Friday, 17 August 2012

Moral Relativism and Libertarianism: Some Musings......

In 1931, Dr Alfred Salter - who in my opinion is amongst the greatest of all Englishmen who has ever lived - visited the Soviet Union. Despite being one of the first of the Independent Labour MPs to enter the House of Commons, he was no "useful idiot", and his rejection of the Bolshevik regime was both profound and unambiguous.

In particular, he was appalled by what we now refer to as 'moral relativism', an affliction generally associated with Marxism. (Actually, I disagree with this diagnosis, I think that moral relativism, like fatalism and materialism, owes more to the Russian mindset than to Marxist ideology, but that is maybe a subject for another posting.)

Salter wrote (and here I quote from Fenner Brockway's excellent biography of Salter 'Bermondsey Story' George Allen & Unwin, 1949) "The facilities for 'divorce while you wait', the provision of abortion clinics..., the encouragement of promiscuity..., all seem to me to point to a steady drift into sheer animalism. Human beings were meant to live a higher and nobler life than this."

Why do I mention this? Firstly to arouse interest in Alfred Salter (who I just happen to be writing a book about!) and also because I want to draw parallels between moral relativism and libertarianism.

I am not a libertarian. I know many people who do put themselves into that category, and very fine people they are: the world benefits from their freedoms of expression. But sadly not everybody is like that. Libertarianism is, as any political scientist will tell you, one step away from anarchism. (Please note: anarchism, not anarchy - they are two different things altogether).

Salter gave everything he had - quite literally - to the service of working class people in Bermondsey. But the working class that Salter gave his life for has changed beyond all recognition. I am working class, and I am very proud of that. I went to university, and I enjoy a very rewarding career in politics. My children attend private schools and are multi-lingual. Thanks to Alfred Salter and people like him, that is what we working class lads can achieve for our families now. It doesn't make us 'middle class' (whatever that is) it just shows us how far we have come.

So who are those people in shell suits who never work and who seem to display every social problem known to mankind? They are not working class, they are underclass, and they are growing in numbers very rapidly. They are living proof of what Salter referred to as the "drift into sheer animalism". How I wish that it were possible to observe this underclass in the company of Salter, Scott Lidgett, Herbert Morrison et al and to hear their thoughts on what has happened. Possibly the nearest I could ever come to that dream is to read Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, or dare I say H.G. Well's Time Machine which is the strongest possible warning of the dangers of dysgenics.

I do not approve of the concept of eugenics, but nor do I approve of dysgenics, and we seem to live in a dysgenic society. For this, I refer you back to Salter's words, and I lay the blame at the door of the moral relativists and the libertarians. My very good friend Gregg, whose blog A brief encounter is linked to on this site, will disagree with me, and I look forward to engaging in debate with him and with other libertarians.

The question I am asking, is can we trust people with the freedoms that come with libertarianism? If the answer to that question is no, then do we reject the concept, or do we restrict those freedoms. If the latter is the case, then we cease to be a democracy, and surely that would be the worst possible course for us to take. Liberal democracy has entered an interesting phase. Fukiyama was so very wrong when he wrote about the end of history. Democracy is still evolving, and it will never cease to do so. I have always argued that a stagnant polity is an unhealthy one. As a post-materialist (and I know at least one person who follows this blog who will equate post-materialism with Marxism - I look forward to that debate!) I think that we need now to be looking at new directions, and new priorities. We need to stand back and look at our values. I just don't think that libertarianism is the way forward - society is not yet sufficiently developed for that.

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