Getting the big picture
An important book appeared in 1946 by Henry Hazlitt entitled Economics In One Easy Lesson. The central thesis of his volume is summed up in this sentence: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”
Wise words indeed. And they apply equally to any government, and to any political, social, cultural, legal or economic policy being considered. But the problem is, very few politicians want to look at the big picture. Many are only concerned about how their decisions will impact on their own electorate.
Indeed, most politicians tend to make policy decisions merely on the basis of whether it will get them more votes. As long as they can stay in office and continue to enjoy the perks of office, they are satisfied. There are sadly very few politicians who are men and women of principle, who look at the big picture and not just the immediate short-term gain.
No society will last long if our leaders are mainly focused on protecting their own skin, catering to special interest groups, and putting popularity contests ahead of principle. Sure, there are exceptions here, but they tend to be few and far between.
Thus it was refreshing to see a national newspaper printing an article which reminds us of the importance of seeing the big picture and acting for the public good. English commentator Melanie Phillips has a terrific piece in today’s Australian comparing British and Australian politics. Her piece is well worth reading, but let me pull a few key snippets from it.
Phillips focuses on Australia’s new opposition leader Tony Abbott and urges him to stay true to the conservative vision. She refers to “the truly astounding fact that a conservative will most likely win power by remaining unambiguously true to conservative principles.”
She contrasts Abbott with the English conservative opposition leader, David Cameron. She speaks of “his inner circle of liberal modernisers”. “Their strategy of ‘hope and change’ is based on their unshakeable belief that the Tories were denied power for the past 13 years because they were not progressive enough. Accordingly, they rebranded themselves by taking left-wing, socially liberal positions and, in particular, a wholesale embrace of the environmental agenda.”
She continues, “Alas for the new green Tories, man-made global warming theory has gone spectacularly belly-up. More fundamentally still, Cameron has made a strategic error. He wants to tell the country it’s ‘time for a change’, but the change he has implanted in people’s minds is that the Conservatives are more similar to Labour.”
Phillips rightly notes that Cameron is on a suicidal path. He wants to placate those on the right in his own party, yet he wants to embrace many of the latest trendy (and leftwing) causes. The “British Cameroons appear to be opportunists slavishly following whatever the latest focus group tells them. People need to know where they are with their leaders, even if they don’t agree with everything they say. But there is no courage or consistency in going with the flow.”
Contrast Cameron with his Australian counterpart: “Abbott is scoring so well for two main reasons. First, he is expressing views that are in tune with what so many think but are too intimidated to express. He is a champion of the voiceless mainstream. Perhaps even more crucially, everyone can see he speaks from principle, and it is no accident that these are securely rooted in his Catholic faith. He is therefore clearly a leader.”
Phillips then gets to the heart of the matter: “Conservatism is not an ideology but a cast of mind that seeks to defend what is valuable. That means in the West defending liberal democratic ideas and the Judeo-Christian precepts on which these depend. With the defeat of communism, many conservatives really believed this was the ‘end of history’. Since everyone embraced the free market, they thought there was no longer anything to defend.
They couldn’t have been more wrong. The battleground had simply moved from economics to culture, with an onslaught against normative moral values, national identity and Western civilisation itself. But British Conservatives don’t grasp that a culture war is being waged for the soul and future of the West.
As a result, they have put themselves to a large extent on the wrong side of that war by jumping on to the progressive bandwagon. Thus they support gay adoption and all-female political short lists, are nervous about discussing mass immigration or egalitarianism, and are all but silent about Islamism and the Orwellian moral inversion that tries to criminalise as ‘Islamophobia’ the legitimate concerns about radical Islam.
The great battles today are not between left and right. They are between morality and nihilism, truth and lies, justice and injustice, freedom and totalitarianism, and Judeo-Christian values and the would-be destroyers of the West both within and without.
If conservatives are not on the right side of all these touchstone issues, then what is the point of conservatives at all? Why should anyone vote for them if they are merely left-wing wannabes? If people want utopia and the repression that inevitably follows its pursuit, the party to vote for is Labour: it does it so much better. Moreover, one of the dirty little secrets of the Left is that, far from being the voice of the downtrodden, its agenda has tremendous appeal to the rich.
Green politics in particular provides painless radicalism; it lets people believe they are acting out of high-minded conscience without causing themselves any more pain than cycling to work and recycling their rubbish. By contrast, the decent working class and lower middle class who have no moneyed leisure for such self-indulgent frivolities are naturally conservative. And the most successful Australian politicians have understood this key fact.
Here, here. Now that is getting the big picture. But sadly most politicians, even those on the right, no longer think in terms of the big picture or in terms of worldview. They can only think as far as tomorrow’s press conference or next week’s members’ meeting.
What we desperately need today are politicians of backbone and politicians who stand on principle, aware of the bigger picture. Phillips has sounded an important warning here. It needs to be taken seriously.