Thursday, 24 April 2008

The left, lies and Melanie Phillips

Every so often, I dip my toes into the poisonous waters that comprise a large chunk of the right-wing blogosphere. I’m invariably shocked by the levels of anger, vitriol and contempt that characterise even the most routine comment or discussion in these quarters. (It’s amazing how easily people who are, by any objective standard, among the most empowered and privileged in human history can convince themselves that they are in fact the victims of some kind of terrible global left-liberal oppression.)

But then I remind myself that the left-wing blogosphere has no shortage of people who think that diatribe constitutes debate and that cussing people you disagree with (who are also, as often as not, on the left themselves) is an integral proof of ideological purity. So I suppose that an intolerance of differing opinions and an unthinking bigotry towards those who hold them should be seen as a general human failing rather than a specifically ideological one.

Even so, I hold an old-fashioned sort of attachment to the pursuit of truth as well as the expression of opinion. So when the right accuses the left of lying, which Melanie Phillips does big time in her Spectator blog this week, they really ought to get their facts right.

‘The left claim they are the ‘progressives’ in society – but the truth is the precise opposite,’ she writes. ‘Nothing new here: the idea that the left were always the heroic opponents of tyranny is merely a self-serving myth invented by the left. From the French Revolution onwards, the left have in fact generally sided with tyrants and oppressors; ever since that time the most ‘progressive’ intellectuals have been fascinated by violence; socialism and national socialism were after all brothers in blood, descending from the same counter-Enlightenment strain of thinking.’

This is unhistorical nonsense. Neither the left nor the right have come out of the past two centuries with their reputations unblemished, but to say that ‘the left’ (in any case a worthless broad-brush categorisation that lumps together, for example, Stalinism and many of its opponents and victims) has ‘generally sided with tyrants and oppressors’ simply can’t be supported by the evidence.

Phillips goes further. ‘The single most important thing for left-wingers – what defines them in their own eyes as people of moral worth – is the fact that they are not “right wing”,’ she says. ‘For “the right” is a place of unmitigated evil. Only the left is good. So this is how it goes in the left-wing mind. To be not on the left is evil. To be not on the left is to be on the right. Therefore everyone who disagrees with the left on anything is automatically an evil right-winger.’

And further still: ‘So this is what follows. The left believe a wide range of lies. Others believe in the truth instead. Therefore to the left, those people are “right-wing”. Therefore truth is actually a right-wing concept. Therefore truth is evil. Therefore truth has to be relabelled lies while lies of course remain unchallengeable truth.’

‘The reflex reaction of a left-winger, when presented with a set of facts which challenge his or her assumptions about the world, is not to ask “Is this true?”’ Phillips argues, ‘but “Will adopting this position make me right-wing?”’

Is this true? Does Phillips really believe it herself?

Some of her readers certainly do. Among those commenting on her blog, one describes it as ‘an instant classic’, another as ‘a beautifully written and really quite brilliant post (easily the best I've ever read at this or any other site)’, while yet another sees it as ‘another keystone article in the fight for reclamation of reason’.

‘Reason’ and ‘truth’? All of this under the headline ‘The open society and its enemies’ in a nod to Karl Popper’s famous philosophical work critiquing Plato, Aristotle, Hegel and Marx (published, incidentally, in 1945 by the left-wing Routledge after it had been rejected by a host of other publishing houses in the US and Britain).

I worked with Melanie for a short while on New Society in the mid-1980s before she turned into the unabashed right-winger that she is today. (I was going to write ‘evil’ but that might be a shade too subtle.) She now says, ‘I don’t think I was ever really left-wing: more a soggy liberal just going along with the consensus. Then I was mugged by reality.’

Yet one of New Society’s great virtues was that it didn’t go along with any consensus. It followed the evidence rather than any party line. And in seeing the world in many different colours rather than unsophisticated black and white it enabled many of us, left and right alike, better to understand the way it works. The sad thing about Melanie Phillips is not that she has moved from ‘soggy liberal’ to ‘right-wing realist’ but that she seems to have been mugged of her critical faculties along the way.


Anonymous said...

Mad Mel has moved way beyond the realms of self parody. Are you sure you knew her? Is she not really Craig Brown in disguise?

jools said...

You couldn't make it up. Political incorrectness gone mad.

Anonymous said...

On such occasion, dipping ones toes is like stepping on the vipers tail, of course you have to grab it firmly
by the throat before it strikes or retreat backwards very slowly.

The Sword of Truth

Anonymous said...

I see you got a constructive response from the Mad Mel Fan Club on her blog - sort of proves your point even if I don't agree with all your politics.

Anonymous said...

El Al Fifth Column Mel will always look after her own kind - that is israel first UK second, she support mass murder of anyone who is not a White Zionist Jew, myself I am a Sephardi from Iraq. She will continue to spew her most extreme form of hate, giving you British a "face" that the outside world sees. Her support for golda mier & her nuclear threat against the entire planet is israel "defense". The traitors at the top of the West will NEVER turn against this hate speech as the are frankly too much the behind of Zionism & its well established false flag history. Deportation & hunting down the $billions that go to israel is the first step. Disarming & then if need neutron bombing israel will secure the real free world.

Steve Platt said...

Neutron bombing Israel, eh? Sometimes words fail me ...

Hassan said...

It only goes to show that there are extremists on all sides. Most Muslims and Jews would live in peace in they only had the chance.