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March 22nd 2013 print

John Reid

Right wing? No, I’m a liberal and proud of it

Lazy minds need catchphrases if they are to avoid original thought, hence  " right wingers" pride of place in the left's demonology.  It would require an effort, but so-called progressives should check own wardrobes. They'll find jackboots that fit to perfection 

Recently, a friend asked me why I have such “extreme right-wing opinions”. This came about after I had expressed some scepticism about human induced climate change and various other Green shibboleths. This is my response.

I associate the term “right wing” with the following political beliefs:

(i) the State is more important than the individual,

(ii) Capital is more important than Labour and trade unions and industrial action should be suppressed,

(iii) the State is justified in censoring books, newspapers and the media in order to suppress ideas that the government or important lobby groups may find unpalatable,

(iv) warfare is not merely unavoidable but desirable,

(v)  those in power know best; hierarchical forms of government are preferable to democracy, and

(vi) these self-evident truths are continually being undermined by the malign influence of International Communism in its various forms.

What are some of the beliefs of the Left? Nowadays, Marxist Socialism is largely discredited in the West, apart from a small minority of the faithful. In its place we have an amalgam of feminism, militant environmentalism and welfare state advocacy. This constitutes The Left in present day Australia and has, rather cleverly, avoided being branded as a particular “ism”. That is unless we include Post-Modernism, which acts as a sort of intellectual umbrella but which is so arcane and confusing that most Left-inclined non-academics tend to muddle along without it. 

The Green-Left-Feminist (GLF) world-view includes many of the following:

1/ All cultures are equally valid (from Post-Modernism).

2/ Prior to the Modern Era (which usually began around the time when the speaker attended university) Western society was a Dickensian hell in which women were subjugated by their violent husbands and children underwent harsh physical punishment and rote learning at school.

3/ We have nothing to learn from our past, which was controlled by white male patriarchs.

4/ Owing to Capitalist Greed, the planet is about to come to an end as fragile ecosystems collapse under the strain of the resources taken from them and the poisons being pumped into them.

5/ All ecosystems are fragile – there is no such thing as a robust ecosystem.

6/ Human beings are a scourge on the planet. The world would be a better place without human beings.

7/ It is our job as human beings to ensure that the world is preserved exactly as it is now, like a giant museum. No more species should ever be allowed to become extinct whatever the economic cost of keeping them viable (David Attenborough).

8/ Scientists, and especially environmental scientists, have a profound understanding of the natural world and only they know how it should be managed. Lay people have no right to criticise them because they always know best.

9/ Scientific truth is whatever a consensus of grant-funded scientists say it is. Retired scientists and those employed by Big Business are not to be trusted.

10/ As there will be no more wars; all money spent on defence is wasted.

11/ Nuclear is bad. All nuclear power plants should be closed down.

12/ Carbon dioxide is bad (i.e. all combustion).We should obtain all of our energy from alternative, Green technologies.

13/ Hydro-electricity is bad because it involves building dams.

14/ Notwithstanding #1 above, pre-industrial societies like New Guinea hill tribes and Yanamomo Indians are superior to our own in their dealings with Nature and with one another. War is a product of capitalist society and is unknown among such people.

15/ All wilderness and all forests must be preserved, whatever the cost, because trees are more important than people and forests are more important than communities.

16/ Large native trees are sacred (Richard Flanagan). Whales are sacred.

17/ These self-evident truths are continually being undermined by the malign influences of the Energy Lobby and the Murdoch Press

Note the similarities. Both Right and Left downplay the individual, both appeal to authority, both, in the extreme, become totalitarian, both attribute evil motives to their detractors and subscribe to the malign influence theory.

The political philosophy which opposed them is liberalism. Liberalism is neither Right nor Left. In wartime the Left tends to be more liberal and the Right illiberal, as during the Cold War and the Viet Nam War. Today it is the Left which has become illiberal. To question the Leftist “truths” listed above is to be a “redneck” or a “denier”.

I am a liberal, with a small “l”, although recently I have joined the large “L” Liberal Party. I grew up in a family with a liberal orientation. I first became self-consciously liberal after hearing John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty read by Prof Sydney Orr when I was a student at the University of Tasmania. The year was 1959, the centennial of the essay.

Along with Voltaire and many others, Mill was part of the Enlightenment tradition of liberal thought. It is a tradition which is deeply embedded in our culture and one of the reasons for our stability and our success.

More than 150 years later, Mill’s ideas about the suppression of slavery and the desirability of female suffrage have come to pass in Western countries. I believe that he got it right about liberty, about freedom of speech, and about the necessity for informed and inclusive debate in a healthy democracy.

However his more socialistic ideas, about workers’ collectives and so on, sound more than a little naïve nowadays. I believe that if Mill were alive today he would not support socialism and would be horrified by the perversions to which it has led. In 1859, when he put pen to paper, Stalin’s purges, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the excesses of Pol Pot and the sheer lunacy of North Korea were yet to happen. He would have been appalled by the unnecessary suffering and suppression of the human spirit brought about by this fervent, mindless and un-self-critical ideology which holds the State or the Party above the individual.

To me, the problem with GLF’s, particularly the Greens, is that they confuse what is desirable with what is possible. They also confuse loyalty and truth. Being Left is rather like being a Collingwood supporter: you may, in your heart of hearts, suspect that the ‘Pies are going to lose next weekend but you can’t say so publicly because that would be disloyal.

A society which puts loyalty before the truth is not a healthy society. The Vietnam war might have been avoided if the US had been able to talk to the Chinese, who were equally dissatisfied with North Vietnam at the time (according to Kissinger). However the US State Department had been purged of its China experts. Anyone who had actually been to China was seen as being “soft on Communism” by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. There could be no real debate or communication with China under those circumstances, and prejudice held sway at the cost of millions of lives.

In my view, in this country, liberalism has come under threat. We can no longer assume that we live in a society in which minority opinions can be heard and debated. There are several examples where this principle is increasingly disregarded.

One is the recently shelved attempt to install a government-controlled watchdog to censor media content following from the recommendations of the Finkelstein Report.

Another is the prosecution of Andrew Bolt under the racial vilification laws. Bolt was dragged before the courts for criticizing what he wrote was the opportunist use of scholarships and prizes, intended for disadvantaged Aborigines, by relatively affluent middle-class people. He hurt their feelings by speaking the truth, evidently. He in no way vilified Aborigines per se, some of whom agree with him. It should be noted that the affirmative action provisions, under which such prizes and grants were set up, actively discriminate on the basis of race and are, ipso facto, themselves racist. The disadvantaged should be given preference according to the nature of their disadvantage, not because of their DNA.

The controversy over the visiting Dutch politician Geert Wilders is another case in point. Wilders has always emphasized that he is not opposed to Muslims, only to their religion, Islam, which, he considers an oppressive ideology and an existential threat to Western liberal values. His position is similar to that of Churchill in prewar Britain who was condemned for expressing concern about the rise of Nazism in Germany. Churchill happened to be correct and Wilders may well be wrong, but at least he should have the right to be heard and have his views discussed. We suppress the ideas of such Cassandras at our cost.

Finally, I regard the so-called “climate debate” as a classic case of the breakdown of the liberal spirit, this time within the scientific community. Putting aside the technical details about whether climate variability is or is not influenced by human activity, the manner in which this campaign has been conducted is a disgrace. Even the term “climate change” is loaded, presupposing, as it does, that the climate was once stable and is now changing; real scientists would use the phrase “climate variability”.

The polemical nature of the IPCC reports, the way in which opponents have been systematically vilified and denied access to funds and publication, the absence of any critical third party evaluation of the models, all imply an illiberal and political agenda. Certainly scientists need to seek funds and to put their best foot forward in doing so, but the way in which the climate people are using Green hysteria to attract massive funding amounts to nothing less than the prostitution of science. It is illiberal to the core.

No, I am not right wing. I am a liberal. 

– John Reid,  March 2013. Reid is a physicist who lives in Cygnet, Tasmania. His interests include alternative energy and the environment.