The Tories’ intellectual decline feedly

The Tories’ intellectual decline
// Stumbling and Mumbling

We on the left use the word “Thatcherite” as an insult. Perhaps we shouldn’t, because Thatcherism was vastly more intellectually coherent than the childish gibberish that passes for Conservatism today.

I’m prompted to say this by an astonishing lead article in the Telegraph, which tries to blame “Project Fear” for the economic slowdown that triggered yesterday’s cut in Bank rate. It says:

If Britain is indeed experiencing a dent in consumer confidence then it is not down to Brexit – for that hasn’t actually happened yet.

The flaw here is so horrifically obvious that I’m embarrassed to point it out. Quite simply, the future affects the present because people act upon expectations. If they expect prices to rise, businessmen will raise prices now. If they expect good times, they’ll spend and if they don’t, they won’t. Yes Milton Friedman – one of the intellectual fathers of Thatcherism – was wrong to say the future is all that matters, but he was right to say that it matters to some extent.

Thatcherites, of course, knew this. In fact, it was the centrepiece of their economic policy. As 1980’s Medium Term Financial Strategy said (pdf):

The speed with which inflation falls will depend crucially on expectations both within the United Kingdom and overseas. It is to provide a firm basis for those expectations that the Government has announced its firm commitment to a progressive reduction in money supply growth.

Of course, inflation expectations didn’t fall as much as they hoped, which caused a bigger recession than they expected. But no Thatcherite would have been so stupid as to dismiss the role of expectations altogether.

This is not the only way in which the Telegraph has lost touch with Thatcher. She said:

An economy will work best when it is built on a framework of clear and predictable rules on which individuals and companies can depend when making their own plans…Government’s primary economic task is to frame and enforce such rules.

This, of course, is 100% opposed to the policy advocated by the Telegraph.

What we have here, then, is a massive gulf between Thatcherism and today’s Tories. You might think that, as a lifelong anti-Thatcherite, I’d welcome this. I would, if Thatcherism were replaced in the Telegraph’s mind (I use the word in its most elastic sense) with some superior alternative. But this is not the case. I think Thatcherism was wrong. But it was at least tolerably coherent. Her epigones today instead offer just a ragbag of cognitive biases such as wishful thinking, overconfidence and the confirmation bias. The intellectual standard of Conservatives has, it seems, slumped since the 80s.


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Between the Forest and the Hills


Just finished re-reading Ann Lawrence’s book ‘Between the Forest and the Hills’. Still a lovely, warm hearted, tale of the later days of the Roman Empire and the coming of the Saxons – with a couple of angels and a miracle or two thrown in for good measure.  I have the 1977 hardback edition – only worth mentioning because it has everything that a ‘proper’ children’s book should have: it’s set in Bembo, there are line drawn maps and neat, black and white illustrations – perfect in every sense.

‘This looks to us like a dying age. A last blaze of summer and then the long darkness. But that’s not what it’ll look

like from the other end of the night. Man! to our children’s children’s children this will be an age of miracles. An age of saints and heroes! The tales arc already gathering round us, even while we re moaning about the drabness of everything.

How Saint Malleus defeated the Saxons – how about that one then? How the Blessed Ramus and Astragalus marched out to convert them, that’s another good one. Then there’s the High Deeds of Torcula the Prince – oh yes, he’ll be part of Our history too, and can you say he’s unworthy of his place? Ye – Heavenly powers, we’re picking up the gold of legends like – like pollen on your feet when you ugh a field of buttercups. And you don’t need to worry about whether or not they’re facts. They’re better than that – they’re true!’

Between the Forest and the Hills

Five important things about Myth

From Karen Armstrong’s ‘A Short History of Myth’

‘First, it is nearly always rooted in the experience of death and the fear of extinction.

Second…Mythology is usually inseparable from ritual. Many myths make no sense outside a liturgical drama that brings them to life, and are incomprehensible in a profane setting.

Third…The most powerful myths are about extremity; they force us to go beyond our experience. There are moments when we all, in one way or another, have to go to a place that we have never seen, and do what we have never done before. Myth is about the unknown; it is about that for which initially we have no words. Myth therefore looks into the heart of a great silence.

Fourth, myth is not a story told for its own sake. It shows us how we should behave…Correctly understood, mythology puts us in the correct spiritual or psychological posture for right action, in this world or the next.

Finally, all mythology speaks of another plane that exists alongside our own world, and that in some sense supports it. Belief in this invisible but more powerful reality, sometimes called the world of the gods, is a basic theme of mythology. It has been called the Perennial Philosophy because it informed the mythology, ritual and social organisation of all societies before the advent of our scientific modernity, and continues to influence more traditional societies today. According to the perennial philosophy everything that happens in this world, everything we can hear and see here below has its counterpart in the divine realm which is richer, stronger and more enduring than our own. And every earthly reality is only a pale shadow of its archetype, the original pattern, of which it is simply an imperfect copy. It is only by participating in this divine life that mortal, fragile human beings fulfil their potential. The myths gave explicit shape and form to a reality that people sensed intuitively. They told them how the gods behaved, not out of idle curiosity or because these tales were entertaining, but to enable men and women to imitate these powerful beings and experience divinity themselves.’  pp 3-4

Five important things about Myth