Rawls and the New Whigs 3: The Failures of the Left

The Left too, saw itself as heirs of the Enlightenment. Pertinently, as the final and most perfect exemplar of the various movements which claimed to foment the (inevitable) progress towards a Better Society. Through the centuries they have gone by different names-Whigs, Liberals, Social Democrats, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists even. Each successive iteration saw itself, generally, as little to the Left, and considerably more correct, than the one that had gone before. The development of Marxism was a final catalyst. Here was a Philosophy derived from the best thinkers of the day that not only described the final perfect society, but proclaimed its historical inevitability. All that was necessary from now on was righteous action: and this perfection would be complete.

There is no room here to describe the utter failure of Marxist states and the bloody, corrupt tyrannies they erected. But their proven deconstruction left progressives with an aching problem- What do we do now? It was a question deliciously examined by Nick Cohen [1] in What’s Left? (ironically written on the eve of the great crash of 2007). True, there was a ragbag of causes and injustices left to sort out. No one can deny the partial advances progressives have made in ameliorating the condition of groups like sexual and ethnic minorities, nor in advancing some action on ecological problems.  But there is no organising principle, and without that, there could be no coherent programme for power. Progressives may shake their fists at any number of injustices. But others will decide on serious action.

Yet the terror of Communism held one advantage; it kept the ruling classes honest. Without it, the sicknesses of the present system have become acute. No sane person could call Capitalism benign. Curiously, the intellectual wind has been blowing the Left’s way for some years; the truths of Piketty {2] and Wilkinson and Pickett [3] are plain enough.  The need and opportunity are both there. But progressives, entangled in the endlessly competing claims of a myriad of oppressed minorities, cannot organise their own majority.    

The work of John Rawls does not offer the certainties of Marxism, or the Revelations of Religion. He was a modest man. He has many students, but no followers nor disciples. And that is healthy. In the next posts we shall look at the man and his work, and how he offers ways to begin to think about a way ahead.

[1] Nick Cohen What’s Left Fourth Estate 2007

[2] Tomas Piketty Capital in the 21st Century Harvard University Press 2017

[3] R Wilkinson K Pickett The sprit Level Penguin 2010

#capitalism #socialism #marxism #narchism #christianity #islaam #economics #sociology #ideology

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