Russell Taylor: The Left’s Lifeboat Logic

A Comres poll has found that 51 per cent of people think the Conservative Party only represents the rich. No surprises there. Even if they were to nuke the City of London, outlaw yachts and hang Fred Goodwin, that statistic would probably only shift a couple of percentage points. The Tories have long been regarded as a toffs’ club that serves the interests fat cats, bankers and what remains of the landed gentry, and there’s not much they can do to change that perception. Because, people like to hate them. They are bad guys in a narrative that says we’d all be better off if the rich and their Tory facilitators hadn’t rigged the game against us.

The flip side of Conservatives “representing the rich” is the oft-heard cry that they “don’t do enough for ordinary people” – another way of saying they fail to provide enough handouts or offer enough protection from the vagaries of life. Personally, I think the Tories are too generous as it is, but I realise that many people believe a modern mega-state is necessary for the maintenance of a civilised and just society. If the all-seeing bureaucracy decides to tax your farts or licence your fillings, it’s only because the alternative is too dreadful to contemplate.

If you subscribe to the statist worldview, that’s your prerogative, but it remains a subjective opinion, all the same. There are, after all, many other ways of organising a society that don’t involve pressing people into service aboard the good ship socialism. If you are entitled to your point of view, then so is everyone else, and if they would like to be left alone to manage their own affairs, then your predilection for taking their money and ordering them about doesn’t trump that preference.

This isn’t to say that you can’t live like a good little lefty if you want to. If you want to support the public sector, you can pay more in taxes. If you feel that employers are exploitative, you can decline to work for them. If you think expressing certain opinions is wrong, you can hold your tongue. And if your sentiments are commonly held, then millions of others will do the same, allowing everyone else to opt out.

Optional government funding would inevitably result in projects that benefited people who hadn’t contributed towards them. But this isn’t hugely different from the status quo, which sees half the population paying 90 per cent of all tax revenue. Besides, if the idea of giving others a free ride deters people from putting their hands in their pockets, that’s money well saved, as far as I’m concerned. I’d rather we kept those few essential services that can only be managed centrally, made sure that those who cannot support themselves are looked after, and kicked everything else into touch.

Unfortunately, this won’t wash with the big state brigade, because their beliefs are not about self-observance; they’re about whipping everyone else into line, and they know that relatively few people would sign up to their programme voluntarily. They rely on our democratic system to elect a government that will force their beliefs on everyone else – which only goes to prove that Thomas Jefferson was right in believing democracy to be “nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one per cent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine”.

Whoever is in power, the Left works tirelessly to persuade us of the need for collective action where none exists. The cause itself is almost immaterial, as long as it appeals to what the ever-excellent Jonah Goldberg describes as ‘lifeboat logic’:

In a lifeboat, if you have ten candy bars and someone else has none, you must share. Property rights go out the window. The problem with lifeboat logic – which is just another version of the moral equivalent of war – is that it only applies in lifeboat situations. It doesn’t apply when you can jump out of the lifeboat and swim to shore. It certainly doesn’t fly when the boat is tied to the dock. That’s why the moral equivalent of war argument is evil when misapplied. By invoking an existential crisis when there is none, you are saying that the rule of law and individual rights must be suspended for the greater good. If I yank you out of your car and drive off to defuse a nuclear bomb, I am a badass hero who did what was necessary. If I yank you out of your car and drive off because you can afford to get another one, I’m a thief with a penchant for romantic rationalizations of my crimes.

What Goldberg is saying, in essence, is that the Left starts with a desire for collective action, then fabricates justifications for it. Suffice to say, if a course of action recommends itself on its results, there should be no need to cook up ridiculous crises to convince us of its importance. My boss doesn’t have to pretend there’s an emergency at work to persuade me to go in each day, because it’s in my own interests. Apple doesn’t try to convince us that a puppy will die unless we buy an iPhone, because there’s a spontaneous demand for its products. Where government intervention is legitimately required, such as in the running of the Army, no one feels the need to justify it by claiming it will serve some function other than the one it is designed to serve.

A recent attempt to beget collective action was in the headlines recently. The health lobby is demanding that the government control the amount of sugar allowed in our food, to help tackle obesity, tooth decay, heart trouble, unregulated sugar rushes and global warming (probably). This is the kind of hectoring by the expert class that tends to evolve into needless laws – laws which, according to the democratic principle, we could seek to kick out by voting for a political party that opposes it at the next election. But, in reality, it’s unlikely that a repeal would ever appear in the manifesto of any of the major parties. What ends up on the statute book will stay there until the ants take over. Even if a party went to the polls on a ‘smash the sugar ban’ ticket, this would have to weighed against their other policies, which might be less appealing. This is wrong. We shouldn’t have to accept a grab bag of policies we may not like in order to see reclaim a freedom that should never have been removed in the first place.

The only reason anyone feels the need to win us over with cockamamie excuses is because they know that what they’re selling stinks. So, perhaps we should stop arguing over the efficacy of statism, because the statists themselves have already acknowledged that it’s a busted flush. They’ve been reduced to assuring us that clean running water is a problem and a pan full of turds is the solution.

  • Kevin Ronald Lohse

    Wasn’t Fred the Shred Gordon’s go-to fat cat? Knighted for services to Gordon?

  • Kevin Ronald Lohse

    Talking of food, I have seen Armageddon. Tesco are selling double chocolate chip hot cross buns. The end of the World is nigh.

  • Baron

    And what has the “whipping everyone else into line ….. to provide enough handouts or offer enough protection from the vagaries of life” achieved?

    The key communist principle “to everyone according to his needs, from everyone according to his ability” has morphed for millions into “to everyone according to his needs, from everyone who doesn’t feel like it – nothing”.

    Someone should dig out Marx, it may surprise him to find out there’s no need for the dictatorship of the proletariat in Britain, the Left can work successfully through either Labour or the Tories to get what he wanted, and more.

    • Russell Taylor

      As I’ve said before, it’s about egotism. It’s about building a society where we can do as we please and someone else picks up the pieces.

  • Colonel Mustard

    They don’t see it though do they, the bleedin’ obvious? Those who are in a position to limit the power of the state don’t do or say enough to make it happen, apart from tiny little tweaks to the more outrageous impositions. The point about unrepealed law is very valid because we now have more lawmakers in multiple tiers and more ‘law as lucrative industry’ types than ever before, either advising on, rolling out or pressurising for more law. And all the main parties appear to sign up to this nonsense of ‘something must be done’.

    The Coalition Agreement promised to ‘introduce a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences’. I have yet to see that but Cameron has been busy proliferating.

    Is there a point at which the sheer volume and effect of too much law and regulation too quickly becomes unsustainable and self destructive?