Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Perils of Tax Populism.

 Cutting Both Ways.
 The cause of raining in corporate tax swindlers was once the monopoly of UK Uncut in its Vodafone protestations. Now it has been coopted by the political class, firstly by that shirker Ed Miliband and then by George Osbourne that dangerous radical who went to St. Paul's. Unfortunately, for Ed Miliband the language of ‘responsible’ capitalism is hardly anything radical and can be, demonstrably, filched by the less than scrupulous Tories. There was a time when talk of ‘responsible’ capitalism would have been a compromise too far for the Establishment Left. Even Andrew Neil thought it proper to point this out to Rowenna Davis. It looks like triangulation from the Right. Tax reform will be a bit of prog bait for the Coalition to wag at us (along with gay marriage) at the next election. Of course, the oik at the Treasury is just a poseur when it comes to serious tax reform.

 We can debate what this tells us about the Chancellor and the way his mind works. For quite some time the question was whether Osbourne knew what he was doing. There was no theory and the oik had no formal education in economics. The whole aim of deficit reduction seemed to revolve around the prospect of re-election in 2015, incidentally the Coalition are failing by their measures in that department. It is possible that the Coalition have pushed the austerity measures to the limit and have decided to slow down just in time for the General Election. So we find it is either a case of idiocy or wanton cynicism. If the Treasury are going to patch together a minor tax reform then it is more about appearances than content. This would mean that the Chancellor, or at least his advisors, are aware of the problem of tax evasion and avoidance. It is plausibly about the coming electoral battle. The Conservatives are painfully aware that they have not won a majority in over 20 years.

 Miliband has made his move, a bet on mansion tax. For a long time it looked like Ed Miliband was struggling to find the formula. The New Labour token of the ‘hard-working majority’ to the Blue Labour waffle about a ‘squeezed middle’. Well, first it was Blue Labour, then there was this brief gust about ‘predistribution’, and then, finally, settling on One Nation Labour pilfered from the One Nation Conservatism of Disraeli. Each instance can be seen as another attempt at triangulation. All the while Ed hasn’t promised us anything concrete, on the meritorious grounds that he doesn’t want to lie to us. And who could disagree with that? Just picture it, the Labour slogan at the next election: Don’t Expect Much! The success of Blairism was its lies, the Prime Minister was a conman and many of us wanted to be conned. That’s why so many liberals lapped up the drivel about WMD. Now little Ed has to appear to have found the formula even if he hasn’t.

 The trouble with the current Miliband (surely, the better of the two) is that he remains a creature of the End of History proclaimed by Fukuyama. The fall of the Berlin Wall and triumph of liberal capitalism signaled the end of the old politics of class. We had finally gotten past all of that. The new mission would be the Third Way, not even social democracy, more like a neoliberalism with a human face. Much like soft pornography this ‘soft-core’ capitalism promises everything except the penetration shots. Endless economic Progress without the harsh social costs. This is why Miliband still seems to be stuck in the spirit of the 1990s. Most of his leadership has been characterised by meandering around labels and the need for a new triangulation. First you nick planks from the opposing platform with the hope of bagging the votes and money that will follow it. Then you test the water to tune the policies perfectly to the ears of the votes you have yet to win.
 All of this falls back on the assumption that the traditional working-class base can be relied upon to turn out and cast an automatic vote for Labour MPs. All the while the liberal commentariat are kept on board with the lesser evil allure of the platform. Notice that when the Bradford byelection disrupted the natural order you had liberal journalists lining up to slime George Galloway. Sadly, it seems more likely that Labour could lose its seats to the populism of right-wing demagogues from parties like UKIP. No wonder Miliband bungled efforts to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment in the days when he was still testing the water. After so many botched attempts at populist appeals Miliband has chosen redistribution over predistribution. When in doubt turn leftwards. It reminds one of when Gordon Brown tried to squeeze back into those tight socialist trousers of yesteryear and started to bark at the market ‘fundamentalism’ he had bought and sold for over a decade.

 The Labour Party has yet to change much with the better Miliband at the helm. Like Brown and, indeed, Blair, Ed Miliband buys the fundamental lie that the primary goal of any government, whether short-term or long-term, ought to be deficit reduction above all else. Tax reform is certainly compatible, if not more effective, to that end given the deficit is more to do with revenue than expenditure. It could well be the common ground fought over at the next election. If the Coalition are serious about deficit reduction they will be much more interested in taxation. Up to now cuts have been a useful means to the continued transformation of the welfare state and public services. If the goals of tax justice can be coopted then it may be time to reposition ourselves and make more radical demands. It is not enough to simply try to preserve the remnants of social democracy.

This article was later posted on the Third Estate on March 3rd 2013.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

No Values Left.

 It is often assumed that the conservative Right has the monopoly over social values, culture, tradition and the family. Like the liberal pretension to a monopoly on free-speech, democracy, human rights and civil liberties, it should not go unchallenged. This will come as a shock to Americans, the politics of whom may be described as an oscillation between liberal and conservative positions. On the battlefield of the culture wars it may seem curious to postulate that the Left can challenge the Right on its own turf. For it was none other than Leon Trotsky who put forward the claim that we leftists have always lived in tradition. It's just a difference of which traditions the Left values (such as the right to vote, honouring the struggles of the past) over right-wing fetishes for fox-hunting and the Queen. Broadly, the radical Left aim to challenge the economic forces which dominate and shape life in all sorts of ways. Conservatives aim to preserve tradition and culture in the midst of the very same economic forces, which they themselves defend.
 The culture wars are merely the externalisation of the conflict internal to conservatism: social control versus economic freedom. It's worth noting that the socialist movement, itself a tradition, was born out of Christianity as well as a conservative disposition towards the horrifying consequences of industrialisation. The Left was defined early on by its conflict with liberalism, in a way which conservatives have yet to really get over - mainly because it's fundamental to their constitution. Take note of Rousseau's scorn for the market society favoured by such classical liberals as John Locke. The leading fetish of liberals is for the market, whether it is embodied in the arenas of culture, ideas or economics. The nihilist writer Michel Houellebecq writes about the dating scene as a sexual marketplace where all sorts of pleasures and relations are readily available. It then follows that the primary exit from the precarity of the market is monogamy and marriage. Those who scorn marriage as a social construct forget that everyone except for John Zorn buys into social constructs.
 The founding fathers of Marxism contributed plentifully to left-wing criticism of the family as a social unit with its own structural tendencies towards oppression. Though it could be said that Karl Marx in his critique of capitalism really left feminism for Engels to engage. In his mammoth magnum opus Marx notes that the family as a social unit has the capacity to hold property in common. Though the wise dialectician notes this in the same breathe that he notes this characteristic can also be found in the primitive epoch of feudalism. It's worth noting that the dialectical current that runs through the Left from Hegel. In this sense socialism should be a more radical advance on the advancements of bourgeois society, its legacy of human rights and civil liberties. Capitalism is an obvious advance on feudalism and slavery, while socialism takes the best of capitalism - its material surplus and social freedom - as its origin. This is worth keeping in mind with the points we'll explore next.
 The late Christopher Hitchens articulated his own brand of left-wing humanist arguments for limiting the right to an abortion. It boils down to a pragmatic balance of conflicting values, life and choice. If we first accept that there is such a concept as an 'unborn child' then we can debate at which point a cluster of cells becomes a person. It then follows that that person has rights, specifically to its own bodily integrity. This is the point of the whole debate over how long the window should remain open for an abortion to remain optional. There used to be much more of a division on this question on the Left and among feminists than there is today. It's not so much anti-feminist as non-feminist. The Right definitely has no monopoly over this position, often cultural reactionaries undermine themselves in their opposition to contraception. The left-wing proponents of limited abortion rights are often much more consistent and thorough-going when it comes to women's liberation. By contrast, self-proclaimed 'pro-lifers' are seldom concerned with women's oppression.
 As for same-sex marriage it really comes down to the question of equality. If we're talking about an equality of 'sameness' then it follows that the homosexual couple should enjoy all the social possibilities as the heterosexual couple. The best argument against same-sex marriage, and by 'best' I mean non-homophobic, is that the 'difference' of homosexuality is worth preserving. It's a case that Philip Blond has caved out. Furthermore, the 'difference' of homosexuality can be defined insofar that the sexual identity of the individual opens up an array of cultural options for them. The gay community hardly has to worry about the less beautious side of marriage, its deathknell of joy and its fragility. Until recently the average gay man has always been free from divorce, child-rearing, shared bank accounts and alimony payments. There are obvious advantages for those who aren't partial to marriage (which doesn't equate to commitment) and adoption.
 It's certainly true that the reform of marriage laws to extend religious ceremonies to gay couples is conservative in that it will preserve the institution of marriage - itself something that the Left has criticised plenty. Notice this isn't an argument against homosexuality in terms of moral conduct and human rights. It doesn't even take a side on the rather absurd claims made against homosexuality on 'moral' and 'natural' grounds. Part of this comes out of the same attitude that can be found in the morose works of conservative John Gray when he writes "[Christian] Morality has hardly made us better people; but it has certainly enriched our vices." In this frame of mind the greatest aphrodisiac is moralism, in any case conservatives are the real perverts. You have only to listen to the rants of Rick Santorum to notice that he has been thinking about homosexual relations just a bit too much. Only a real deviant could see the male anus as a gateway to bestiality.
 I may not endorse these positions myself, but it can't be said that the Right has the monopoly over these arguments. It's always worth keeping in mind there are a great many overlaps between the Old Left and the conservative Right when it comes to cultural questions. That was well demonstrated in the debate last year between Terry Eagleton and Roger Scruton.

All Power to the Rod.

 You may have heard that in the spirit of student politics an 'inanimate carbon rod' has been nominated as a candidate for the President of the NUS. Finally, the NUS has found an appropriate candidate to make good on the legacy of Aaron Porter. When Porter stepped down in the midst of the fallout from the student demonstrations his seat at the NUS was kept warm by Liam Burns, who secured his re-election in 2012. Yet the last national demonstration held by the NUS failed to match the numbers achieved in 2010. The march climaxed with students lobbing eggs at the NUS President. The education reforms implemented by the Coalition remain of high priority on student concerns, with the infamous betrayal fees of £9,000 now enforced. Believe it or not, these issues are far from a distant memory of the past. And still, the legitimate question of whether or not austerity should have been undertaken can't even be raised in Parliament.
 Not that we can even expect this question to be addressed by pseudo-institutions like the NUS. If it could influence public policy radically, then it would've never emerged in the first place. The Union itself seems to function as a spring-board mechanism for those looking to land in snug jobs in journalism and the Labour Party (see Jack Straw, see David Aaronovitch, see Phil Woolas, Stephen Twigg and Trevor Phillips). It's a ladder to be climbed in other words. It should be no surprise then that Aaron Porter was a contributor to What next for Labour? on higher education policy; he also writes for Left Foot Forward. At the NUS Aaron Porter staked out a position as an advocate of the graduate tax dressed as the progressive alternative to fees. Behind closed doors Mr Porter thought it apt to argue for market rates of interest on student loans, cuts of 61% and 48% to grants and teaching budgets. Since leaving office Porter has become an 'education consultant' to universities charging £8,500 per 10 day course.

 Since Labour has proven itself unable to conjure up a properly oppositional stance to austerity, preferring to cautiously stick with austerity lite, it's unlikely that we will see any shift from the incumbent administration on these 'reforms'. Unfortunately, this will be the case no matter which Miliband is leader. By comparison the NUS has long stood as the self-aware institution of student centrism. This became apparent in the aftermath of the national demonstration in 2010 which climaxed with the vandalism of Millbank. Aaron Porter appeared on Newsnight next to ULU President Clare Solomon and opposite Liberal hypocrite Simon Hughes. Student politics was once more ensnared in an oscillation between a self-satisfied moderatism and an ultra-leftist radicalism. The NUS criticised the violence as the actions of an extremist minority that had poisoned the student movement. Meanwhile ULU defended the events at Millbank on the grounds it was an expression of legitimate grievances and concerns.

 It's a tension between those in comfortable resistance and the smugly passive. Then Porter caved to pressure to resign and Solomon was booted out by a deus ex machina from the Right. Around the same time the mass-demonstrations by students had, for the most part, slowed to a stop. That's not to be interpreted as the victory of the student Right against the student Left, or even as the end result of infighting among student leftists. The tuition fees were passed into law and the impetus for large-scale activism was expunged by tidal waves of apathy and despair. The movement never had any central leadership, only vocal spokespeople. By the time of defeat it could no longer more forward as a hydra-headed beast wracked by disputes over ends and means. Its anarchic constitution fell flat against the stone walls of the Establishment. The lack of unity couldn't withstand an overwhelming sense of defeat once the fees were passed into law. And so, the movement without a centre faded away. The MPs were whittled down to little more than 20 votes in the end, a slight defeat.

 Long dead seem the days when the students could light the march to set the Establishment ablaze. This is what we felt for ’68 and what we'll feal for ’10 in decades to come. Yet our 2010 was bigger than the protests of 1968, at least in Britain. The Continentals have always been better than us at this sort of thing. The reaction to the violence of the protests was quintessentially English in its outrage at the disruption. On May ’68 in Paris, Roger Scruton reflected “I suddenly realized I was on the other side. What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans... That's when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down.As for NUS it is the only institution to succeed in being more pointless than ULU. The Union could do far more damage with a tool in charge than an actual tool. At the best of times student politics, when it is deserving of the designation 'political', may converge with national politics. The rest of the time it serves as a wearisome spectacle that brings the observer to utter disillusionment.

Who the Unchosen?

 It has become apparent that Ethiopian Jews have been subjected to birth-control injections without their knowledge or consent in Israel. This is yet another revelation in issues and events in Israel that can only be summarised as a race problem. It's a real shock for a lot of people, and for others it's something to be brushed under the carpet. Israel's race problem is a necessary part of its national project, just as it was with the US - another state founded upon a great crime - where racism was a part of the state's order.

 It was just last year that Israel found itself shook by race riots in South Tel Aviv, with several African immigrants left injured. The Likudnik Miri Regev was quick on the scene, can of kerosene in hand, ever eager to put out the flames of racism. In her shrill populism Regev characterised the black refugees fleeing from genocide in Sudan as 'a cancer in our body'. She went on to stand by the comment, only apologising for the offence it may have caused to Jews reminded of the putrid effluvia of National Socialism. It's noteworthy that Regev thought it sufficient to apologise to Jews and, indeed, cancer patients who might be offended, but not to one black person in Israel. Race-baiting is a classic vote winner in times of economic instability. Nationalists are often so degenerate as to believe that as the ground shakes beneath you only flag-wagging will save the day. For nationalist politicians it certainly will save their salaries for many terms to come and this is especially useful in a country prone to coalition government. It's an endless well to tap into in a country where the buzzwords of discourse are 'national security' and 'self-defence'.

 That same year Bibi Netanyahu speculated that illegal immigration from Africa would "threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state". The calculating statesman chose his words carefully, it's a question of majoritarian definition that Israel remain Jewish in its demographics. The real trouble is the debate over what constitutes Jewishness and the dangers of racialising the definition can't be overstated. Yet Mr Netanyahu's ilk fear not such dangers, for his lot the Jews are white and Israel is an outpost of the Western world surrounded by dusky barbarians. Then there is the matter of whether Israel ought to be a Jewish state or a state for Jews. A subtle distinction never fully clarified in Zionist circles before 1947. If it's a state for Jews then it doesn't have to be a majority Jewish state, nor does it have to be run in accordance with religious law and the question of what constitutes Jewishness can be left aside. These problems are nothing new, they are fundamental questions of Zionism.

 So we find the race problem is entangled, not by coincidence, with Israel's origins, the need for a young country to define itself in terms of its identity, culture and values. To some this would seem a simple task, merely a matter of what aspects of Judaism to leave on the shelf. Actually it's incredibly complex given the lack of homogeneity in Judaism, the plethora of languages and cultures that Jews have picked up on over the millennia. The way this has been handled inside Israel is particularly important for analysts and commentators. The Ashkenazim enjoyed privileges and rights above those of the Mizrahi for a long time. Even as the Israeli elite are for a peaceful solution, the much more economically deprived and zealous citizens (e.g. the Mizrahi, the refuseniks, the kibbutzniks) are far more hawkish. To add to this mix the ruling-class has been busily eroding the civic institutions and welfare state of Israel in recent decades. The country was founded as a quasi-socialist and almost egalitarian (among Jews) arrangement, since then it has mutated into a country where 18 families control 60% of corporate equity.

 In a country as divided and dysfunctional as Israel there is a serious need for a means of mobilisation at elections. The dual role of racism is firstly the continuation of the occupation and maintain an electoral base for this status quo. It's inseparable from the conflict, and only a peaceful settlement may secure Israel and perhaps cure it of prejudice. That's one view of it. And it's easy to take it, recall the words of Moshe Dayan just after the conquests of 1967 when he said that the Palestinians will "continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads". So far that process has been a steady expansionism at the expense of the security of Israelis and the rights of Palestinians. The moments where this state of permanent crisis eventuates in bloodbaths do not rupture peace and harmony. There is no peace, whether Hamas fires rockets or not. The construction of the annexation wall around most arable land in the West Bank is incremental. Yet the demographic question will not be resolved by this expansion, far from it.

 The expansion into the West Bank with the annexation wall, which is longer than the Berlin Wall, is conveniently encircling the major arable land and resources of the area. This irredentism comes straight out of the same spawn-pool as nationalism and racism. The tendency of national discourse towards the völkisch should not be swept under the carpet where it will only fester in its own self-satisfying vulgarity. The prospect of a völk defined by 'chosenness' should not go unchallenged. The brilliant Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt had her reservations about the prospect of a Jewish state carved out of the body of colonial Palestine. The worst of all possible models was the European one, she thought, which rested upon a racial conception of the nation-state. This same model had proven successful in the are of pogroms, not forgetting slavery and other assorted atrocities. The preferable model would guarantee equal rights and recognition as citizens for Palestinians and Jews alike.

 This was a one-state proposal that preceded the coming decades of violence necessary to found a state. Arendt was prescient in her anxieties, she foresaw that the Jewish state would reside in permanent agitation with its Arab neighbours. The Jews would have to live in a precarious position surrounded by a hostile set of states and secluded inside ever-threatened borders. It's what drives Naftali Bennet's shameful calls for an outright annexation of 30% of the West Bank (presumably out of the 60% that Israel already has in settlements illegally). But you don't even need to look to Naftali Bennet for blunt-faced expansionism. It's an effective policy of the sitting Prime Minister and the barely restrained Russian thug at his far-right side. The precise end point of Israel's borders remains somewhat mysterious for those told to affirm the state's right to exist. There are neo-Zionist elements who would like to expand all the way along the river and ultimately absorbing Jordan.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Yelling 'Stop!'

 In the first issue of National Review William F Buckley, Jr. penned the mission statement of the conservative magazine as 'standing athwart history, yelling stop'. At the time, Buckley was in the sway of a stridently traditionalist conservatism that seems somewhat out of place in America, a Whig republic with no feudal past to draw upon. It's not like in Europe where there is a feudal past of hierarchical orders in the form of royal families, established churches and aristocracies. The preservation of this order has not simply been the agenda of all conservatives, for the politics of Reaction often amount to a rage against the status quo in its failures to confront the challenges of the modern world. When it came to defeating the Left then there wasn't any option that was out of the question. In Spain this led Buckley to lend his support to Franco to stomp out the 'nihilism' of the Left. The willingness to crush revolutionary movements by any means is not inseparate to the broader agenda of reactionnaires. Sometimes the most counter-revolutionary means are themselves appropriated forms of radicalism.

 No wonder a favourite ally and good friend of the Iron Lady was General Pinochet, the right-wing dictator who stopped Chile's democratic lurch towards socialism. The justification of military rule has always been in the past a dubious claim to 'order'. Many right-wing Catholics saw Franco as the bulwark against a destructive force which threatened to tear apart the traditional institutions of society. By contrast, the Pinochet regime suffocated Chile's democratic institutions and left-wing elements to re-order the whole of society and not to reinstate 'order'. Yet the same justification of 'order' remained, Pinochet was a necessary evil to make sure the wheels were well oiled and ensured that the people knew their place. Its radicalism was joined at the back of the head with authoritarian rule. It was a convenient agonism between individualism and authoritarianism that was held in perpetual tension in these years.

 As Thatcherism represented the turning tide of politics in the West, the other side of its assault on civil society at home was the military junta abroad. The same Chilean agonism can be found in Thatcher's Britain. Individualism and authoritarianism sat in constant tension and made the best allies precisely because of that tension. Thatcher promised to sweep away post-war Anglo-socialism from the realm of the Possible to make way for the untrammeled powers of individual freedom. This was popular capitalism, it carried all the weight of classical liberalism and effused all the bluster of nationalism. The radicalism at the core of Thatcherism, its promise of a property-owning democracy based on a market individualism rather than a state collectivism. It meant the liberation of the individual from the mediocrity of the post-war settlement. Out of this understanding JG Ballaard celebrated home ownership in thoroughly Thatcherite terms in 1982:

I often think that the most radical thing one can do is to deliberately choose the bourgeois life - get that house in the suburbs, the job with the insurance company or the bank, wear a blue suit and a white shirt and a tie and have one's hair cut short, buy the right fabrics and furnishings, and pick one's friends according to the degree to which they fit into all the bourgeois standards. Actually go for the complete bourgeois life - do it without smiling; do it without ever winking.
 Even though the post-war settlement of a mixed economy complete with welfare provisions and a strong labour movement had been a highly successful model of development. It had become an obstacle that the system had to circumvent, an establishment in dire need of reorientation. To the ends of the accumulation and circulation of capital the Thatcherites represented a battering-ram on the institutional obstructions in the status quo. The liberation of the individual meant economic liberation, the negation of all constraint, the abolition of equity and bonds of solidarity. And yet the Thatcher years merely succeeded in the concentration of greater power in the state, whilst the market left the people more marginalised than liberated. Selling off council properties only left the ground clear for speculators to take hold. Meanwhile, the inner-city poor have been increasingly shoved into the veal flattening pens of the ghetto and the outskirt. Housing is unaffordable for a great many, while being highly profitable for an opulent few. 

 It was just the tip of the iceberg as an orgy of privatisation wiped out huge chunks of industry, leaving behind eviscerated communities and welfare wastelands. A financial colossus unconstrained by all the old red-tape became the heart and soul of the British economy. One of Thatcher's economic advisors, Alan Budd confessed to Adam Curtis that he sometimes feared that monetarism was, in effect, a policy of mass-unemployment - the goal of which was to smash the trade unions. The battles waged by the Right were hardly successful by the measures they claimed for themselves. All in all the rate of growth remained at 2.5%, on average, no more than it had been at the stale end of social democracy when Britain was the 'sick man of Europe'. What Thatcher had changed was where where the money ended up. It's clear where she belongs in history.

 In the past it was often the Anglican Tory gentry who sought to defend the lot of the poor from the enclosures fundamental to the establishment of capitalism. The Whig aristocracy were the primary force of the enclosure of common land and the dispossession of the people living on that land. It is no coincidence that one of the leading exponents was John Locke, nor is it coincidental that Locke was an apologist for the expropriation of the Native Americans. By the 19th Century it was Tories like John Ruskin who were most sceptical of the ongoing industrialisation of society, for it was the rise of competition in the market over tradition and custom. The enclosure of common lands had 'cleared' away vast swathes of people from a traditional agrarian existence to work for a subsistence in miserable mills and later factories. These people were left dispossessed in a pauperised state without any independence. Thatcherism was Whiggery par excellence, except it was the ransacking of the public good and not just the common good.

 It was men like William Cobbett, Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin who understood and warned against the illth of the markets. The culture and hierarchy of society is always at risk in a rampant capitalist system, where the market functions as a mechanism not just in economic terms but in moral and cultural terms as well. Its tendency is relativist, not realist, as its expansionist pursuits can only swallow up entire chunks of society. The monarchy and church provided such legitimacy with notions of 'order' and 'morality', all the while presiding over an economy running towards greater plurality, freedom, choice, relativism and pragmatism. The standard conservatism has since been a manifestation of this contradiction, torn between socio-cultural traditionalism and economic liberalism. In this way the reactionnaires of today are far from 'standing athwart history, yelling stop'. Instead you can find the rightists at the side-road, in Ballardian spirit, carrying signs which read: dangerous bends up ahead, speed up.


The need for Neoconservatism.

As an emanation of the social contours of capitalism the conservative disposition has long represented the tension between unconstrained endeavour in economics and constraint of the social to put the breaks on the market forces in their most individualist tendencies. It represents both the material base of capitalist society, as well as its ideological superstructure; but the way this contradiction is managed is not simply the purpose of conservatism. More so, it is the duty of conventional politics - so Conservatism, rather than conservatism - consequently Right and Left seem less and less dissimilar to a great many voters. The specific form of defence waged to secure the authority of the state, the loyalty of citizens to it, especially in its active capacity in the economy and the general disparity between rhetoric and reality (e.g. bank bailouts and free-markets). This is the banal role of the conventional business of politics. And the era of neoliberalism has merited a unique response from the Right to reaffirm the role of the state.

In the US neoconservatism has offered a uniquely American answer to the crises of the state under neoliberalism. Not least in the promise of turbo-charged growth through supply-side spending, the neoconservatives seek to unite the nation and strengthen it in war. Budget deficits are a necessary evil in boosting growth by way of military Keynesianism. No wonder then the neocons have found a particular base in the military-industrial complex that has a stake in perpetual warfare. It's the only antidote to the nihilism inflicted upon society as the markets dissolve all bonds of solidarity and fraternity as if doused in acid. The neoconservatives seek to reassert the role of the state by articulating powerful myths of America as a nation destined to defend freedom and democracy. This is the justification for America's imperial role, to guard all the 'normal states' in the world. To this end the neoconservatives have found allies in power, mainly in the form of ultra-nationalists like Dick Cheney and George Bush.

The only traditions to be preserved are those of classical liberalism and strong government is a necessary means to do so. For neocons foreign policy ought to reflect the internal conditions of a country, the numerous interventions over the past several decades certainly reflect the condition of American capitalism. It's a vision that has more of a chime with Alexis de Tocqueville than later libertarian writers. Like the neocons de Tocqueville looked to unite France in solidarity, national glory and self-confidence, through the conquest of Algeria. He did not pretend that the destruction of Kabyle and the slaughter of women and children in Arab villages was anything to do with Progress. In that instance, the neocons are far less honest in their appropriation of the rhetoric of left-wing internationalism - that was well demonstrated by the apostasy of Christopher Hitchens. Yet even with all the talk of 'liberal democratic internationalism' the position remains at its heart a flag-wagging approbation of Empire.

It is somewhat ironic that the neoconservative aim of instilling unity in order to maintain the state, through war requires a disunity in society. Since 9/11 the primary disunity has been between the Muslims and everyone else, the less clear the distinction between Islam and Islamism the better. The enemy without maybe bearded men in Afghanistan, but the enemy within could be anyone of a certain ethnic-religious background. This provides a dual enemy for a dual defence at home and abroad, by a crackdown on civil liberties in the first hand and war in the second. In this way the self-proclaimed 'democratic revolutionaries' of neoconservatism managed to undermine the state as a legitimate managerial authority, leaving the liberal traditions vandalised and society divided to an extent that can only benefit demagogues. This merely conceded greater ground to libertarians and, ultimately, the radical Left. Meanwhile military Keynesianism has stripped the welfare state almost to the bone, the impossibility of lower and lower taxes has meant a cut in the defence budget.