Recently, a number of gay friends of mine have vented their frustrations to me about the contemporary politics of sexuality and ‘gender’. Their complaints vary. Some say ‘We have equality in Britain, we’ve got to the point where the vast majority couldn’t give a fig whether we’re gay or not. As such, I really don’t want my sexual orientation to define me: it’s just not important. Gay Pride makes such a fuss, what’s the point?’. They see their sexuality to be little more important to them than their hair colour or biscuit preference and find Gay Pride to be at best irrelevant, at worst very irritating. They don’t want to be ‘queer’ or ‘radical’, they want the right to be attracted to their own sex while being as dull as the rest of us. That seems fair enough to me. Surely getting to such a point was the purpose of the gay rights movement?
Others are less sanguine, though not for the reasons that you’d necessarily expect. They worry about gay rights being lumped in with a lot of other political claims that they are, to put it mildly, sceptical about. Some have begun to notice that kids who remind them of themselves at that age – for example, somewhat effeminate boys who aren’t into stereotypically ‘masculine’ pursuits – are not simply accepted as being what they almost always are – that is to say, gay – but rather are starting to be told that they’re ‘really’ girls. Some notice the unnerving parallel between Iran, a country that is so homophobic it sees transgenderism as not only preferable, but potentially an ‘answer’, to homosexuality, and some of the internalised (and family) homophobia that is clearly present among teenagers who present with gender dysphoria to, say, the Tavistock – and is then not challenged, or even reinforced, by professional clinicians. What has being trans got to do with one’s sexual preference anyway? What’s the ‘T’ doing in with the LGB in the first place? And as for the ever-growing alphabet soup that makes up the rest of the ubiquitous acronym of our age, what on earth does any of it have to do with gay rights, whatever its merits may be?
Not all gay men and women share these views, but my guess is that an awful lot more do than would be willing to say so out loud. There is probably a generational element to it, but several of the people who have voiced their doubts to me along these lines are in their early 30s: so it’s not only older gay men and lesbians who have these doubts by any means.
That’s why I thought this was an issue that really needs an airing, and I’m delighted to say here at Forum we’ve signed the brilliant Gareth Roberts to address these tensions. His new book – provisionally entitled Gay Shame: The Rise of Gender Ideology and the New Homophobia – promises not only to be a hard-hitting look at a very important issue, but also a book laced with his characteristic wit and humour.
Gareth goes further than some of the sneaking, as-yet tentative doubts that are creeping up on many gay men and lesbians. He argues that gender ideology is inherently homophobic and is heralding the rise of a new form of a very old prejudice, all under a ‘progressive’ guise. It’s difficult not to think he might have a point in an era when Stonewall brand lesbians who aren’t sure they want to have sex with ‘women’ who have penises ‘sexual racists’, or where lesbian and gay rights groups who are sceptical about claims that one can simply verbally declare oneself to be the opposite sex are thrown off Gay Rights marches. It’s hardly a surprise to me that lesbians aren’t wildly keen at being sexually coerced by people who have beards and penises and testicles and spermatoza and so on: those people whom most of us still think of as being ‘men’.
So far the danger that trans ideology poses to feminism and the cause of women has been pretty well-aired. The danger for gay people is less well-rehearsed, but also very important indeed. I think this caustic, amusing book will strike a chord with many gay men and lesbians who are far from sure that their hard-won right to be able to form relationships with people of their own sex are safe in the era of trans ideology.
George Owers, Editorial Director
Gay Shame: The Rise of Gender Ideology and the New Homophobia is due to publish in Autumn 2023. The views of this blogpost are not necessarily the views of Gareth Roberts.
I am delighted to announce another acquisition by Forum Press: Not Zero: How an Irrational Target Will Impoverish You, Help China (and Won’t Even Save the Planet) by Ross Clark.
I will concede that when a book against Net Zero – the legally binding government target to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero by 2050 – was proposed to me, I was a little wary. There comes a point when one wonders whether one has the energy to court controversy on yet another subject, particularly one that has increasingly become a taboo area. Whereas on some subjects the inanity of the nonsense spouted forth by enforcers of the progressive consensus is so blatant that it deserves to be mercilessly attacked, climate change is different. It clearly is happening and seems likely to have serious consequences. Net Zero seemed (on the basis of essentially zero knowledge of what it entails on my part) like an earnest attempt to tackle it. My initial gut reaction was: Let’s leave this one shall we?
Then I actually read Ross’s manuscript. I almost felt annoyed when I realised that he clearly had many telling points and that he pretty much demolished the case for Net Zero on a basis that it’s difficult to unpick even if you think that climate change is very serious and urgent indeed. It was, put simply, very good and really quite important.
I never wanted a quiet life anyway…
I think that, in most people’s minds, it was as simple as: climate change is bad, something needs to be done about it, Net Zero is something, let’s do that. My thoughts on it had amounted to little more than that, to be honest.
But reading the book raised a whole range of issues I hadn’t considered. Is it sensible to commit to a policy that can only be achieved on the basis of technology that does not exist at the moment and might never exist at the scale required, or even at all? Is that prudent? Is it necessarily a good idea to be rushing massive, expensive, incredibly important policy decisions that might have enormous consequences, a rush that is inevitable if you impose such an ambitious deadline on yourself? Might we end up backing the wrong horses technologically in our rush and perversely end up making the task of reducing carbon emissions more difficult?
The thing that made the biggest impression on me is that in the rush to achieve Net Zero, it’s almost inevitable that enormous costs are going to be placed on those least able to bear it. If you give over a lot more land to tree planting and rewilding rather than agricultural production, food prices are going to go up. Relying exclusively on renewables, given the cost of storage and the intermittency problem, will push up energy costs even further. Running an electric car is going to be a lot more expensive than a petrol car. Heat pumps will be more expensive than gas boilers. The list goes on. It dawned on me that there is a real a risk that the push to achieve Net Zero creates a two-tier society where the wealthy can still afford to fly, drive and not shiver, but the poor increasingly cannot.
Having considered these points, and many others that Ross makes in his book, I started to think more broadly about the state of the ‘debate’ on climate change, and that was the most alarming thing in some ways. I noticed that it has become increasingly difficult in ‘polite’ circles to even mildly question a certain narrative: namely, that there is an immediate catastrophic climate crisis that necessitates the adoption of draconian policies to prevent the earth being consumed in a fiery furnace in the very near future, and that these policies must be driven through at all costs, and democracy – and any other consideration – be damned.
Quite apart from anything else, such a situation is massively counter-productive. The best policies are never produced in an atmosphere of groupthink, hugely constrained debate and quasi-censorship. If political, social and economic realities are not factored into their design, policies designed to tackle climate change will simply fail to be adopted and won’t save us anyway. You can’t wish away politics or public opinion or simple reality, no matter how pressing you think tackling the problem is. In any case, if Net Zero is the right policy, why not welcome reasoned criticism? It could help strengthen the policy even further, and/or give you a chance to rebut the criticism and make the case for Net Zero unassailable.
Now, I can see why one might argue that this would not be the case if the book is simply unreasoning polemic designed to fortify people in their prejudices for some shadowy political reasons. That is why we assiduously fact-checked and stress-tested the book. I don’t think that anyone who reads it in good faith, even if ultimately they disagree with it, could conclude that it isn’t a reasonable, rigorous critique based upon the genuine fear that Net Zero could end up being a disastrous policy for a whole number of reasons. I’m don’t agree with Ross on every point myself, but I have no doubt that he’s arguing in good faith and that his argument is one eminently worth hearing.
And that’s the point of Forum: to publish the books that rationally challenge groupthink, to ensure that important contributors to the key debates of our time who have unfashionable views aren’t closed down. I think that we will undoubtedly be doing that by publishing Ross’s excellent book.
George Owers, Editorial Director
Not Zero: How an Irrational Target Will Impoverish You, Help China (and Won’t Even Save the Planet) is due to publish in Spring 2023. The views of this blogpost are not necessarily the views of Ross Clark.
I am very excited to announce another acquisition by Forum Press – Black Success: The Inconvenient Truth by Tony Sewell.
Tony was the chair of the government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which delivered its report last year. The report argued that disparities in social outcomes between different ethnic groups in Britain are not always the product of racial discrimination, but have many complex causes, often rooted in culture, family influence, religion and socio-economic factors. It suggested that much progress on race has been made, and that it is no longer realistic to argue that Britain is in some fundamental way institutionally racist or systematically rigged against ethnic minorities, though racism is still an issue in some respects. It contained 24 policy recommendations that seem remarkably sensible, and probably a more substantive basis for a policy of levelling up than anything we’ve seen the government manage since.
As with any report looking at such complex phenomena and such a large amount of data, no doubt there were and are legitimate criticisms to be made of it. However, reading the document, even if one were minded, on reflection, not to agree with all of it, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that it’s a reasonable, rather sober-minded attempt to sincerely get at the truth on an emotive and complicated topic.
The disconnect between what the report actually said and the hysterical, frankly unhinged response to it was extraordinary. The nexus of individuals and organisations making up the liberal-left political and cultural establishment went apoplectic. Their criticism went well, well beyond anything that could be said to be reasonable, measured, or in many cases even sane. Labour MP Clive Lewis compared Tony and the other commissioners to the KKK in a tweet. Priya Gopal first suggested that Tony doesn’t have a PhD, and when evidence was pointed out demonstrating that she was wrong, her reply was ‘Even Dr Goebbels had a research PhD’. The barrage of abuse, misrepresentation and hysteria was extraordinary. The report, according to such enraged critics, was not just wrong, it was worthless; not only was it worthless, it was actively evil and pro-racism.
The whole episode illustrated a range of race taboos that have grown up among progressives. In their view, any disparity in any outcome between ethnic groups can only be explained by discrimination and institutional racism. Any other potential factor must be dismissed out of hand, no matter how much the evidence might suggest otherwise. The one exception to this is if there is evidence of a disparity in which the group that is lagging behind in some outcome is white (say white working boys in education). In that case, discrimination, by definition, can never be a factor.
These premises lead to some of the other beliefs that are now held onto with messianic fervour by the ID politics left. Britain, they hold, is a deeply and fundamentally racist country, characterised by thoroughgoing, systematic discrimination and white supremacy. There has been no progress on race at all: everything is as bad as it was 40 or 50 years ago, if not worse. Anyone who suggests otherwise is fundamentally no different from Adolf Hitler, George Wallace or Jefferson Davis.
The fact that this picture sounds completely deranged to the vast majority of the country doesn’t seem to bother them one jot – but then reality or the views of everyone else rarely impinge very much on the mental processes of religious enthusiasts and fundamentalists and their sacred taboos and dogmas.
I think that Tony bore the absurd farrago of abuse and lies he faced with remarkable sang froid and restraint (more, I think, than I could have managed). In this spirit, his new book with us, although clearly rooted in the context of his report, will avoid the temptation of playing his unbelievably negative and abusive critics at their own game. It will draw on Tony’s considerable experience to look at how British black people can succeed and thrive – and indeed how they already are in many cases, despite the picture of unrelieved doom and gloom painted by those who, for some reason best known to themselves, would rather ignore the many achievements of black communities across Britain.
Tony’s in a good position to do this, because he has a lot of practical experience in the business of helping poor black kids to thrive. Not only was he one of the driving forces behind the transformation that took place in Hackney schools, helping to take them from being among the worst to some of the best in the country (and in the process transforming the lives of countless poor black children), he also has his own charity, ‘Generating Genius’, which has helped thousands of black teenagers to find university places or work opportunities in STEM subjects. One would hazard a guess that the vast majority of his foam-flecked critics have done, at best, a tiny fraction of what he has to actually practically help black kids, rather than mouth lazy slogans and trot out the latest grievance-studies jargon.
Tony will look at a whole range of areas in his book, from education and the economy to the media, literature and family. His aim will be to show how the story of black people in Britain can be and often is one of integration, agency and flourishing not division prejudice and grievance – despite very real historical barriers of discrimination – and how we can make that the case even more widely now.
It’s a sign of what a dangerous position we’re in that this book – a positive, upbeat account of ethnic minority success and racial harmony – seems so unusual. Let’s hope it contributes to a change in the political and cultural weather.
George Owers, Editorial Director
Black Success: The Inconvenient Truth is due to publish in Spring 2023. The views of this blogpost are not necessarily the views of Tony Sewell.
I’ve long since thought that Ed West is one of our most consistently original and interesting writers with an ability to make us see the apparently familiar afresh, and with a wonderful facility for enlightening analogies, illuminating historical comparisons and paradoxical insights. So I am absolutely delighted to announce that Forum has signed his next book, entitled Brahmins: The Rise of the Radical Rich. It will be out next year, and is available to pre-order now.
The book addresses the apparently bizarre paradox that many of the people with the most ostentatiously, some would say outlandishly, progressive opinions in the modern west appear to be among the wealthiest and most successful. Corporations, plutocrats, members of the 1% are eager to thrust their fashionable opinions down our throats: on gender and sexuality, migration, race and a whole range of other topics. It seems a far cry from the sort of strait-laced socially and culturally conservative captains of industry who used to dominate our socio-economic elite 50 or 60 years ago: difficult to imagine a port-soaked top-hatted chairman of the board or a sharp-suited financier from yesteryear arranging seminars on white privilege and pasting the Progress Pride flag to every available flat surface – but today, it is de rigeur.
Ed’s book will touch on a whole range of themes, from the re-emergence of caste politics, the return of a ‘benevolent’ version of progressive imperialism, to the idea of liberalism as class war and the internecine status games that underpin a lot of this. I don’t wish to give too much away – I want you to all pre-order the book and read it in due course! – but I thought I’d add a few thoughts of my own.
The sorts of class dynamics that Ed examines seem familiar to me. I come from an upper-working-class/first generation lower-middle class family. My parents are both, to varying degrees, left-wing, in an old-school sort of a way. They brought me up with a very strict code of ethics – treat black people or gay people, or indeed anyone who is in some way different, in exactly the way you would anyone else, with respect – that in the 90s would have been seen as socially liberal.
But nowadays my parents seem, if anything, mildly socially conservative. Partly this is a certain working-class reticence and prudishness over things like sex (not a bad thing in my view), but mostly it’s because they are largely indifferent to contemporary clashes over so many cultural and identity-based issues. To them, left wing politics is unions and wage disputes and public services and the welfare state: material issues that relate to the direct interests of poor and working class people. Do they care much about Brexit or trans rights or open borders? Put simply, no, not really, unless they can be seen as relevant to such material battles.
These are the views that I inherited and the sort of material leftist politics I still think are important. And when I was at school (a very good grammar school in Essex), they were the sort of views that made me about as popular as smallpox with the other boys, who were almost all considerably wealthier than I was, usually hailing from the nouveau riche Tory-voting Essex middle classes. They thought I was some sort of mad communist.
It was a very good school though, and most of those boys went on to be pretty successful. I don’t keep in touch with very many of them now, but what is striking is how many of those people, who were unthinking Thatcherites aged 14, are now fashionably left-wing, as well as remaining well-off. When I ran into some of these people during the Corbyn era, they’d enlighten me about their conversion to the Left and be surprised when I was rather less enthusiastic.
So the tables have turned, and I’m now the stodgy conservative among my school-aged peer group, although my economic views have changed little. What is interesting, however, is that for these ex-classmates, who have invariably been educated at good universities, their indifference to class and the material wellbeing of the poor seems little different from their attitudes when they were callous teenagers, although they might cover them up rather better now. Their newly discovered leftism is ever-so-radical – right up to the point where it might actually materially affect their comfortable, prosperous lives as bankers or consultants or lawyers or whatever.
It seems to me that for many of them it’s far more about mood music; career advancement; wanting to be seen as a ‘good person’; and status-seeking. They realise that the ‘hang ‘em flog ‘em, bring back national service, privatise air’ views of their youth are now hopelessly low-status, the sort of thing that they’d heard from their Essex parents (often first generation materially wealthy Tory voters from places like Billericay or Brentwood). They have dropped such views because they are as much conformists now as they were 20 years ago, just in the other direction.
And the sorts of left-wing values they now parade are absolutely no threat to their wealth and the economic order they are lucky enough to benefit from. The cultural revolution that is thrusting these values upon us poses no danger whatsoever to the finance and tech and legal firms they now work for and collect 6 figure salaries from. Inequality grows and grows, the poor go to food banks, the wages of the people who make society run (people like my mother) freeze and diminish, and our social fabric rots. But that’s ok, because, as they may have mentioned 12 or 13 times on their LinkedIn, diversity is our strength! You can be whoever you want to be! Our LGBTQIA+ employees bring their ‘whole self’ to work!
The insidious ideological mutations and misplaced priorities of this sort of leftism make me feel faintly nauseous – and us old-school economic leftists are in the weird position where we now find conservatives like Ed West speaking far, far more sense than our supposed elders and betters on ‘the left’.
Ed’s book will do a far more eloquent job of making sense of these weird political times than I can – so I do hope you’ll buy his book, which will be out next year.
George Owers, Editorial Director
Brahmins: The Rise of the Radical Rich is due to publish in Autumn 2023. The views of this blogpost are not necessarily the views of Ed West.
I’m very pleased to announce that Forum will be publishing the UK edition of Yoram Hazony’s new book Conservatism: A Rediscovery. It will publish in late August in time for Yoram to make a trip to the UK in mid-September to promote it.
Since the book delineates a distinctive form of Anglo-American conservatism that, Yoram argues, originated in England, it seems particularly appropriate that the book should get special attention in the UK. In the book, he delves into the thought of unjustly overlooked English figures such as John Fortescue, Richard Hooker and John Selden, discovering in their ideas a form of conservatism based on tradition, empiricism, and the nation (among other things) with roots going back to the 15th century. I enjoyed the book immensely and hope that it will find the British audience it surely deserves.
The book is an urgent call for conservatives to wake up to the fact that their political tradition is distinctive from merely a form of right-leaning market-obsessed liberalism that many (in the UK as much as if not more than in the US) assume is synonymous with conservatism. Yoram argues that the key issue is that the form of Enlightenment liberalism that has become dominant on both mainstream centre-right and centre-left is blind to the enduring importance and reality of the larger units that we are bound to by ties of mutual loyalty – most significantly, families, tribes and nations. Enlightenment liberals see and value only individuals, and usually atomised individuals isolated from the traditions, contexts and histories that they have inherited from their parents, institutions and culture. Not only this, but for such people the key political figure is an individual who is assumed to behave in accordance with abstract rationalist theories based upon concepts like autonomy, universalism and consent, rather than in line with what all experience teaches us.
A detail I particularly like from the book is Yoram’s observation that Enlightenment liberalism was ‘made in the image of unmarried, childless individuals’ who know little of family life and of what it means to conserve and pass on one’s habits, traditions and mores to one’s children. The more you look into this, the more you realise how literally true this is. As Yoram points out, ‘Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, and Kant never had children. Descartes’s only daughter, born outside of marriage, died at the age of five. Rousseau had five children with a mistress but abandoned them all to an orphanage in infancy’.
To this list, we could add Voltaire, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham… Tom Paine was married twice, but his first wife died in childbirth less than a year after they got married, and he separated from his second wife 3 years after they were married: he was childless. John Stuart Mill did marry Harriet Taylor, but they had no children together. There are a few exceptions, but once you start to look into it, it does become striking how few of the foundational, canonical liberal political thinkers had anything approaching a conventional married family life.
Of course, some people are unable to have children, and it is unfair to blame them for that. Clearly the fate of Tom Paine’s wife, for example, was a great sadness to him. However, given that the vast majority of adults, particularly in period spanning from around the 17th to the 19th centuries, marry and have children – and it’s rather essential to the continuity of human life on earth that they do – it does seem to imply an important blind spot. Not knowing the compromises, duties and sacrifices of marriage and parenthood is inevitably going to give one a certain outlook on life that tends to elevate certain values over others.
Married people can no longer consult only their own wishes: they must modify and restrain their own plans and desires to take into account the preferences and needs of their spouse. Parents tend to be acutely aware that human beings are intensely dependent on each other, as they have experienced the most extreme form of this: being responsible for a baby who utterly depends on his or her mother and father (and perhaps an extended family too) for everything, 24 hours a day. They simply have to accept the price of parenthood: giving up an awful lot of spontaneity, freedom and autonomy, because they have duties that outweigh their own preferences and whims (points made also recently by Mary Harrington). The question of ‘consent’ becomes rather meaningless. Yes, in some sense, unless the baby was unplanned, you have consented to parenthood. But in practice, in the rough and tumble of caring for children, have you ‘consented’ to change that nappy? Or spend 3 hours trying to get an overexcited infant to sleep when you are exhausted yourself? Did I consent to have a small person steal my spectacles and hurl them to the floor 14 times a day? They’re meaningless questions. The concepts one needs to make sense of these things are ones like ‘duty’ and ‘sacrifice’, not consent.
One also starts to realise what it means to live a life that is not simply ‘in the moment’, dominated by fleeting pleasure and spontaneity. One starts to think in terms of decades and generations instead of minutes and days. One feels an intense interest in ensuring that one’s children grow up to have the right values, to have a sense of being at home in the world, in possession of the frameworks of acting and thinking that one values oneself. It is useless to deny this. Everyone knows that their children will have their own agency and take their own decisions when they grow up, but everyone wants their own children to reflect their worldview and values, to be recognisable to them, to grow up as part of their tradition. No one wants their own children to be utter strangers to what they think of as important in life. Militant atheist humanists take this attitude just as much as Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Jews or Muslims do.
If you have a political tradition that has been overwhelmingly dominated by people who have known none of this, then it’s not really surprising that it struggles to accommodate such experiences and emphases. The idea that the main – indeed, only – political unit should be free, consenting individuals who are the supreme masters of their own fate, who make and remake their own life according to their whims with no regards to tradition or inheritance, might make sense if you’re a middle-aged childless bachelor. It might even contain some grains of truth. The vast majority of the human race, might, however, be excused for finding it a rather one-sided and unrealistic way of understanding human life, society and politics.
Yoram’s book is an attempt to chart an alternative, one which is erudite, interesting and provoking. It’s well worth a read when it publishes in a few months – and you can pre-order now.
George Owers, Editorial Director
Conservatism: A Rediscovery is due to publish in Autumn 2022. The views of this blogpost are not necessarily the views of Yoram Hazony.
Here at Forum, we’re delighted to begin the process of announcing some of the books we’ve signed in our first few months, as part of our mission to give a voice to dissident, unfashionable, and maverick opinion that swims against the tide of contemporary orthodoxies.
This week, we’re focussing on Ben Cobley’s The Progress Factory: The Modern Left and the False Authority of History, which will publish under the Forum imprint next year. Ben is a journalist and author of The Tribe: The Liberal Left and the System of Diversity.
I’ve been an admirer of Ben’s work for some time, and The Tribe was a razor-sharp critique of the rising dominance of identity politics within our public institutions and on the political left. Despite publishing with a very small press and getting little mainstream publicity, that book touched a nerve and really took off on the basis of social media and word-of-mouth recommendations.
So we’re very excited to have signed Ben’s next book, which will examine the ways that the modern left seeks to use the idea of ‘progress’ to claim for themselves an irresistible source of moral and political authority.
Anyone who uses social media or is otherwise exposed to the mental universe of your standard issue progressive left-winger in the modern era will notice how often they like to claim that their viewpoint is unassailable because they are ‘on the right side of history’, or words to that effect. Old Christian ideas of Providence (which were, in fact, nuanced and complex) have been unconsciously absorbed, altered and simplified in order to imbue radical nostrums with an air of unquestionable, quasi-mystical authority. Ben’s book will examine how this process works, and how it operates in a wide range of areas of our political and cultural life, ranging from our economic and working life the arts and international relations – notably on Brexit.
There are many things that promise to be fascinating about this book, and I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I will give one personal reflection on this theme. The vision of left-wing politics I grew up with was predicated on the idea that socialist and other leftist ideas had to be fought for in an inherently political and contingent way. The interests of working people would not magically win out: you had to organise, argue and fight for your ideas and policies within the democratic arena, persuade people that what you had to say was in their interests and in accordance with their values. The idea of inevitability, that certain ways of organising society were inevitable or unchallengeable, not even the proper subject for lively debate, was, historically, most often the complacent assumption of conservative defenders of the status quo.
Ben’s argument illustrates, to me, how the roles have now almost totally reversed. Yes, there were always Marxists who believed that ‘history is on our side, and we will bury you’, who thought that there was some inherent, unstoppable logic that invested certain forms of social and economic organisation with the authority of inevitability. But the left in democratic countries – particularly in Britain – where rights such as the right to vote, the right to protest, the right to be treated as an equal citizen, were hard won – usually knew only too well that politics is contingent, and even ideas that they passionately believed in needed the authority that came from argument and good-faith persuasion. They also knew that the price of democracy was the possibility of failure, of losing elections – and of accepting the verdict of the people when it didn’t go your way – and that that was a price worth paying for a free, democratic society, however attenuated or limited that freedom and democracy might sometimes appear.
Nowadays however, as Ben will examine, a form of the Marxist assumption in the inevitability and authority of history and progress has infected most of the left, even the more moderate parts of it. Their characteristic ideas (which are less about materialist and economic issues than was the case with the old Marxists) are considered self-evidently correct (no matter how un-self-evident they demonstrably are to the millions who vote against them), part of an unquestionable teleological unfurling of the inner process of liberal-secular-humanist-left righteousness. Since the masses seem inexplicably resistant to accepting these ideas, the modern leftist vanguardists have increasingly come to believe that they must ruthlessly promote and enforce their ideas through pretty much any means other than the vulgar business of actually trying to persuade people honestly and win elections. Desirable (in their view, anyway) political objectives are legalistically presented as ‘human rights’, and therefore standing above the political fray, even when the rights in question are clearly highly contentious and far from obvious to everyone. Progressives gain control of any institution that doesn’t involve having to be popular or democratically accountable – quangos, charities, corporations etc – and then seek to present themselves as ungainsayable experts who can or should not be questioned when they seek to impose progressive dogma on the majority without debate. This explains their rather extraordinary valorisation of expertise and technocratic knowledge. The management-class Left now sees the politics of promoting and upholding the rights, interests and instincts of the common man and woman, which used to be the basis of much left wing politics, as simple ignorance and bigotry: ‘vulgar populism’.
Ben is still, I believe, a social democrat (as are many modern people of a similar mindset, such as David Goodhart) – he is no reactionary or right-winger – but he recoils from this authoritarian, undemocratic, elitist style of moralising progressive politics. Rather than smear him as a racist or an evil right-winger, progressives should, when the book publishes, listen to him and try to absorb his wise words and calm analysis.
I’m not holding my breath on that front. But you never know.
George Owers, Editorial Director
The Progress Factory: The Modern Left and the False Authority of History is due to publish in Autumn 2023. The views of this blogpost are not necessarily the views of Ben Cobley.
Swift Press, the independent publisher launched in June 2020, has created a new imprint, Forum, to publish books that encourage debate and challenge orthodoxies. George Owers, formerly at Polity Press, has joined as editorial director.
Forum’s first title was the New York Times bestseller Woke Racism: How a New Religion has Betrayed Black America by the New York Times columnist John McWhorter; it will be followed in June by Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Freedom, Reason, and Tolerance by Mustafa Akyol, one of Prospect magazine’s top ten thinkers for 2021.
Books already acquired for 2023 include Mary Harrington’s Feminism Against Progress, Rakib Ehsan’s Beyond Grievance: What the Left Gets Wrong about Ethnic Minorities, and psychology professor Luke Conway’s Liberal Bullies:Why the Left has an Authoritarianism Problem and How to Fix It.
At Polity Press, Owers commissioned and edited books including Despised by Paul Embery, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution by Louise Perry and The Dignity of Labour by Jon Cruddas. He has a PhD in the history of political thought and was the youngest ever elected Cambridge City Councillor.
George Owers says: ‘I’m very excited to launch Forum. There is huge scope to publish thinkers who expand the realms of debate and aren’t afraid to question contemporary orthodoxies: it is sorely needed, and I am looking forward to publishing bold, original books that challenge groupthink.’
Mark Richards, publisher of Swift Press, says: ‘We’re thrilled to be welcoming George to Swift, and to be launching Forum. We’ve very much admired George’s commissioning at Polity Press, and his fearless publishing of books that enable debate rather than shut it down is exactly what Forum stands for.’
George can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org