Posted tagged ‘Marxism 2010’

The re-birth of the left/right divide?

May 23, 2010

Occasionally in this blog I have expressed some sentimental regret about the disappearance of ideology as a driver of political debate. It sometimes seems to me that when we had the Cold War and the accompanying competition between fundamental policy perspectives it was easier for the wider population to be engaged in the bigger political questions. Back then, or so the nostalgic instinct in me feels, people were interested in how society might be improved (though they might differ on the prescription) where today they get edgy about the outcome of the latest series of ‘the X-Factor‘.

However, if ideology looks like a corpse, there are a few people giving it a hard kick in the hope that it may be resuscitated. For example, have a look at this conference on Marxism planned for early July. Yes, it’s sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party, who are not exactly the proponents of subtle political argument, ┬ábut it has gathered an interesting array of speakers. Some of them will have their feet high up in the air, but it should still be fun. If I had the time I’d almost be tempted to go.

And across the Atlantic that old warhorse of the in-your-face right wing, Newt Gingrich, has been telling the Fox News man Glenn Beck (no lefty either) on the occasion of the annual knees-up of the National Rifle Association (oh heavens, the combination of all that) about his new book, To Save America. And why did he write it? Let the man speak:

‘I mean, I thought after Reagan defeated the Soviet empire and tax cuts led to economic growth and believing in America led to the most dramatic period of positive progress, I really underestimated the depth of the Marxist, secular, socialist mindset in the academy and in the bureaucracy and in judgeships and in the newsrooms.’

So can we hope that stuff like this will reignite the ideological engine of political debate? Alas, I doubt it. If we have to rely on the Socialist Workers Party or Newt Gingrich to lead the new movement, we’ll end up with debate as pantomime, with cartoon characters hitting each other with big clubs rather than intelligent people engaging in competitive analysis.

Just a few months ago I attended a gathering at which a senior Irish politician predicted with some enthusiasm that, after the bankers and property speculators had nearly brought capitalism to its knees, a fiery rivalry between ideological positions would return. As far as I can see, that’s not happening, and I doubt it will. But if it doesn’t happen in society, maybe it should in the universities, which should always be clearing houses for arguable concepts and propositions. We should be pushing the idea of principle (rather than opportunism) as a foundation for policy, or of the benefits of a coherent frame of reference in political discourse.

Having at one stage in my life been strongly driven by ideology, I don’t think I could myself return to that; but I would find a wider political debate based on something more fundamental than the desire to manage as best we can to be refreshing.