There is a particular strain of thought on the Left that I find really irksome – for lack of a better word, let’s call it “communitarian liberalism”. It is essentially utopian in outlook because it avoids several aspects of hard reality. And if ever there was a time for the Left to put aside non-achievable aims and be as pragmatic as possible, now is really the time.
A good way of understanding this philosophy (for it is an all encompassing way of looking at the world) is to look at relevant examples of it in print. The Guardian should really run its own section just for adherents, edited by George Monbiot. Here’s one such snippet from today:
…”the Brexit vote, the rise of Ukip, the NHS crisis, the election of Donald Trump and the advance of the far right are not the opposite of neoliberalism, they are the ideology’s culmination.”
No, they aren’t – this is a comforting lie the Left continually tells itself. The reason that the Right are winning so much at present is because they feel safe enough to abandon some of the hard lines of the Old Right and wander into the Left’s traditional areas. The vote to Leave the EU was about people turning away from neoliberalism, not embracing it. The rise of UKIP is fundamentally about people rejecting globalism, a critical part of neoliberalism. For now we come to the crux of the matter: the communitarian liberal section of the Left wants to reject neoliberalism while embracing globalism, and wants a style of communitarianism that keeps all of the stuff about liberalism – gay rights, women’s rights, multiculturalism – that they like without beginning to examine the contradictions involved. They want people to come together and stop being so individualistic all the time but are not willing to see that in order for this to happen, people need to have something to rally around, and sadly, often need something to rally against. There needs to be a genuine group feeling in order for communitarianism to really flourish, and that is usually around national and regional identities whether the Left likes it or not. This is why the Left’s rejection of “Englishness” is so poisonous for them electorally – these are the subsets people identify with, not the old class based dead horses the Left continues to flog. Also, as soon as genuine communitarianism takes effect, socially liberal values suffer, since by definition the standards by which people should conduct themselves become the concern of the entire group. Clement Attlee would understand this principle completely and if he could time travel to 2017, would no doubt be arguing the same.
The far-right meanwhile are just practicing a more realistic form of anti-neoliberalism than the Left engages in. Figures like Marine Le Pen or Donald Trump are not neoliberalism writ large, but rather a reaction against it. You could say not a very cogent one, and on that I would agree with you, but the figures of the New Right do not represent a championing of the old neoliberal order but are rather an explicit attempt to demolish it.
I’m a liberal and see communitarianism as something both conservative and negative in nature. I think neoliberal economics has its good and bad sides. The bad sides can be ameliorated through a reasonably active state in certain sectors, such as health and education, with a viewpoint to trying to even the field by giving as many people active access to the real economy via whatever means practically work. So this is easy for me: I am broadly pro-immigration and pro-market while being very socially liberal and don’t think communitarianism is actually a very good thing to pursue, thus I have no circle to square here.
If you wish to know why people in places like Stoke Central are really turning away from the Labour Party, it is because they want to reject globalism and multiculturalism and are tired of Labour sounded conflicted and confused on this point. So communitarians, here’s your choice: go native, or give up communitarianism for liberalism once and for all. The halfway house isn’t working for you.