Saturday, April 22, 2006

The BNP and the Left

Alice Evans is perplexed by Lord Tebbit's description of the BNP as left wing and cites the letters in the Telegraph today in response to Tebbit's argument.

Objectively and thoroughly assessing this view is clearly difficult because the definitions of right and left wing do not properly capture the subtleties of political belief but I think Tebbit's analysis is an entirely sensible one. There are two plausible definitions of the right wing which have value in making our assessment of the BNP's leanings:
  1. A belief in the value of free markets and distrust of the constructive value of state power: This fits with the modern conception of the right wing's views on economics. When Stiglitz describes a "market ideology" as a great evil he is clearly positioning himself on the 'left'.
  2. A distrust of radicalism: Right wing parties have always had a belief in the value of tradition as a social glue and a repository of collective experience in making uncertain policy choices.
As Tebbit points out that the BNP is clearly on the socialist side of the economic debate. Opposition to globalisation, belief in nationalising services considered important and a suspicion of the interests of capital are the mark of the left. On one of the key battlegrounds of modern politics the BNP clearly cannot be described as right wing.

Equally, the BNP shows little attachment to incrementalism. A conservative, right wing, response to concerns over immigration, which are widely held, is to take action to reduce new immigrant numbers and encourage integration. A classic right wing response to immigration is the one put forward by Krauthammer recently. Radical responses such as repatriation advocated by the BNP cannot have much attachment to those with an interest in social stability and suspicious of radical panaceas.

The two letters responding to Lord Tebbit's both miss the point. The first sees the sum of the right wing in authoritarianism. Tebbit has already answered this point: As the most authoritarian states of the 20th century were clearly left wing (Maoist China, the GDR with the Stasi, the USSR) this cannot be a preserve of the right. To identify all those who believe in maintaining the state's authority as right wing is clearly mistaken.

The second letter argues that as the Nazis were right wing the BNP must also be. This would work if the other fascists were objectively right wing but they are not. The Nazis also believed in state control of industry, autarkic trade policy and a radical's break with tradition. This is why they were called the National Socialist party and why supporters so regularly moved between the Nazis and the Communists. Mussolini was a notable transfer from Socialism to National Socialism and saw little contradiction.

Tebbit is clearly correct that the BNP as fascists do not fit on the right wing of the ideological spectrum.

12 comments:

alicevans said...

always thought that whereas the political left is committed to substantive equality for all (aiming to do so via state intervention), the right is characterised by a minimal state and formal equality at best. So, with the BNP's openly racist policies illustrating a limited commitment to equality, one would thus be inclined to posit them on the right, no?

Matthew Sinclair said...

Clearly the BNP fails the state intervention test.

On the equality test I would suggest that they are, at least nominally, strongly committed to it (as cited in Tebbit's original letter) and it depends on which group you are seeking equality over. The BNP seeks equality but between people within the group it is interested in; 'British' people.

As the idea of our applying 'rights' with the same fervour in Africa as in the UK is a minority idea on the left as well as right the distinction between equality within our nation and for those considered outside is clearly accepted. Wanting equality only for those within the UK cannot be grounds for exclusion for the left without making the left a group consisting of around a dozen people.

Besides, please notice that you have now given up on disagreeing with Tebbit (who argued merely that the BNP were not right wing) and are now arguing with my extension that they are actively left wing.

alicevans said...

well, i would take it as a fairly lefty idea, that whatever principles of justice u accept, they should apply universally.

the BNP clearly reject this.

as for ur second para i would contend that the left do seek universal justice but the mainstream left in britain is somewhat 'progressive' and just now working on getting the public to want to 'narrow the gap' in britain first before later working on extending this empathy.

david milliband, ed balls and toynbee agree with this point.

they are clearly left wing.

if ur not left wing, u are logically right wing. that clearly follows.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Surely the left is just as likely to deny that you can come up with universal moral principles and rights? Moral relativism etc.

The reason why I mentioned that you were arguing against their being left wing rather than positively for their being right wing is that if the case for the BNP were strong you would be able to find right wing principles that they are attached to. If they are really extreme right wing they should be particularly attached to right wing principles. You don't seem to have any significant examples of this.

If the most fundamental difference between the BNP and the Left is that that they don't share left wing universalism in morality then surely they can be considered part of its big tent. This seems a pretty thin distinction between them and the rest of the left wing. I'd have gone with "they propound race hate" which only has exceptions in the other far left organisations (the Communists) rather than "they don't believe in applying rights globally". Clearly on the big issues of the diliking the free market, distrusting capital etc. they are instinctively left wing. "The Labour Party your grandfather voted for" to quote their election material.

alicevans said...

the guy who wrote into the telegraph referred to,

the BNP's promise to restore British sovereignty by leaving the EU (R), halt immigration and fund voluntary repatriation, restore grammar schools (R), competitive sports and corporal and capital punishment (R), with prison sentences to be served in full (R)

this big focus on competition, law and order sounds very Social Darwinist and right wing. no?

alicevans said...

http://timesonline.typepad.com/david_aaronovitch/2006/04/archive_hour_in.html#more

Matt, you may find the link informative,

As for your remark about my irrelevant referencing to racist tendencies while you instead stress their non-right wing economic policies, well, i suggest that your arguments are less important than mine in determining their position on the political spectrum as, i quote, "Racial preservation is more important than economics"...

Matthew Sinclair said...

Alice,

All of your logic now boils down to 'they're racists, therefore, right-wing'. You can see why that is massively unpersuasive to me, surely?

That he finds his racism more important than his economics is of little interest to me. As racism cannot be described as a principle of left or right the division has to be made on sensible grounds like those set out in my post.

Does Ken Livingstone's blatant racism make him right wing? Did Stalin's attacks on Jews make him right wing?

alicevans said...

i dont think stalin was motivated by political ideals but more a quest for power

but yeh, i accept ur point, being racist doesnt necessarily entail being right wing

however, look at those other points about law and order..

lax lefties wouldnt do stuff like that surely

alicevans said...

i dont think stalin was motivated by political ideals but more a quest for power

but yeh, i accept ur point, being racist doesnt necessarily entail being right wing

however, look at those other points about law and order..

lax lefties wouldnt do stuff like that surely

Matthew Sinclair said...

Law and order is a symptom not a principle. People come to a belief in law and order from all manner of principled starting points. This is similar to Oliver Kamm's support of the Iraq War. It doesn't make him right wing.

The principles of the right are those I set out and some more. None of them fit with the BNP. This means that describing the BNP as a party of the extreme right is incorrect.

The reason Tebbit (and I) gets so frustrated by people calling fascists extreme right is because doing so plays into the hands of two abuses:

1) To imply that people are right wing because they're racist.

2) It makes people feel justified in calling right wing opinions fascist in lieu of genuine rebuttal. I've faced this innumerable times at the LSE.

El Dave. said...

'Besides, please notice that you have now given up on disagreeing with Tebbit (who argued merely that the BNP were not right wing) and are now arguing with my extension that they are actively left wing.'

You're doing exactly what you accuse the left of doing. Posted it about it on my blog.

xD.

Matthew Sinclair said...

I think they have actively left wing beliefs but that doesn't mean I would go around calling them a party of the extreme left; such a term is corrosive to proper debate. Facist is an entirely appropriate term to describe them.