results, the less fertile ground they will provide for ideological experiments.



 

 

Conclusion





History has not come to an end.  



The left of centre mind remains deeply hostile to the things those of us on the right of centre value.   



The battleground has shifted but the war goes on.





The right of centre can only regain the ascendancy if it knows its enemy.  



It must fight not just by undermining the economic basis of leftism, but with intellectual weapons and it must regain the moral ? ultimately theological ? high ground.

 

 

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