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Moral Basis of Hostility to Free Institutions by Peter Lilley

Moral Basis of Hostility to Free Institutions by Peter Lilley

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Published by: Levan Ramishvili on Oct 04, 2010
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1
Moral Basis Of Hostility To Free Institutions by
Peter LilleyTempleton lecture, 1
st
november 2001
Opening Remarks
 
Introduction
 I want to address some issues raised by what might be called the Fukuyamaquestion.Has history come to an end?Has the liberal democratic free market paradigm won?Is the left dead?In short, should we disband the IEA, abandon these lectures and all go home!I would submit that we could only do that if the
moral legitimacy
of free markets and free institutions were nowrecognised across the political spectrum.And that is far from being the case.It is true that communism has collapsed in the East.And an overt commitment to socialism has been found to be an electoral albatross in the West.As a result, left of centre parties in most western countries have moderated their programmes and altered their rhetoric.But their default mode still remains a disposition to tax and spend, regulate and control, centralise and bureaucratise, and to replace institutions that have evolved by those designed according to abstract criteria.Moreover, left-wing views ? hostile not just to free markets but also to rules and institutions which are either thefruit of freedom or necessary for its survival ? are strongly rooted within the intelligentsia.Those ideas flourish particularly in academe, the public sector, the legal establishment, the churches and the media.Forced into retreat on the economic front, leftist ideas are on the attack on social, cultural and constitutional issues.Within the public sector the left can still promote social engineering and from their other bastions they candisseminate their views.Indeed left-wing views exercise a powerful moral sway way beyond their strongholds.They influence private discourse through politically correct language on sexism and racism.They generate a climate of respect for anti-globalisation protestors, feminist activists and environmentalist attackson business.The advocates of capitalism, free markets and free institutions may ostensibly be the victors on Fukuyama?s worldhistoric view.But the low esteem in which the parties of the centre right are held throughout the western world demonstrates thatthey have certainly not been accorded the laurels of moral legitimacy.What is remarkable is that left-wing attitudes retain not just their resilience but a degree of coherence, despite thecollapse of openly socialist parties.There is no organisation laying down a party line, yet left-wing views seem to constitute a mind set which is able toretain a broad doctrinal consistency.They are like a religion yet without church, scriptures, prophets or priests.There are plenty of differences of opinion on the left and disputes about tactics and specific policies.But there seems to be a cluster of attitudes that those on the left tend to share.Equally there is a cluster of attitudes that characterise the libertarian/conservative right.The right of centre has often prided itself on not having an ideology.But it does have a mind set. Not everyone on the left of centre shares
all 
the values and attitudes that constitute the leftist mind set.Still less do they all hold them with equal intensity.And the same is true of those on the right of centre.But what is comparatively rare is to find anyone in the thinking classes who straddles the two clusters of ideas.People may pick either from one set or the other but they rarely pick and mix equally from both.As Gilbert & Sullivan put it:"Every little boy and girl who is born into this world alive is either a little liberal or a little conservative?
 
2- though I am talking about rival mind sets which do not necessarily coincide with party allegiances.It is worth analysing these opposing mind sets both to know our opponents and to know ourselves.Above all, it is important to discover what holds them together.Is there a unifying principle common to all the attitudes in a mind set?Or is there an internal logic which holds them together?Or are they a cluster of views not rationally related but simply hard wired into the brain?It is important to answer those questions for a number of reasons.First, if we can understand what holds the left-wing cluster of views together we will know whether they can becountered by reason, by emotion or not at all.Second, we will better be able to predict the likely new targets for left-wing attack and prepare our defences.Third, we will better understand the logic of our own position and be able to identify and remedy weaknesses andreinforce strengths.
The Aetiology of the Left (and Right) Wing Mind Sets
 A great deal of effort has gone into describing the characteristics which distinguish each species of plant andanimal.But remarkably few analysts have tried to describe the underlying characteristics which distinguish the mind sets of the left and the right.Intellectual analysis tends to focus on the coherence or otherwise of individual thinkers and the subdivisions anddisputes within left and right.Joseph Schumpeter analysed "The Sociology of the Intellectual? but not their psychology.Kuehnelt-Lieddihm has listed the characteristic policy positions of the left.But one of the few, and by far the best, of those who have attempted the task of analysing the mind set is ThomasSowell in his books ?The Vision of the Anointed? and ?The Quest for Cosmic Justice?.It is extraordinary that he and his works are not better known in this country.I declare an indebtedness to him wholesale at this point rather than punctuating my remarks with attributionsdistributed retail.I have tied to distil down some of the key components which seem to make up the mind sets of the left and thecorresponding position on the libertarian conservative right.Left of Centre Right of CentreMankind is intrinsically good Mankind is a fallen creatureEvil is the result of society and oppression Society has had to adapt to the fallen nature of manDamaging aspects of society need to be swept away andreplaced by a better designThere are lots of valuable things in society which need to be conserved and which would be hard to recreate oncedestroyedThat is a task for an enlightened elite which has thrownoff the shackles of the past. The elite know who theyare.All levels of society have an interest in conserving and building on the products of previous generations.Institutions can only be good if they are the result of good intentions.Consequently those institutions which have evolved byhuman action must be replaced by the constructs of human design.Institutions which have evolved by trial and error mayincorporate far more wisdom and experience than anyindividual or committee could possibly possess.A propensity to compare the world as it is with anabstract vision of how it should be.A preference for comparing like with like ? existingsystems with each other.The world is a zero-sum game: so poverty of the manymust be the result of the riches of the few.Voluntary co-operation and exchange make everyone better off (but not equally).Events are analysed in terms of power and militaryanalogies ? winners and losers, command and control.Events are seen in terms of trade-offs and mutually beneficial exchanges.Social relationships are about power. So society is In a free society relationships will only persist if they
 
3
 divided into oppressors and victims. reflect mutual benefit.Poverty and other disadvantages are the result of oppression.The victim cannot be blamed or expected to overcomehis disadvantages which should be removed by a benign state.Poverty and other disadvantages may be the result of either misfortune or improvident behaviour.Policies should reflect that difference.We have an obligation to help victims of misfortune toovercome it.The world is characterised by a tendency to viciousspirals of decline, eg the poor will get poorer unless thestate intervenes.The world is characterised by self-correcting mechanisms,eg a loss of jobs will lead to a decline in real wagesgenerating more jobs.Freedom is liberation from all rules and authority whichhave not been designed by the enlightened elite.Freedom is made possible by moral restraints and prescriptive institutions with natural authority.Inequalities which cannot be justified should beremoved.Poverty should be relieved. That will diminish inequality but that is not an end in itself.Indeed incentives are necessary and inevitably generateunequal outcomes.Resentment of those better off than oneself is evenmore important than helping those worse off.Helping those worse off than oneself is a virtue. Envy of those better off is a vice.All differences between individuals, sexes, races,nations and groups that cannot be justified according tosome ?rational? criteria must be removed.We should relish the differences and particularities of groups and nations which emerge naturally.The universal is superior to the local. Wider benevolence grows out of loyalty to the little platoons, local and national allegiances.Support for enlightened policies makes the left morallysuperior.Moral virtue depends on personal morality involvingaltruistic behaviour.A sense of moral superiority is reinforced by convictionthat opponents must have malign motives.A willingness to accept opponents have good intentionseven if mistaken policies.Sense of superiority vis a vis one?s own societycoupled with universalism lead to giving benefit of doubt to nation?s enemies.Patriotism means giving benefit of doubt to your owncountry.I am sure that is not a complete aetiology of either species of mind.Even so I am not suggesting that everyone on the left or right holds all the attitudes typical of their mindset.You must judge for yourselves whether they seem to be a reasonable reflection of core left and right attitudes.What I find remarkable is how consistently these views seem to have characterised left and right for two centuries.I came across a lengthy poem entitled the ?New Morality? pillorying fashionable left wing views.It was probably written by Canning and was published in his journal the ?Anti-Jacobin? in 1798.It targets a number of these features of left wing thinking.For example, he mocks the tendency of what he calls "Universal Man? to espouse the interests of foreigners againstthose of Britain: No narrow bigot
h
e
; -
h
is
reasoned viewThy interests,
 England 
, ranks with thine Peru!France at our doors, he sees no danger nigh,But heaves for Turkey?s woes the impartial sigh.A steady Patriot of the World alone,The friend of every country but his own.?He contrasts true practical philanthropy:"?she, who driesThe orphans tears, and wipes the widows eyes?with Jacobin Philanthropy

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