Saturday, November 26, 2005

Beyond Right and Left, by David McKnight

What a very agreeable book this is! For many a year now I’ve longed for what I would call a ‘no frills’ government, devoid of all ideological underpinnings, whether they be of a left or right bent. Instead of looking towards socialist or free market orthodoxies to answer our political questions, we would rather decide issues using common sense. In a sense, this means pretty much a conservative government.

The common people mostly rely on common sense when making life’s day to day decisions. It seems wrong and unrealistic to try and permanently fix onto people either left or right dogmas, in the belief that this will improve both them and their lifestyles.

In David McKnight’s book he gently sweeps away all of the rusted on left / right ideologies. What he leaves behind is basically an old fashioned, common sense conservative politics. In doing this, he shows that we are in fact limited in what we can change about ourselves, and in who we are, and that we should accept this. Once we have accepted that endless rule by markets are not realistic or in our best interests, and that on the other hand endless, unquestioned welfare is no good either, we can then sit down and see what is the best way to live.

This is essentially an argument about ‘getting the balance right’. So while we may be critical of the dominant neo-liberal dogma of the rule of markets, we simply cannot ignore that it is capitalism that has generated so much wealth and prosperity for our civilisation. And again, while we may be critical of welfare dependency, this does not mean that the interests of the common wealth will not be paramount to our society.

That, in a nutshell, is what I think David McKnight’s book is about. McKnight covers a lot of ground in this book, discussing in a fair amount of detail the rise of neo-liberal thought, the obsolescence of socialist thought (why this is making Labor seem more and more irrelevant) and a host of other ‘isms’.

I truly believe that David McKnight has captured the problem of our current political situation. We don’t need any more fancy new political theories, trying to create something out of nothing. The choices are quite simple. Do we want universal health care, or do we want it run by the market? Do we want to blame all sorts of crime on social upbringing, rather than suggesting people should take more reponsibility for their actions?

In some ways, people might find this book a bit of a let down. This book shows us our very human limitations. We simply can’t live up to the grand political ideas and movements that have sprung out of the heads of very talented people. We will never live in some type of Marxist utopia. We will never fully eradicate sexism and racism. That will continue. But having accepted this, we can look to see what we can do. Using a common sense approach, and accepting that we are all human and essentially the same, a more inclusive politics may be possible.

Beyond Right and Left is not full of grand, awe inspiring ideas. In fact, it is writing against this sort of utopian idealism. I believe, however, that it is the only real way forward in politics. McKnight has perfectly captured all our current political woes. I sincerely doubt a better book will be written on this subject for some time come. If the Labor party has any sense, it will be studying this book keenly.

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