I have been thinking a lot about culture, politics, and economics lately.
For most of my adult life (from my thirties to now), I have held a worldview that was a mix of conservative and libertarian elements, flavoured with a bit of Protestant Christian ethics.
My conservatism, I imagine, has sprung mostly from my Christian upbringing in a Southern culture that was steeped in evangelicalism. My family of origin aren’t particularly Christian, but I did go to a lot of church with friends in my childhood and teens, and a lot of that millenarianism washed off on me.
I also encountered libertarian economics and political thought in my thirties, and really hitched much of my intellectual wagon to interpreting the world through that lens. Much of it was a reaction to living in Germany, where the State, at the time, seemed to have more sway over day-to-day life than it did in the Anglophone world of the US and the UK.
This is when I became a Eurosceptic, as I became aware that British political culture was fundamentally incompatible with Continental political culture: it has traditionally been that everything that is not forbidden is allowed in our Anglophone world, whereas on the Continent, and in Germany in particular, everything that is not allowed is forbidden.
I have watched as our political and media class here in the UK has sought to ape this Continental, totalitarian impulse with increasing vigour over the past couple of decades, changing the culture through law, propaganda, and the administrative State.
I often thought the best antidote to this was a dose of libertarian scepticism and resistance. When people were presenting opinions obviously fed to them by the powers that be, I would often counter with a dose of libertarian freedom talk.
But observing things going on around us – Brexit and its detractors, Trump and the reaction to him, mass immigration, the degradation of mass media and culture, and the complete dependence on the government teat of huge swathes of the population – I have been coming to the conclusion that libertarianism is not going to save us from what the real issues are.
Fundamentalist libertarianism really has no answer to the issue of cultural and spiritual deficits.
I’ve decided that libertarianism can only answer the questions it seeks to do when the host culture allows libertarianism to thrive.
Excuse the broad brushstrokes here but…
Libertarian ideology may have sprung from the Enlightenment (which is something else I’m coming to be sceptical of), but the spirit behind it firmly has its roots in Anglo-Saxon/Celtic Fringe culture. In its own unique way, and spurred on by the Enlightenment and the enterprising Freemasons involved in the sham, the ideals of liberty ended up spreading far and wide.
Enlightenment libertarianism seeks to cut man off from God and Christ, and its presuppositions imply that all people are the same everywhere, that they are blank slates, they just need a bit of education and freedom to thrive. It ignores the impact of culture on the way one thinks about the world and one’s role in relation to the rest of the world.
The libertarian fundamentalist seems to think that if we dive-bombed every country with hard-backed copies of Mises’ Human Action, Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State, and Burroughs’ Naked Lunch*, then everyone would see the error of their ways and embrace the right way to do things.
Other than the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) and freedom of expression, libertarianism has no real answer to the question of culture. And within libertarianism’s embrace of free trade and the free movement of labour lies the seeds of its own destruction.
How, for instance, would you enforce the NAP against a large group of ‘migrants’ whose cultures are very much centred around its opposite, where might makes for right? And how would you keep those migrants from changing the host country as a reaction?
And how do you keep them from behaving as one mass politically?
[I suspect Jeremy Corbyn’s coyness about anti-Semitism has nothing to do with his being a Jew hater or not but has more to do with a massive bloc vote of recent-ish arrivals to this island who are Jew haters.]
And what is free trade, if it means that besides the free movement of money between countries comes the free movement of people in the form of importing “skilled” and “unskilled” workers?
I have personally been affected by this with the use of Indian ICT workers who were moved into a company I worked for. Many of my colleagues found themselves training up their replacements; I became a contractor before it could happen to me. I’d be lucky, now, to get £25k a year less than I was paid in 2006 for the same job.
Free movement of people means a race to the bottom when it comes to wages. The lower that wages go for the working class, and the more work they lose, the more that wages for the rest of us will drop or stagnate, as we are reminded that we, too, could be replaced.
Free movement of people ends up meaning that comparative advantage now only rests upon the price of local labour. I’m not so sure that’s what Ricardo had in mind.
It seems to me that in order for libertarianism to thrive, it needs a culture steeped in Christianity and Christian ethics, maybe even a Northern European culture, and maybe, even more specifically, an Anglo culture.
And, of course, a culture that seeks to preserve itself. We don’t seem to have one of those, now, although little green shoots do appear to be emerging in response to Brexit shenanigans. But how long can these green shoots survive without being labelled Nazi and racist?
Despite the utility of Austrian economics, I am coming to the conclusion that libertarianism applied on a large scale may be just as utopian as communism. And it seems to discount the role of culture completely.
This brings me around to the other thing I have been reconsidering lately. Civic Nationalism.
Going back to my great-grandparents, who immigrated to the USA from what was the Austro-Hungarian Empire; my Scottish grandmother who married my American grandfather during the war; my Northern Irish mother who married my American father; and finally me, who moved to England and eventually married my English wife, I come from a long line of people who have migrated.
In many ways, I always thought that if one moves to a country and adopts its ways, eventually, one and one’s family will become of that country. I was taught that was what it meant to be American and I believed it thoroughly when I joined the US Navy.
When I moved here, I thought the same of the various ethnic groups that have moved here in the last 70 years or so…Eventually they will integrate, and their children will marry into the general population and the UK or England will still be here, just as it always was.
But the more I learn, and the more I experience this world, I’m not so sure about that any more. Even if assimilation were on the Government’s programme with regard to incoming immigrants, you still can’t change the cultures the immigrants come from and that they experience in their own households and across extended families.
I always felt like I didn’t belong in the USA partly because of my mother’s attempts to stick close to Northern Irish roots. This did not mean I had mixed loyalties; it meant that I didn’t quite fit the mould, and still find it impossible to conceive of living somewhere where my family had lived for decades or even centuries. Rootless. This is how the children of immigrants come to feel at times. At least it helps more when you resemble the locals.
I have become convinced that Civic Nationalism isn’t all it was cracked up to be. I do believe there is an ethnic/micro-geopolitical aspect to a National culture. And that belonging to the Nation is more than just moving there and “fitting in”.
And when you move people in who don’t look like or live like the locals, it means it is very easy for both the locals and the incomers to “other” each other, to borrow an SJW term. Cohesion is not possible in a multi-cultural context. You don’t have a Nation.
Yes, you will get people who are middle class and will reject their parents’ culture and embrace the local deracinated middle-class culture. But nations are not made from people who can live the same lifestyle anywhere they go.
Perhaps I don’t have the right words for what I am trying to express.
I am happy to be here, and I know that I did not grow up here, and am, in some ways, still an outsider, despite looking like the locals. And after 20 years here, I hope that I can contribute to this Nation. My wife and I have given a heritage to our children, who, thanks to the mixing, are seven-eighths ethnically British (from all four countries in the UK) and one-eighth ethnically Slavic – giving our oldest a slightly exotic look. I hope that they will embrace this Nation and appreciate that it is more than just having a blue passport.
I guess that’s all I have to say today.
*Apologies to the Firesign Theatre.