Left, right, left, right

I’ve been trying to get my head around why it is that some blog readers go into fits of outrage when they discover a link on this site, or other left of centre blogs, leads them to a conservative or right-wing blog?

Recently there was amusement on one or two Stopper blogs that libertarian and conservative blogs had linked to items on Harry’s Place. “By your friends yee shall know them” was the taunt from one particularly unimaginative blogger.

Likewise there is shock and horror when right-wing reactionary views are expressed in the comments box here and the suggestion that if such people are reading our site then that must prove something about our politics. (The fact that we also tolerate left-wing reactionary views should give you a clue about our comments policy)

Both leftist and rightist activists have long suffered from the infantile habit of dismissing views simply because they come from the other side of their imagined barricades. It seems not to have registered with some that it is possible to agree with Melanie Phillips, for example, about some aspect of the war in Iraq while rejecting her beliefs on the family or whatever.

But aside from this, such an attitude ignores two major changes that have occurred over recent years that are fairly obvious but perhaps aren’t appreciated as much as they should be:

1. The Internet. Ten years ago very few left-leaning people would have bought the Spectator or the Daily Telegraph and hardly any conservatives would have been daily readers of the Guardian and regularly check out The New Statesman. In the days before the web most people had their favoured publications and a large number stuck with them and read very little else. Yet with the web it costs nothing to click on a link and read something else for a change and lots of us do just that. Personally I have a habit every morning of reading the Guardian first and then checking out the Telegraph’s take on the same news item or controversy. It can often be very instructive.

Likewise, apart from my time spent in good libraries, I never used to read American political publications. Before the web, only a small amount of people with a specialist interest would have gone to the trouble and not insignificant expense of becoming an overseas subscriber to the New Republic or The Nation. Now, largely thanks to blogs, we are directed to interesting articles in all manner of publications in the US and across the globe. (Actually now I think of it there is another thing apart from the nature that I like about the US – their political magazines blow our feeble versions out of the water).

So we all read from a much broader range of sources these days and I think that is a wonderful thing. If some people want to reject that opportunity that is their choice but I find it rather sad they choose a phillistine, Luddite position rather than take advantage of the incredible resources now avaliable to everyone with an internet connection.

2. The New Political Situation. Back to those imagined barricades. The major issues of blog discussion here and elsewhere have been the Iraq war and the struggle against Islamist Jihad. One can argue over exactly where the dividing line is on these issues but for me it certainly isn’t between the western left and right. In these immediate struggles there are allies and opponents to be found across the political spectrum. On Iraq, Douglas Hurd is closer to Clare Short than Paul Wolfowitz for example.

Again the fact that from time to time we might link to a US neo-conservative writer or a Bush-supporting blogger is greeted with howls from those who are still stuck behind the imagined barricades of 20 years ago. Likewise some are miffed that we refuse to link to supposedly leftist blogs which support our enemies.

Links on a website certainly aren’t an indication of where one stands politically and who one considers allies. But of course there are ways of determining such things and the other great thing about the internet age is cut and paste – when others have said it better than you ever could, that is all you need to do.

I haven’t found a better explanation for what I am trying to say than these two excerpts, both from prominent bloggers:

Norman Geras:

[I]n the light of the political developments of the last three years, I don’t think the only, or even the most important, thing one needs to know about someone today in forming a judgement about the character of their political outlook is whether or not they are of the left. Rather more significant is to know what their all-round relationship is to certain values that have always been central to the historical project of the left: democratic and egalitarian values; a decent conception of justice (such as aims to achieve for everyone the possibility of a secure and fulfilled existence); and the protection of individual human beings from the more egregious types of assault to which they are subject when such values are denied or cast aside.

…….With those, both within the left and without it, who fight for democratic principles, practices and institutions and the fundamental rights of human beings; against those, whatever their political colour, who always have a reason, or a tactful silence, to offer on behalf of the forces fighting against these things; as well as against these oppressive and murderous forces.

Oliver Kamm:

Here is my position as a liberal, secular, European leftist. I proclaim the “universal validity” of the western Enlightenment values of liberal political rights, free expression, scientific inquiry, religious liberty, the rule of law, limited (not ‘minimal’) government, female emancipation, and separation of civil and religious authority. Anyone who subscribes to those broad principles – whatever his view on second-order issues such as the right balance between private enterprise and the public sector in the economy – is my ally. Anyone who doesn’t, isn’t.