March 25, 2012


"Capitalism Should Not Be Run By Capitalists": Last year, the British journalist Charles Moore caused a stir in conservative circles when he asked: Has the Left been right after all? Now, he sat down with Martin Eiermann to discuss contemporary conservatism, the future of Europe, and the comfort of original sin. (Charles Moore, 20.03.2012, The European)

The European: It seems to me that the crisis extends beyond a strict focus on markets. Religion has traditionally been an anchor for conservatism, but the influence of religion seems to be on the decline. In the context of gay rights or environmental regulation, conservative ideas are increasingly out of step with popular opinion. 

Moore: I think it is true that conservative ideas have to be articulated differently. The state of capitalism has been misrepresented. If you are a true believer in the free market, you are - as Tony Blair put it - on the side of the many, not the few. Adam Smith's argument was that transparency and the rule of law are important for free markets to function properly. Markets should not be controlled by the capitalists because their interests are not the same as the public interests. But here is the real problem: Everyone has gotten rather confused about the balance of liberty and authority. British conservatives are very keen to appeal to the nation-state. But free trade and the European Union have subverted that order. The EU is essentially opposed to the political unit of the nation-state, and conservatives instinctively feel threatened by that. The British government has decided that the Euro will collapse, and it tries to stand in the right spot when it does. The assumption is that Britain will ultimately benefit from a collapse of the Eurozone.

The European: German conservatives tend to be very pro-European. So is this a conservative confusion or a British peculiarity? 

Moore: It's an Anglo-Saxon thing. The whole human rights discourse presents a certain threat to our political liberty because it transfers authority from our own elected representatives to a foreign jurisdiction.

The European: Would you be more in favor of the EU if it had more democratic structures? 
Moore: Yes, in principle, but No in practice. In order to have these structures, you need a demos - shared assumptions about culture and history - that does not exist in Europe. The European Parliament is merely a pretense of democracy. The crisis of the Eurozone is now vindicating a lot of British sentiments about the problems of the European Union. What we said about the EU in the late 1980s has turned out to be right, and for almost the exact reasons that we mentioned. What we have not been able to do is answer questions about the balance between free trade and the independence of the nation-state. Mervyn King said that "the big banks are global in life but national in death." They come home to die, and we have to pay for their funeral. That is a very bad situation and leads us to espouse a vaguely Marxist view of the world: the view that decisions are made at the international level without taking our interests into account. The way the EU is run is essentially an international elite that gives each other jobs and pensions. And when they make a mess of things, they try to run the countries that have been messed up by their policies. For example, the current Greek government has never been elected. That is very alarming. [...]

The European: You earlier invoked Gramsci. Are you an optimist of the heart?

Moore: Yes, because of a Christian belief in original sin. It is a very comforting doctrine. If you know that you are bad, there is a sense that we are all in this together. The people who think that human nature is intrinsically good have to wonder why the world is so bad. But if you embrace your badness, you can review it and improve as a result. Free societies do that, and it is particularly strong in the Anglo-Saxon world. I have always been bothered by the tendency of contemporary European culture to sweep things under the carpet. One thing that European nations don't want to do right now is analyze why they are in this economic mess.

And the reason the Left and Right get reality so wrong, as Mr. Moore mentions, is that the one thinks the State is not Fallen and the other thinks Business is not.

Posted by at March 25, 2012 9:48 AM

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