Thursday, September 16, 2010

Back is the way up

During the last century there have been numerous thinkers and politicians who offered us a third way between the opposing ideologies of capitalism and socialism.

From Mussolini, to Keynes, to Macmillan, to Giddens and Blair, they've all taken the Hegelian and Marxist idea of dialectic synthesis and assumed that progress will come about by reconciling the two ideologies towards the tritely called "radical centre".

Anyone picking up Nick Boles MP new book, "Which Way's Up?", might find themselves thinking that, whilst it does not explicitly use the term it is essentially arguing for an elusive "third way" between the first and second ways defined by the capitalism of the right and the socialism of left. If they think this though, they're making a mistake.

Putting aside the rather eye-catching conclusion that Boles draws about the necessity for an electoral pact between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in order to win a second term, thus not wasting the opportunity to radically reform Britain. The book, underneath all the policy, appears to be an argument in favour of the "Nought Way" rather than a "Third".

Boles essentially argues for a wholesale rejection of governing based on the ideological divides of the 20th Century, and in effect, calls for a return to how we did things before the folly of the "first" and "second" ways that resulted in probably the bloodiest century in the history of the human race.

Boles argues against our obsession with the sanctity of markets as the pure and natural order of things, and with equal vigour rejects the idea of an overbearing state that fiddles with the social fabric in an attempt to perfect the nature of man.

The pragmatic approach that Boles argues for is one where, for example, "prosperity" is a guiding economic principle, not whether or not your actions are consistent with ideology. As Boles put it,
The Victorians built history's greatest empire off the back of the ingenuity and industry of the British people, massive investment in public infrastructure and a whole-hearted commitment by the British state to help British businesses exploit international trade. The coalition government needs to rediscover the nineteenth-century brashness and, with its elbows out in the world's bazaars, do whatever it takes to help Britain's businesses achieve commercial success"
This reversal back to a time before the ideological divide is not just an economic one though. Boles calls for a decentralisation and redistribution of power to the local level. Yes, this is not the first time we've heard about localism, but in essence, what localism means is the dismantling of the centralisation that the 20th Century brought about.

There are, naturally, other areas of policy explored by Boles as he puts forward a programme for a sustained period of coalition Britain and its potential, but whilst these ideas are welcome, it is the subtext rejection of the 20th Century that is, non-intuitively, the real radicalism within.

It's a book which argues that a coalition based upon a shared bedrock of general pre-20th Century liberal principles, brings the opportunity for "Government to govern" in a genuinely pragmatic sense, rather than a Government restricted by the ideology of last century.

Boles' message seems to me to be this: The "old way" is the new "new way", and the Left and Right should realise their time is at an end.

The book is available here.

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