I was guilty of committing such an act very recently. Coming across the blog of former diplomat Charles Crawford I found the bold assertion that
"There are only two important ideas in politics and political philosophy:Such a claim is of course utter nonsense, and I pointed out as such:
- That government belongs to the people (ie the people are the source of sovereignty)
- That the people belong to the government (ie the government/state is the source of sovereignty)".
"This is, I fear, an intentionally selective observation. There are also those of us who believe that government is the best vehicle to fight discrimination and promote equality. 'Ownership' - such a horribly right-wing term - has nothing to do with it."This is indisputable; I feel - as do many others - that government is one of the best resources we have to tackle inequality, so long as it performs that duty responsibly. That in a democracy governments can have their mandates removed on the whim of the electorate further suggests a far more complicated relationship then Crawford et al would have us believe. Ownership doesn't come into the equation.
The rest of the article - a round-up of right-of-centre blogs - then proceeded down a familiar, Daily Mail-esque route; that government is the source of all evil and those "Left collectivists" who believe it has a positive function to play are essentially collaborating in spreading "darkness". Government wants to control you. To own you.
It's a well-worn and tiresome path; first claim that all left-wing politics is about state control and nothing else, and then rubbish any advances it makes or suggestions made by its advocates. By reducing politics into nothing more than a black-and-white - and non-existent - dichotomy Crawford prevents any genuine or realistic discussion of how society and government can and should interact. I can't imagine that it's anything other than an intentional sleight of hand of the sort that is repeated ad nauseum in the right-wing tabloid press.
But it wasn't this that caught the eye of Crawford. Rather than address the main point of my response he has instead seized upon my final parting assertion that "ownership" is a "horribly right-wing term", essentially a flippant remark made by someone irritated at the unashamed bias - nay crassness - of what I was reading. It's become the subject of a short commentary here and a more lengthy dissemination here.
Crawford rubbishes the claim, suggesting that the concept of ownership as right-wing and horrible reminds him of Tito's Yugoslavia. He should know; Crawford worked extensively in Eastern Europe and the Balkans for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during the turbulent era of economic transition in the early 1990s. In case we're not sure what happened with Tito's brand of socialism we are helpfully informed that it went "bust". And the reason why? A removal of the profit motive and the initiative of private enterprise.
Again, this seems a narrow interpretation; as we all know capitalist economies have also been vulnerable to implosion, and numerous other factors both internal and out can and do effect economic performance. I also fear that Crawford places too much weight on his experiences out East, as if the communism of the Soviet Union and its satellites were and are the sole expression of left-wing politics. That the 'communism' in these countries was in reality nothing of the sort is another debate entirely.
But this diverts attention from the point of that final and - at the time - seemingly inconsequential comment. What I was trying to articulate is that the concept of ownership is a frequent obsession for many of a rightist persuasion to the utter exclusion of all else; that it has been seized upon so gleefully perhaps illustrates the point better than I ever could. It's fair to say that right-wing politics is the politics of selfishness and of cooperation only when there is something in it for an individual concerned. Crawford even makes this very point, with a final poetic flourish to the commentaries mentioned earlier - "If you fail to deliver your side of the bargain, off I go – taking my fair share of my production with me" - but I'm not convinced that selfishness is a healthy mindset for a society to have nor greed to be the most desirable or morally constructive driving force behind an economy.
The reason for this is simple; the aims of rampant capitalism and the needs of the disadvantaged do not always coincide. There is no room in Crawford's world for those in need or those who wish to help them; in his mind the state can only interfere or restrict, never assist.
I say that's nonsense. Government can and does act as a check on economic exploitation and is one of the best ways for those imbalances to be addressed. As I originally said, it's nothing to do with ownership: it's just that Crawford and the rest want you to see it that way.