There is a train of thought that says that during the 20th century, the Right won the economic argument – the triumph of capitalism over socialism – while the Left won the social, cultural argument – that liberalism in these spheres won out over social conservatism as we witnessed civil rights, women’s rights, and minority rights gain huge grounds, while homosexuality was legalised and became so accepted within society that by the turn of the century it even became okay for Tory MPs to be openly gay.
The Left of late has begun to think it may just be able to win the economic argument in the early 21st century as well. But not only is the Left not winning the economic argument, it is beginning to lose the other argument as well, with dire consequences for anyone interested in social liberalism.
Part of the problem is that while the Left tries to advance ever stricter forms of political correctness, the rest of the country have gone the opposite direction, becoming ever more openly nativist and even xenophobic. The nastier portions of the Brexit debate and its aftermath was a good demonstration of this trend. In America, the ability for Donald Trump to campaign on the platform he has done and still have a chance at becoming the next president tells you this is not strictly a British problem either, but rather one that is causing the Left trouble throughout the western world.
Essentially, the Left seems to think most of the social liberal cultural wars have been won so decisively that we can go past liberalism in regards to the relevant issues and jump to a sort of authoritarianism in this regard. What we are witnessing on university campuses in regards to “safe spaces” and the no chairing of anyone who does not conform to certain orthodoxies is the best example of this. It seems to assume – falsely – that certain arguments are done and dusted (also that liberalism was merely a tool to achieving certain goals, which I find personally offensive, by I digress).
The bizarre flipside to this is watching the Left abandon several key planks of social liberalism at the same time. For instance, the growing pro-Kremlin feeling amongst the new Left. Here is a regime that is very socially conservative and yet is looked upon as the lesser of two evils when put next to “the west”. In other words, anti-gay and xenophobic actions by a non-western country appear to be condoned by the Left as part of the greater march against “western imperialism”.
Social liberalism and openness to other cultures does not require a hatred of the west. In fact, I would say that such self-hatred is extremely counter-productive when trying to speak to the wider public on issues like immigration. This facet of the current Left’s behaviour is one of the big reasons it is losing this cultural argument.
Social liberalism is one of my key political concerns. I am pro-free market because I think it leads to a more open, liberal society – if I did not, then I would stop supporting it, and nothing makes me more angry than those on the Right who ask for freedom in the economic sphere but not the social. It is at the heart of everything I believe. Therefore it pains me greatly to see the Left blowing it on this terrain so badly. I don’t want to go back to the 1950s just because the current membership of the Labour Party has been taken over by people who naively cannot see the harm that is being done.