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A big admission

The other night I had a look at the 18 Doughty Street internet-based public affairs TV programme. I quite like what Iain Dale and the others in that outfit are trying to do with internet TV: breaking into the arena now dominated by BBC, ITN and Channel 4, channels that are by and large infused with the meta-context of the liberal-left. 18 Doughty Street is unashamedly pro-liberty, pro-capitalism, pro-America and anti-Big Government in its thinking. My main doubt is whether it can keep going without being able to make hard cash. Anyway, it is also attracting guests from across the spectrum, and it is an appearance by a leftist blogger on the show the other night that got my attention.

Dale was interviewing three bloggers about events of the week, and one of the guests was Alex Hilton, the author of the blog Recess Monkey, a leftist site with a sense of humour that may or may not to be to one’s taste. He recently got into a bit of a pickle by posting the ‘news’ that Margaret Thatcher, whom Alex loathes, had died. She is, of course, very much alive. Iain Dale phoned up the BBC after seeing the ‘story’ and promptly Hilton had to retract and publish a rather grubby apology, albeit one with a fairly nasty sting in the tail. What a nob, I thought. Then I saw his appearance on 18 Doughty Street. Fairly boilerplate lefty, I thought, a bit cocky, not a bit ashamed of spreading an untrue story, in fact, denying that that the death of Mrs T. would be a ‘story’ at all (any newspaper editor would turn him down on the spot if he thinks that the death of a famous politician, however old, is not a story. I certainly would).

Anyway, the interview went on. I was interested in how Hilton described how he came to hold the views he did, which is always interesting, in my view. His family background is working class – printing and coal mining, two industries that succumbed to the crackdown on subsidy and the trade union closed shop thanks to the Thatcher years (I strongly support both such changes, naturally). Hilton is a reminder, however, that a lot of people experienced the hard side of those changes, necessary though they were. I was a bit disappointed that Dale did not ask the question, “So Alex, are you in favour of massive coal subsidies and the old print union methods, then?”, which was a pity. But at one stage we got a really interesting admission. Hilton was talking about leftist economics bloggers, and said it was a pleasure to come across such folk, because on the whole, “economics is an emotional issue for socialists”, or some such. I certainly remember the use of the word “emotional”. Bang. For a socialist to actually admit that their views on economics are driven, not by logic, factual evidence, by reason, but by “emotion” is a big admission. It is an admission of intellectual defeat if you do not say that you have reason as your main motivator. It is to run up a big, white flag in the battle of ideas. When Marx was writing about class and the rise of the proletariat, he did not present his arguments as “emotional” – though of course they were in many respects. He used the language of science a lot. The left used to talk about ‘scientific socialism’. Their posters had big pictures of factories, machines and aircraft on them, all waxing lyrical about technology and the power of reason. The left is now a very different, post-modernist beast. Reason is out. Emotion is in.

Socialism just took another little step towards its coffin on that show. Nice one Alex. Keep up the great work. Just do not try to kill off Britain’s greatest post-war Prime Minister ever again.

15 comments to A big admission

  • wings

    I have recently become very interested in the role that “values” play in economic thought. For example, the Austrian school describes its method of approaching human action as “value-free”. In other words, theirs is a method to understand how the world works, that is all. And speaking very broadly, the neoclassical school, while following a different methodology, is also value-free – it simply wants to explain why and how economic events occur. But advocates of socialism have a serious problem, because their view of the world cannot be separated from their desire to eradicate inequality and promote “social justice”.

    They have the same problem that libertarians do when advocating liberty for liberty’s sake, because it’s difficult to change someone’s mind on a point of moral principle, especially when that person is a practitioner of economic science. It comes down to the evidence and there are few people who can argue for socialism without resorting to ideology.

    Here’s an interesting article on the subject:


    I have previously, in debate with a left-winger, been accused of being an economist.

  • Paul Marks

    I was one of many people who thought that not a single coal mine should have been closed by the government. They should have all have been given (debt free and for nothing) to the National Union of Mineworkers. After all the coal mines were in the hands of the government anyway and the goverment was running down the industry (many pits with lots of coal in them had closed decades before Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister).

    If they really were “economic” (as the N.U.M. and the rest of the left claimed) they would have continued in operation. And how could the N.U.M. (or other parts of the left) turn down the chance of such a large workers coop? And, of course, such things as pay and conditions would have been up to the workers.

    Of course if the industry collapsed anyway (as I think it would have done) the left would have no one to blame but themselves. No doubt they would still have tried to blame the evil “Thatcher” – but their claims would have been openly nonsensical.

    As for the newspaper printing industry. The industry was undermined for many decades by the print unions – they cut the throats of their own members. As unions tend to in the end. Delaying the introduction of new technology by threats just makes things worse for everyone in the long term (because the industry has been undermined – and change, when it finally comes, will be very sudden without time for people to adjust their lives).

    New technology is not always a good idea, but trying to stop it by the threat of violence (“we wil go on strike and physically prevent new workers entering this place of business, by the military tactic of a picket line”) is always a bad idea (in the long run a bad idea for everyone).

    On the matter of values:

    There is nothing wrong in having moral objectives – indeed there is a lot wrong with having no morals. But the methods one uses to achieve moral goals are in the provice of reason.

    As Ludwig Von Mises was fond of pointing out, giving someone a glass of milk may be good for him (as long the person does not have a physical intolerance for milk, or whatever), but giving someone a glass of potassium cyanide will not give them needed nutriants – no matter how much one wants it to.

    Someone may really “care about people”, but no matter how good his “values” are if he follows a socialist line of policy he will hurt (not help) most people.

  • The discussions on 18 Doughty Street can be most interesting. It is especially interesting, when I am on, to test where the bounderies between a non-authoritarian Tory like Iain Dale and a libertarian like me lie. It was most amusing his horror at my suggesting that we should let Iceland be in regards to their whaling.

  • Millie Woods

    The problem with the Alex Hiltons 0f the world and their kindred thinkers is that they see the economic landscape in terms of the 19th century factory model with ruthless Gradgrinds exploiting the poor and disadvantaged.
    If this were indeed the case with economic activity boiling down to winners eternally exploiting the losers and grabbing much more than their share of the “pie” than all economic activity would have come to a halt centuries ago.
    Instead most of the world’s economy is based on mutually agreeable exchanges – end of story. It’s the few and far between cases of exploitation that grab our attention and eventually are corrected.
    I live in a small and naturally blessed part of the world – the Niagara peninsula of Ontario. With a population of about a quarter of a million the region exports almost one billion dollars of mostly horticultural products to the United States with nary a ‘big business’ to be seen. I think Alex Hilton should take a realistic look at what’s actually going on and not consider the Marxian model as the last word on how business is done.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course (as Millie Woods most likely knows) the real factories of the 19th century offered the poor the highest living standards in the history of the world – it is only because we are so much richer now (richer because of these factories, by the way), that we are able (like the comfortable readers of Dickens) to be shocked at the poverty of 19th century facrory workers.

    Most people in most places have been near starvation for most of the history of the world – a crop failure (or whatever) and mass death would occur.

    It is only in 18th-19th century Britain and other nations that had an industrial revolution (tragically Ireland was not one of these places) that any other way of existance became possible. As Millie Woods rightly points out the “pie” got a lot bigger.

    I know the above has been said many times before, but it has to keep being said.

    The latest effort to nail down the old myths about how “capitalism” grinds the faces of the poor and is responsible for various evils is the “Politically Incorrect to Capitalism”. I have not read the work, but I have read the works it is based on and I know of the author – so I will believe it will do a good job.

    If I was not such a usless old man I would put in a “link” to it.

  • “For a socialist to actually admit that their views on economics are driven, not by logic, factual evidence, by reason, but by “emotion” is a big admission. It is an admission of intellectual defeat if you do not say that you have reason as your main motivator.”

    I disagree with you that this is an admission of defeat. It is a signal that socialism is no longer what it was, but has changed into something that never had any problem with emotion – Fascism. The left has abandoned the “scientific” mindset of 19th and 20th century socialism and has adopted the primitive irrational mind set of mid 20th century fascism – and has become a much more difficult and dangerous beast because of it.

  • veryretired

    Oh, Paul, the very last thing any of us would call someone with your wide-ranging knowledge and passionate erudition is useless.

    Besides, I’ve got that roster spot locked up. Just ask my kids.

    And Robert, you are correct, unfortunately. The collectivist movement has become more dangerous precisely because the formal, old school beliefs are so discredited in many parts of the world.

    The response has been “stealth socialism”—all the same collectivist lunacy disguised by camouflage such as fanatical greenism or animal rightism; “peace and social justice” movements which, oddly enough, find the road to both only through increased state power, as if that agency had not been the grossest violator of both all through history; and euphemistic names for turning major elements of economic and social activity over to complete government control, such as “single-payer health care”.

    Even us certified “old fools” can see through that nonsense.

  • veryretired

    I’m sorry, that last line should read “old farts”, given the nature of my major daily activity.

    I just figure, if Travolta can have 5 jets, I can have an occasional can of chili. The by products are probably about the same.

    I wonder if they sell chili trade-offs—

  • RobtE

    It is to run up a big, white flag in the battle of ideas.

    The answer/response/whatever is inherent in the post itself.

    Johnathan’s post is predicated on the assumption that reason actually matters. I share that assumption, as do, I suspect, most of those who frequent this site. We are, after all, children of the Enlightenment, and we believe that Enlightenment values are still valid.

    The same is not true, however, for much of the rest of Britain. Apart from a few other blogs – Tim Worstall and Devil’s Kitchen come to mind – the English Enlightenment is dead. Reason no longer is the touchstone of an argument. One must be empathetic – touchy-feely, caring, and considerate of those who are ‘vulnerable’.

    Is it any surprise, then, that emotion should become the touchstone? If one rejects the Enlightenment, then reason no longer matter, and empathy is everything.

    Parenthetically, I must echo VeryRetired in his support of Paul Marks’s comments. Honestly, the range of Paul’s knowledge, both extensively and intensively, is mind-boggling. I can only aspire to such a level of knowledge.

  • Jacob

    But the methods one uses to achieve moral goals are in the province of reason.

    Not only the methods.
    Moral goals are, and should be, in the province of reason. There is no other way to find out what the worthy moral goals are.
    (Of course, I discount here the religious belief that morals are given by God).

  • Paul Marks

    This posting and thread puts me in mind of a book review.

    David Gordon’s review (Mises Review, Volume 11, Number 3, Fall 2005) of Stephen Hick’s “Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rouseau to Foucault” (Scholargy Publishing 2004).

    Both Gordon and Hicks deal with the following problem:

    The theorectical case made by Ludwig Von Mises and others against socialism is devastating. And the practical experiance of the “public control of the means of production, distribution and exchange” (as the old Clause Four of the Labour party constitution use to define socialism – found on every pre Blair Labour party membership card) in the Soviet Union, Mao’s China and so on – shows that it leads to an economic mess and political tyranny.

    So why are there still so many socialists? Why do they (under various names) still dominate academia and educate the students who go on to dominate the media and other cultural institutions?

    Hicks and Gordon do not agree on everything, but they do agree that the socialists faced a situation where reason (both the reason of formal examination, and the practical reason of experience) showed the socialists that socialism was false.

    But “therefore they rejected socialism” did NOT happen. The socialists had a another choice and they took it – they rejected reason.

    The reasons why the socialists rejected reason are complex and contested (such old works as Ludwig Von Mises ” The Anti Capitalist Mentality” tried to deal with the problem long before Hicks), but the rejection that the posting noted is clear.

    We face an enemy who, for the most part, will be unmoved by appeals to either logic or experience.

    There are still some socialists who are not beyond the reach of reason – but they are a minority. So trying to convert most of our foes is not practical.

    Therefore we must try and reach past them to talk to the general public directly. But this is difficult as (via their control of academia, so much of the media and so on) the socialists are the gate keepers to public opinion.

    This does not mean that most of the public are socialists (it is not that simple), but it does mean that they are influenced to see government as the solution (rather than the problem) in many things – for example in health care.

    Even obvious government failure can not be relied upon to shift public opinion – as they may be influenced to blame such failure on nonexistent “cuts” in government spending, or simply on the wrong politicians being in charge.

    So we are back to the hard slog of trying to build antistatist/pro liberty education (both for children and for young adults) and an antistatist/pro liberty media (especially in broadcasting).

    This is a very difficult task, and (given how much the various Welfare State programs have grown, and how developed the web of regulations is, and how much the credit-money bubble has expanded) we are running short on time.

  • veryretired

    I agree with Paul that the task of the anti-collectivist group in society is difficult and complex.

    Issue after issue after issue has been so thoroughly muddied and coopted by the collectivist mentality, that it does, indeed, seem a daunting slog through the intellectual equivalent of the Great War’s muddy trenches just to bring the conversation around to some semblence of rational analysis.

    We have, however, two marvelous tools at our disposal.

    First is the catastrophic history of the 20th century. As more and more of the inner workings and archives of the marxist/maoist regimes is brought to light, and the old guard who were so heavily invested in the protection of the reputations of the dictatorships dies off, in the west as well as the east, the enormity of that evil folly will be easier and easier to demonstrate.

    Will we convince the “true believers”? No, very few of those whose committment to collective ideals is at a religious stage can be redeemed.

    But we can isolate them, and through relentless repetition of the facts, force them to either concede the disasters that their ideas brought about, or, at least, inhibit their habit of making the most absurd claims in the comfortable knowledge that they will be covered and protected by a compliant media and complicit academia.

    Secondly, and here I disagree with Paul, time in fact is clearly on our side.

    Generational change is a wonderful thing, esp. in a society in which free inquiry and open debate of intellectual and moral claims is not only allowed, but encouraged.

    I realize that the depredations of PC censorship and multi-culti doubletalk have hindered and obstructed this vital societal function for a few decades now, and many young people have been contaminated by the idea that it is OK to block speech and ideas they do not approve of, or which challenge some too, too sacred cow.

    However, this odious regime is the current power in society, and esp. in academia. Youth is what it is regardless of the specific doctrines that reign in any culture, and the tendency to question and challenge the “conventional wisdom” has not disappeared just because the current CW is collectivist.

    If there is one theme that is truly ubiquitous in high school and college age commentary in venues not controlled by the academic strictures of “what is acceptable”, it is the complaint that most of the PC nonsense they are forced to endure is complete BS, and a recognition that the point of it all is thought control and censorship.

    This understanding is our natural ally, and just as repressive regimes tend to alienate their own citizenry with their lunatic attempts to control every little aspect of life, so do these repressive doctrines alienate their captive clients with their incessant fussiness and rampant illogic.

    It is never too late to show a young man that his life belongs to him, not his neighbor.

    It is never too late to show a young woman that her dreams and hopes are a legitimate and moral priority, and need not be sacrifficed to the demands of others.

    It is never too late to teach a young child that their minds and talents belong to them by right, as much a part of their human nature as their genetic codes or their fingerprints.

    Indeed, every advance in scientific analysis of ourselves and our place in the animal kingdom reaffirms the uniqueness of each and every individual, and the folly of superficial distinctions by race, sex, or some cultural idiosyncrasy.

    The future belongs to those rational and courageous enough to claim it. Our enemies have disqualified themselves.

    As Napoleon found the imperial crown, the future has been discarded by the fear and irrationality of the collectivists. There it lies. Pick it up.

  • The Dude

    Going from the experience of my own age group (I’m 26) most people seem to be either completely apathetic or sick and tired of being nannied. With much of the latter group lacking the historical/philosophical education to express what they want in anything other than dissatisfaction with the status quo.

  • Johnathan

    RobE, VeryRetired, Paul, as usual, very interesting comments. Just a quick reply to RobE:

    I think that when people talk about “caring” for the vulnerable, etc, this is partly a continuation of the old Christian tradition of compassion for the weak but also something else. One might argue though that there are good, rational reasons for being benevolent and generous to other people because most sane people want to live in a society in which they can depend on their fellows to help them out in emergencies, or if they become chronically sick and disabled. There is a sort of rationality in compassion. After a while, the idea of giving money to charity etc hardens into an unspoken sense of duty. I think some forms of socialism arose from that, and many socialists, like Hilton, are at a loss to explain the rational foundations of their views, so they resort to boo words instead. For example, Hilton claims Margaret Thatcher is “evil” as she cut off subsidies to the coalminers without putting in place some other form of work system for them.

  • I find it amusing that Alex Hilton believes that ending subsidy to printing was a bad thing when he’s a blogger.

    If the print unions were still powerful they’d be striking over the use of the Internet to publish, they’d try to restrict blogging.