I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Slim Pickings for the Soft Left

Slim Pickings for the Soft Left

Alexis de Tocqueville, scion of a French aristocratic family, was possibly the most interesting nineteenth century interpreter of his country’s revolution. His main observation was that a centralising monarchy in the eighteenth century had stripped political power from the aristocracy, leaving only titles, estates and other trappings. This imbalance between grand appearance and actual powerlessness prompted questions as to the purpose of the aristocracy and in effect eased a path towards the guillotine and the general destruction of that class as a central plank of French society. Peter Mair, in his posthumously published Ruling the Void, sees an analogy with contemporary political parties, arguing they no longer represent anything much, have ceded power to the state and are pretty much indistinguishable. The implication is that they may be tossed aside. On the face of it his thesis seems plausible. Anyone who has ever canvassed in an election will know that a certain proportion of the electorate will quickly send you on your way with the words “Yis are all the one” or similar.  Peter Mair, who says political parties have lost contact with their traditional bases, are dependent on the state and are essentially similar, offers a more reflective version of the same idea. He uses the term “cartel party” to describe the phenomenon of political sameness. When advanced at an intellectual level, as opposed to a doorstep level, the complaint that political parties are insufficiently ideological or all too similar in ideology is usually made from the left.  And it is a complaint that has been heard regularly since the triumph of the politics championed by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and their ideologues. Behind the left critique of contemporary politics is an understanding which places class conflict at the core of political life and which sees the concept of class as providing an interpretive key to history – in other words a politics in the Marxist tradition. The underlying problem for the left, particularly in the post-1989 world, was not so much the unsavoury politics of Sir Keith Joseph or Milton Friedman, which could be explained in class terms, but the absence of an intellectually muscular and telling response from the left. The concepts available to the traditional left were firmly lodged in certainties which originated in the enlightenment era, including the belief that all human affairs could be understood using the techniques of scientific reasoning. This thinking, which continues to…

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