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T_i_B Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 06:38 AM
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The monumental collapse of the left

Has the British political left, just like free-market capitalism it tried to harness, untamed, simply collapsed under the great weight of its own unacknowledged contradictions? It's certainly worth asking, at this point, whether economic neo-liberalism and social liberalism, were ever such very different beasts.

Many insist that now is the time for Labour to return to its core socialist values, after its long dalliance with the busted neo-liberalism it fretfully continues to work on resuscitating. But socialism is actually anathema to many on the left, even some of those who think that they believe in it. Socialism and social liberalism may hunker down together in the broad-left church though religion is just one of the things that liberals often fail to be liberal about. But they are contradictory bedfellows, and blending them has already proved difficult.

Socialism needs collective commitment to, and respect for, the state, and a personal allegiance to the greater good, even if it is not necessarily in your own interests or even your family's. But if Gordon Brown stood up and asked that of the British, as I'm sure he'd love to, then he'd be greeted with mutinous disbelief. Social liberals, while they of course tolerate the saintly conformity of those who used to be called "the respectable working class", sometimes with genuine admiration, and sometimes with a sneer about sad suburban straights, insist that individuals must be gifted with the freedom to make their own mistakes and learn from them if they choose to. When things go wrong, if free choice is to be self-regulating, people have to bear the consequences of their own actions. Yet left-Liberals, just like neo-liberals, turn to the "big state" out of self- interest, because it protects their own freedom to do as they choose, while ensuring that others help clear up any damage that ensues from granting similar freedom to those without personal safety nets.

Liberality, like neo-liberality, is a rich man's game, though no one dares any more to point out that freedom from conformity is an expensive luxury, whether you are buying it in cash or in costly self-discipline. Repeated errors, if you don't have the money to buy yourself out of trouble, and sometimes even if you do, tend to wreak havoc. We have seen that in the collapse of the banks. Someone had to pick up the tab, when liberal banking was exposed as neglectful banking. But even before the banks collapsed, there was a sense, acknowledged more by the right than the left which mocked Tory claims of a "broken society" that the state, big as it was, found it "hard to reach" the people who needed the most help. In part, of course, that was because Labour's redistributive ambitions were hampered grotesquely by its reluctance to interfere with what business said it needed. But it was also, surely, because in an exaggeratedly free and liberal society as in a similarly gifted economy a lot of damaging activities are hard to mitigate.
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Ken Burch Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 06:41 AM
Response to Original message
1. Actually, socialism does NOT require "collective commitment to" the state
Edited on Thu Sep-17-09 06:48 AM by Ken Burch
While public ownership can be a crucial part of a socialist project, what is more important is a commitment to democratizing the decision-making process. The issue is democratic CONTROL of the means of production, not state ownership. The Soviet Union had state ownership but it never came close to embodying the type of society that socialists seek to achieve, because it did not empower workers and the powerless.

And, for the record, Deborah Orr, the article's author, makes the delusional assumption that the policies of "New Labour", as embodied by Tony Blair and the soon-to-lead-his-party-to-a-truly-humiliating defeat Gordon Brown, have anything whatsoever to do with "socialism" or "the left". Those policies were and are authoritarian conservativism.
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bemildred Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 08:19 AM
Response to Reply #1
4. Well said.
The issue is foremost and always who decides and how decisions are made.
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tama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 12:22 PM
Response to Reply #1
8. Well
to nitpick, that's social democracy. (Revolutionary) socialism does not either require collective commitment to the state, as the ultimate goal is stateles communist utopia.
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Ken Burch Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 04:36 PM
Response to Reply #8
9. to nitpick back
vanguardist revolutionary socialism(of the type Lenin practiced)posited itself as "scientific socialism", which Lenin saw as the opposite of "Utopian socialiam", so those who advocated that would actually not see themselves as working for Utopia at all. And it's not clear that vanguardists actually envisioned statelessness as the end product at all.
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CJCRANE Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 07:14 AM
Response to Original message
2. Maybe it's just me
but I found the article difficult to understand due to its confused logic. It just seems to be a bunch of accusations and conflations about any phrase with the word "liberal" in it.
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QC Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 07:36 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. "Liberal" doesn't mean the same thing in Britain as it does here. n/t
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Berry Cool Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 08:34 AM
Response to Reply #3
5. Yeah, it sounds more like the author is referring to libertarianism,
not liberalism.
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QC Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 08:38 AM
Response to Reply #5
6. Exactly. n/t
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Igel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 11:32 AM
Response to Reply #5
7. In the US, 'liberalism' shifted its meaning quite a bit.
Small government, greater use of people to have and control their property, relative freedom from government used to be the mark of a liberal. gives a decent summary, at least the first few screenfulls (I stopped reading after that, after checking to see that it was reasonable in discussing classical liberalism).

I think they get the "negative" and "positive" right discussion wrong. They try to define it by example, picking not the most prototypical examples when I think it's fairly simple to define the difference. The distinction also isn't entirely libertarian.

Ultimately, the entire question is where "freedom" lies in society and how it's expressed, the role government plays, and what a person is to be free from in being free.
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