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Journey from Leftism to Sanity

I am delighted to have found a distinguished ally, Melanie Phillips, concurring with my view that Right-Wing is a meaningless expression and has become no more than a term of abuse.

How can it be Right-Wing to be in favour of controls on illegal immigration, when working class people tend to be more in favour of controls than the upper middle classes?

How can it be Right-Wing to be sceptical about policies intended to slow global warming, when eminent scientists say they won't work and the policies will hurt the poor more than the rich?

Similarly, how could it have been Right-Wing to have been sceptical about lockdown rules that hurt the poor more than they did the well-to-do, who were (often) happily working from home?

These thoughts were triggered by reading Melanie Phillips' moving book Guardian Angel: My journey from Leftism to Sanity. In it she describes how she began her career as a journalist working for many years at The Guardian, in what she bravely calls "the very belly of the left-wing beast", but found herself, without changing her basic principles, taking positions - on climate change, on Brexit, on identity politics and many other things - that caused her to be thought of as Right-Wing, and to be abused accordingly.

I found her experiences paralleled mine, moving from mild leftism as a student to what I now think of as Realism and, as she says, Sanity. I wrote her a letter to which she kindly replied - both are below:

My letter to her:

I have just been reading your moving and, to me, very interesting book, Guardian Angel. I hope you will forgive me for writing about my rather similar journey, albeit from a very different starting point, and with none of your horrible experiences on the way. You are a brave lady for taking the positions you did when still with The Guardian and incurring the wrath of its acolytes.

I was born into an “upper-middle class” family and went to Eton; my father was not a political animal but certainly didn’t hate “wicked Tories” like yours did. But I then went to King’s College, Cambridge, then (as now, probably) a hotbed of left wing thought and opinion, to which I adhered in a mild way. I left university as a liberal-leftie, my political hero then being Roy Jenkins. After that I became a commercial lawyer and took the slow road to what everyone seems to describe, quite misleadingly, as the Right Wing. I found myself “mugged by reality”, to use Irving Kristol’s phrase, which I think you quote.

My reason for writing to you – aside from saying how much I enjoyed and learnt from your book – is to mention the question that I keep coming back to: WHY? Why is it that our intelligent compatriots have this bizarre tendency to espouse causes that are at odds with what are presumably their basic principles? Why – as you put it – don’t they follow the evidence when it demonstrates the harm their causes are doing. The only answer I can come up with is that people are desperate to support idealistic policies; so desperate that they don’t want to hear about reality when it intrudes. The real division in today’s politics is between Idealism (which drives the Left) and Realism (which is so wrongly caricatured as Right Wing).

I attach an essay I wrote a while back on the subject, which will tell you nothing you don’t know, but which does touch on what I have just said. You may well also know of a book by Kenneth Minogue called The Liberal Mind, which I have not read but which is referred to by Douglas Murray in his book, The Madness of Crowds. It describes what Minogue calls the “St George in Retirement” syndrome. St George has over the last few hundred years slain a lot of real dragons, such as slavery, homophobia, Fascism, etc. Now, in his retirement, he is getting a bit desperate to find new ones. He has to turn to some that are made of paper, and very flimsy paper at that - I hardly need to elaborate! I find that it very much helps in answering the WHY question.

Her letter to me:

My apologies for not having replied sooner to your letter, but it has only just reached me.

The points you make in it, and in your essay, are very pertinent. As to your question "why", in my view this is the outcome of the replacement of morality by ideologies which inescapably repel rationality.

The reason such ideologies have gained such traction is that, as you suggest, they are all motivated by an idealistic desire to make a perfect world. That's because they are filling the void left by the retreat of Christian faith, whose worst historical aspects they emulate -- in particular, the dogmatic belief there is only one route to the perfection of the world; and so all dissent, not to mention evidence of reality, has to be obliterated altogether.

Many thanks for writing, and for reading my book -- which I much appreciate.

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