There is a myth that circulates currently on the western right that goes like this: while the left is close-minded, wrapped up in cancel culture and identity politics, the right have become the custodians of tolerance. While the left no-platforms those it disagrees with, the right will talk with anyone and everyone. So long as you disagree with the woke folk’s shibboleths, you can come and join the centre-right, as they are waiting for you with open arms.
Like any myth there is some truth buried in there. The left has become almost hilariously intolerant over the last few years, with any transgression from anything the left believes in being enough to have you shunned from the group. You have to agree with them on everything or else you can sod off. And in comparison, the right has been more open-minded than the left in terms of who it will speak to and who it will not.
But one, that is a very low bar and two, a great deal of this ‘open market of ideas’ stuff on the right is performative – intellectual cosplay, almost. When it comes right down to it, the modern right has as many shibboleths as the modern left does – it is just way better at playing this down than the left, who tend to wear their forms of intolerance with an open pride.
A great example in Britain is Brexit. If you don’t like Brexit, good luck being accepted on the right, even if you are technically a conservative or classical liberal. I, for instance, think Brexit was a terrible idea that will one day, in some form or another, be reversed. I’m also solidly centre-right on foreign policy, as well as a big believer in free markets and relatively small government. I don’t like socialism and think the left are foolish for pursuing it as the ultimate goal once again, after they had wisely turned their backs on it collectively several decades ago. Yet none of this matters – I couldn’t be a Tory, even if I really, really wanted to, because accepting Brexit as being good is now a minimum requirement. Whatever else you believe, the right will not accept anyone who doesn’t like Brexit in a fairly overt way. It’s become an article of faith – just like if you want to be a Christian, you have believe in the divinity of Christ, if you want to be part of the modern centre-right in Britain, you have to believe in the power of Brexit. Or at the very least, pretend to.
Then we move onto America, where parts of the right want to try and tell classical liberals that really, the Republican party is the place for them given the extremes of cancel culture on the left. Yet you only have to look at the numerous times the veil is lifted to understand the true nature of the American right. The Texas abortion law of very recent times is a perfect example. Seriously, guys, banning abortions for any reason after six weeks and then empowering citizens to be able to sue those who might be providing abortions, or even – and this is the truly Orwellian part – aiding people to find access to abortion, whatever the hell that can ever mean, and you want classical liberals to go along with you just because lefties were mean to JK Rowling? Sorry to be rude, but go fuck yourselves. You don’t really care about personal freedom and liberty, just the freedoms and liberties you happen to value at any given moment.
Yes, the modern left is besieged by problems, caught in a sort of religious frenzy on all sorts of issues. But the idea that the right is really, deep down, any better, is demonstrably false. And at least the left are sort of working from a place of trying to help people, however misguided that becomes in practice at times, whereas the right aren’t even doing that much. They’ve mostly given up on markets to embrace an ugly form of quasi-socialism that is neither practical nor well-intended; it’s just big state protectionism because they don’t know what else to do anymore. Which isn’t all that inspiring, if I’m being honest.
As I mentioned the horrific Texas abortion law above, I will mention to close my new book, “The Patient”, one of the major themes of which is the importance of a woman’s right to choose when it comes to her own body. It also covers xenophobia, medicalisation in the age of Covid and how we aren’t as liberal a society as we sometimes pretend to ourselves that we are. It’s here if you’re interested:
Chris Cory says
While there is much truth in all this, there is a “classical liberal” wing in the tory party and there will be others who share a similar perspective, even though they no longer hold sway at the highest levels. In comparison, it is hard to find a decent classical liberal in the Lib Dems, most of them were purged after the coalition.