War etc

The Big Divide

Matthew Parris attempts to put the right-wing peacenik case in today’s Times

What arguments does he employ? There are quite a few and you should link to the article for all of them – but to be honest a fair number of them look exactly like the arguments we’ve been having at Harry’s Place for the last year and a half.

On sovereignty Parris asks

What has happened to the Right’s respect for national sovereignty — others’ as well as our own? It should occur more naturally to a conservative than a progressive that even a despot is permitted his sovereignty, so long as he does not threaten us ?

Not so very different to the “left wing” argument on sovereignty which holds that the war against saddam was wrong because it was “illegal”.

On whether those who blow up commuters on Spanish trains really are bad people or just victims of globalisation he wants to know

What has happened to that deeply Tory recognition that the world is a morally ambiguous place? A visceral suspicion of black-and-white arguments in which notions of good and evil crowd out shades of grey is profoundly and healthily conservative.

Yup. We’ve seen that one before too from what we call the usual suspects or the third-worldist left.

Parris also seems to approve of the seemingly sophisticated but actually aridly semantic implied argument behind the phrase

Mr Bush’s war on an abstract noun

That’s an example of wordplay disguised as a political position more often used by the “left” too.

I think he is exactly right about this though

All these arguments you will hear in any kitchen, sixth form, barrack room or pub in Britain. They are anguished arguments and they take place in all classes and walks of life.

That last sentence is spot-on.

After reading the article I wonder how useful it is to continue to attach the labels left and right to political positions which attempt to make sense of the post 9/11 world we live in. Aren’t these terms straitjackets for two different ways of looking at the world which have little to do with the traditional right/left distinctions ?

There seems to me to be two ways of attempting to rise to the challenges of the new situation. These different approaches might be summarised by the phrases cautious and adventurous.

In choosing these terms I am conscious of the fact that they may both be used either pejoratively or positively. If you see the first as a synonym for timid and the second for confident engagement that will betray your point of view as much as if the first word had the positive connotation of sensible and the second of recklessness.

Either way they may have little to do with the political party or tradition you come from. The ultra-left might have organised the big demonstration against the war last February but I suspect they were swamped by marchers who came down from the shires and who represent a much more conservative outlook.

Similarly the British left has produced a number of influential journalists who are very supportive of our centre-left government’s robust position on terror and Iraq. They would no doubt prefer to explain their positions by pointing to the anti-fascist traditions of the left as opposed to what has been called anti-imperialist outlook.

I’m sure there are traditions on the right too which are mutually exclusive and which act to deposit Matthew Parris in one destination on the spectrum of conservative opinion and George Bush at the other.

The urgent questions raised since 9/11 should prod all of us to question why we actually hold to the foreign policy positions we do as opposed to merely attempting to set ourselves against the “dangerous rightisits” or “loser lefties” of the other side.

If we remind ourselves that humans have been in this position before and use our imaginations to explore the issues we might conclude that the political positions honest people hold on Iraq and the war on terror aren’t really explicable by applying the terms left and right to them. In fact they reflect a divide much more profound and something that has been at the centre of human affairs for thousands of years before French deputies decided where they were going to sit in parliament.