The Wrong Right
With the disappearance – for the time being, at least – of the Person whose name this medium will put a stop on using – for time being, at least – we need to consider the more sinister and less cartoonish of issues – the threat to democracy by right-wing extremists. What triggers a sudden shift of centrist politics to extremes? And was the shift sudden or had it been going on for a long time but only recently become more dramatically visible?
Time to remember that the grass is ‘always greener on the other side of the fence’. During a war it is easy. A stop to the bombings and trenches, to the air-raid victims and the dead front-line soldiers, is the other side of that fence. The grass looks greener because it is. But if you were born after WWII, the colour of the grass in the next field isn’t nearly so obvious. For fifty+ years after the war personal wealth blossomed. Productivity led the way but planet destruction came close behind, as we now realise. Almost everyone became better off.
From an early age I thought that it was wise to raise the standard of living before raising expectations of doing so. And for a considerable time that happened. Once George Orwell’s Animal Farm had become fully rehearsed and those who were More Equal had clearly identified their rewards, the envy associated with ‘much, much more’ fomented the political melee, bringing to the top, as such fomentations always do, the nasty bits. They were visible thirty years ago but then largely kept under control or, as they would say, suppressed.
The last four years have given them every excuse, and many opportunities, to iterate their ideologies and demonstrate their demands. No society can tolerate them for long, of course, so the net effect of their efforts is a clamp down on all, including moderate, rights who by miscalculated association are thought to have the same unacceptable views and behaviour. We have not heard the last of them yet. They have an idol and to worship they will go.
As a threat to the concept of democracy they have no more impact than weirdos everywhere. But they are a real threat to law and order, the first requirement for a democracy to work. Guarding places they may want to seize or desecrate is expensive and time consuming of law-enforcement resources needed elsewhere. It is difficult for democracy to work under siege. In fact, it needs more than absence of riots to be really effective.
Reason, moderation and a sense of give and take – all very old fashioned virtues, which have themselves been abused at times – are prerequisites to an effective and smooth-running political system of the sort European and American societies are used to. Absent any of these plus a breakdown in law and order and the strains on the system become so bad that military reserves are brought in. Once on the scene they incite even more protest of the ‘military state’ sort. For democracy to survive in this atmosphere it needs life support.
Extreme left can, of course, be destructive, too. When we have seen that, it has mostly been to do with poverty of perfectly decent people demanding food, water and shelter. The violence of the left during Margaret Thatcher’s time as British Prime Minister was to do with miners, coal pits and some nationalism rather than purely poverty. And, for that reason, sympathy soon shifted from the job-deposed to the police. Ideologies spur stronger convictions than rice and bread.
Normal has disappeared from our chequer board for the moment and perhaps abnormal behaviour can be countenanced while a virus rampages through the world. But if people want freedom to comment, a choice of representative at the polls and the right to go about their business in peace and quiet, they must re-learn to live together without nanny laws for every move they make. Reasonableness is the basis of all good interpersonal relationships.
Evidence implies that individuals’ rights, important and valuable as they are, must fit in with society’s rights. This is especially true in the crowded, hugger-mugger cities we now live in. Proximity proposes punches to solve differences, hot streets exacerbate blood pressure, speed ignites tempers. For all these reasons, reasonableness, courtesy and kindness are vital ingredients of any society. The battle for democracy won’t be won by foul-language rhetoric but by showing how much better it is to live in freedom and fairness than in martial law and autocracy.
There are arguments in favour of a right-leaning society though I don’t believe them myself. If the right wants to convince me, however, they will have to go about it in a way that is totally different from their approach today.
They need to think through what that way is, before they are outlawed as troublemakers.
They need to practice the right Right, not the wrong Right.