Saturday, 27 December 2014

Why I respect Peter Hitchens.

Adversarial politics

Believe it or not, there are honourable conservative voices out there. By 'honourable', I really mean those few figures with integrity. You don't have to agree with someone to respect their point of view. This is easy to forget in a political discourse lacking worthy opponents of the Left.

The fulminating columnist Peter Hitchens is one such case of the honourable rightist. The particular strain of conservatism, to which he adheres, may be summarised as traditional, cultural or socio-moral conservatism. His targets include the Westminster consensus, not only the Labour Party, but the Conservative Party as well. He sees the country threatened from a left-wing cultural putsch against the vestiges of an organic social order. Yet it's clear that he is no friend of the current flavour of right-wing politics.

On an ABC panel with Dan Savage and Germaine Greer, Hitchens was asked what he thinks of Tony Abbott. He immediately laid into the Australian Prime Minister deeming him a 'fake conservative' for his neoliberal economic agenda, pseudo-moralism, and connections with Rupert Murdoch. He has dismissed UKIP as a 'dad's army party', unlike many of his associates in the right-wing press, seeing the party only as a means of annihilating the Conservative Party.

"I also yearn for a truly radical party," he once confessed to the BBC. In the same segment, Hitchens made clear what he really opposes: namely, the centre-ground of the Third Way and 'compassionate' Conservatism. He sees both forces as two sides of the same coin (and he's not wrong) routinely flipped every four or five years. In short, he wants to abolish the fakery of personality politics and return to adversarial politics.

When it comes to the economy Peter Hitchens has said that he is for a robustly social democratic model, which would include a safety-net and universal health-care. It would include what he describes as strong employment rights and social housing. He opposes the right to buy scheme which has wiped out so many council houses and inflated the housing market. On top of this, Hitchens has routinely criticised privatisation and the legacy of Thatcherism.

Years ago on Question Time, Peter Hitchens savaged Iain Duncan Smith and called for the renationalisation of the railways. It's not the only case either. "I think there was a case for nationalising coal, made in the 1920s and accepted by many people for non-dogmatic reasons," he wrote in his column in October 2012. "I have always believed that the electric power grid should be nationalised. I think it should be renationalised  as a prelude to an enormous programme of nuclear power station building, without which we face an appalling energy crisis within 20 years."

In a Chat Politics interview Peter Hitchens was asked whether or not he thought it would be possible to build a right-wing alternative to the Conservative Party. He responded "Who says it'll be right-wing?" Of course, this kind of response is symptomatic of the very view he takes of the prime oscillation of UK politics between Labour and Conservative. He often eschews the label of 'right-wing' for himself, preferring the title of Burkean conservative. It's evident that he sees the left-to-right spectrum as a defunct measure of politics and yet he never strays away from bashing what he calls 'the Left'.

"The left's real interests are moral, cultural, sexual and social," he insists in one of his columns. "They lead to a powerful state. This not because they actively set out to achieve one." Not surprisingly, the way he frames left-wing politics really comes from the position he takes on cultural and socio-moral issues. "It is because the left's ideas – by their nature – undermine conscience, self-restraint, deferred gratification, lifelong marriage and strong, indivisible families headed by authoritative fathers."

As a former Trotskyite, Peter Hitchens remains within the bootprint of twentieth century leftism, bemoaning the cultural revolution of the 1960s, yearning for a revival of the traditions and social norms it killed. He's wrong on almost all cultural and social issues, but he's right that the problem, for people like him, isn't just the Left - it's Thatcherism too. Fortunately, it is too late to turn back the clock on the progress achieved in our attitudes to sexuality, gender and race. The malaise of the reactionary press is really down to this harsh reality.


Peter Hitchens said...

I have responded here

lyovmyshkin said...

I'm an avid reader of Hitchens and an admirer of his, thank you for this thoughtful article.

Your point regarding the reactionary press and their "malaise" is well made, although having a cyclical view of history (as opposed to a Whiggish or a Progressive one), your concept of it being "too late" to turn back the clock seems dull and shortsighted.

We are a declining civilization in many ways, eventually dire need and the rule of parsimony will see us revert to more efficient modes of social organization, I think. Our current arrangements are those of a practically post scarcity variety, as is the entire Progressive mindset, in my opinion.

The cycle never ends though.

Once again, thank you for this piece, Mr White. I think there is room for quiet respect between political opposites.

David Williams said...

Why is he wrong on social and cultural issues? Please make a coherent argument.

Anonymous said...

The commas enclosing "to which he adheres" should not be there because it is a restrictive clause in the sentence.

JT White said...

Thanks for the comments. I enjoyed reading your response, Peter. I'll be sure to send you my follow-up piece shortly.

To the rest of you, I'm glad to see agreement that there can be respect in oppositional politics. I never said history runs in one direction, progressively, my view is that its path is anfractuous and dialectical. I've criticised the variety of historical progressivism preached by Whig liberals plenty of times(google for more detail!).

David, I didn't set out to produce a critique of Peter Hitchens. On the contrary, it was a piece on why Hitchens stands out from the crowd. But I'll include criticism in my next article.

Thanks for the grammatical advice, I often miss out on such issues.