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HTLGI2012: Philosopher Kings

By Dave Snowden  ·  June 5, 2012  ·  Reflections

Bad weather and to much work prevented my taking the bike into Hay today and it was a full day anyway with the emphasis switching more to political and morality.  The first session on The New Philosopher Kings saw me arrive late so I missed Philip Collins (Blair's former speech writer) opening remarks but the debate is lively.  Simon Glendinning (LSE Philosopher) outlines the development of Plato's concept arguing that leadership needs to be distinguished by knowledge and that this is different from the technocrats who dominate government.  Rana Mitter a china expert and historian points out that the current generation of Chinese leaders are engineers, not lawyers (as in the US) and engineers have a mind set which is about the best way of getting from A to B.  In the discussion Phillip rightly points out that determining if B is the right place anyway is a matter for Wisdom.   In a question I made the point that the issue is about wisdom and how its acquired, and if the popular will is the best way to achieve this.  I always thought that the US constitution had it right with the idea that you elected people who chose the President, rather than allowing popularism to triumph over perspicacity and suggested this.  I also defended Singapore from some typical western stereotypes but that did not go down well!

From there to The Empire Strikes Back with writer David Aaronovich (who I remember from an NUS conference in Harrogate in 1976), Phillip Blonde director of ResPublica, David Marquand (Labour politician) and Zoe Williams of the Guardian.   The theme was the relationship of the sovereign state to trans-national bodies and the debate was fascinating.   In particular I was impressed (and did not expect to me) by Phillip Blonde.  He introduced what would emerge over several sessions as a major difference emerging between atomistic individualism which manifests in the left as a focus on rights, and on the left as economic liberty; and communitarianism which has aspects of the old one nation Tories and a community focus on the left.   It reminded me of my days in election organisation in St Albans where I the the Tory Party agent got on like a house on fire.  He was patriarchal but felt that the Thatcherites had ignored social responsiblity, I disliked to over focus on individual rights at the cost of community identity and that was back in the 80s.  Phillip was arguing that there has to be some higher purpose, its not just about self-interest and in that we have the essence of a new way of thinking.  Marquand as ever was deeply reflective a real contrast with the popularism of modern politicians.  Some great reflections on identity.   

From there we moved on the Whats Left Now which continued a similar theme and my notes are detailed so I cannot really add much to them.  The session had some insights but was poorly chaired and Diane Abbott and Peter Thatchel were a little shrill in their polemic.

I had been impressed by Marquand's arguments in the earlier session, so his solo performance in From Mammon's Kingdom was something I looked forward to and I was not disappointed.  Again my notes here are extensive and it picks up some of the themes above.  Unfortunately the final session After Capitalism lacked the same reflective insights but something of value.

For me this was one of the most interesting of days, and I am posting with the intention of reflecting more in the future  For the moment here are the notes:

Note from After Capitalism

Ben can imagine a post capitalist world but it would be a barren landscape.  It's post. Spits list in he sense of being after our original definition, new models have emerged.  Weston model which places the individual at the heart of capitalism is challenged by models like china but also on moral grounds.  Even squirrels would be capitalist it's natural


Giles says we could glimpse something different.  At st Paul's tried to engage with City.   Had a game of gold with investment bank person who blamed bill Clinton who wanted poor people to take advantage of the fact that property prices always went up.  Blamed this for the crisis, people and politicians believe in the inevitably of growth.  Does not believe growth models are sustainable.


Meghnad references start of modernity and our believe that history is in stages so we are programmed to believe something else will follow.  Lenin thought ere would be one big crisis of capitalism and we spent the 20th C waiting for it.  Capitalism however thrives on crisis, it cures itself.m our capitalism is now geriatric while china and India are yout.  In Britain we will need to create something that allows for low growth while avoiding social unrest and fascism and that will be difficult.  We don't realise that we are going to have to adjust radically.


PANEL DISCUSSION


Ben says we have to remodel and crisis in Eurozone may provide opportunity.  Capitalism is about competition not growth and there is not enough to go around.  Ruthless and vicious competition is basic to human society, law of the jungle etc. etc (god do people still believe this).  Gilles is asked where this leaves the individual.  Says that capitalism has atomised society and damaged community, not convinced that it's all about selfishness.  Cheap wisdom in inputting to people the worst motives.  Ben responds that some of us are selfish and that is enough.  Meghnad says that we are ore Aaron rights in capitalist societies.  US got more relaxed about rights post fall of soviet union.  Argues for quality of individual life.


Giles says do we want a thick or thin society,  solidarity but lack of tolerance in thick society, but in thin society lack of solidarity, people do not support.  Ben says liberal democracy works well when people are generally well off and it means people dying elsewhere.  Meghnad says that he disagrees, argues India is democratic. 


Giles says there is no community on face book it's who you see.  Gated. Immunities behind community don't work.  Ben says. That working with friends is easy, working with a community is more difficult.  With com
Edition someone looses, so how to have a system where someone looses, it's how we are but it has not worked.
Chairs swap between Ben and Giles with Giles arguing that competition is not enough.


Meghnad points out that scandinavia capitalism is different from Germany etc. but change  annoy be dinged, but it will happen and quality of leadership will make a difference.  Capitalism allows local modifications.

 

(no philosophers on this panel and it shows)


(me gay. Marriage loss of inhibition social control removes  ...)

Note from Mammon's Kingdom

David Marquand says he is writing a book about this with the same title.  Says we are almost back there in the great depression.  But there is something odd about it, debate about it but it hasn't got to the heart of the matter.  No analysis of the cultural and moral elements of the crisis, instead have been playing blame games.   Right blame labour government, left blame banks.  If you look at the figures there is truth in both of these statements.  But that is evading the issue as the bankers and new labour were not aliens there was a syndrome of debt fuelled consumption that affected the whole of society.

Pre crisis britainwas amerry go round of debt feud consumption and desire, you can't simply allocate blame you have to look t the whole culture.  Syndrome was product of a cultural revolution that started in the 70s and exemplified in the fall of three elites that post war ran  Britain.   The clericy (stole from. Coleridge means writers, thinkers, poets etc). Examples include George Orwell and mill.  Second is the public service elete,  departments of state,  judges, major schools etc who saw themselves as up in servants and finally the (oft neglected) working class elege,  eg  ton Bevins in the post war government and Arthur Horner of the NUM.   the society they led was cruel, low social mobility, male dominated.  References the persecution of Turin. But it was also a stable society and structures people. Our hang to.  The churches the trade unions,large employers, Queens Christmas message etc.  gave identity.  

Lost legitimacy in the 70s, people thought they woud get get of elites, but instead we get eletes of money and celebrity and the syndrome evolved from this.

We saw a loss of memory which is apparent in the economic field.  Brown with a first in history believed that he had abolished them.  The Qants thought they had invented something that woud abolish risk, and that. Fuelled the boom.   That orthodoxy reined from the 80s to the early shears of this century.   Another factor is the attrition of the public realm (professional duty, equity etc) separate from market realm and private realm.   A civilised society needs one and we had one that evolved over a few hundred years, then it went into reverse.  So thatcher and Blair try and force public realm institutions into the market sector.  Brown review of higher education and Lansbury review of NHS are barbarism.  With this has gone a remorseless increase win inequality.  Churchill was a raving socialist. Y the standards of the modern conservative party. 

Inequality rose remorselessly during the thatcher regieme and also under Blair although a title less steeply.   For a long time polls have shown that 70% think that the gap is too wide, but only 30% support the idea of government redistributing that wealth.  What does this mean?  Suggests that this growth in inequality has resulted in a massive loss of trust in each other and government to do something about it.

Finally the failure of democratic society.  It has always been the case that money talks.  It seems to him that the vague idea that capitalism and democracy go together, but this is a gross simplification.  Not all capitalist societies are democracies.   The problem is that you have to be a democracy in a modern world to be legitimate.  charismatic popularism (Blair and Thatcher) claims a direct line to the soverign people.  Focus groups replace democracy,  democracy becomes a shopping list. Brown could not hack this.

My question and reaponse; Burke had an ethic of stewardship,  communitarian links one nation Tories with non liberal left. Reference to st Albans elections .  Also size of country to make individual differences very visible.

Another question relate to the role of state with the end of empire etc. a s being part of the change.

Note from Whats left now

One lt wing down disiussioned and cynical ( description of audience at festival)

Diane starts by saying its fashionable to left is dead, but we still live in an era of inequality within the UK as well as internationally.  It's where you stand between powerful and powerless, and those verities of power and inequality have not altered.  Blair and new labour trashed the brand, decrying everything it ever stood for.  Worth remembering that the left won battles on gender equality, gay rights etc.  Racial issues.

Peter references his leaving labour appalled by Blair etc.  now on the left of the green party, but grassroots democratic empowering socialising. Left has an oppositionalist stance,knows what it is against but not what it is for.   We have moment now with the failure of markets but there are few if any radical alternatives..  Lack of ale natives means not Credible.  Single issue campaigns (per Diane) have been the success not class based policies, despite the fact that class is fundamental.   (He can' pronounce plaid Cymru).  Wants a broad left alliance not sectarian/tribal.

Jamie is surprised at the pessimistic tone of the left.   In general have state housing, progressive taxation, educate health etc. so broadly Britain is a planned economy,   We have a left wing society, allele,ends of life are subject to government regulation designed to promote your welfare.   The left is nevr satisfied - why?   The answer is that left winges have a vision, not clearly articulated, but actual society never conforms to it.  It can never really work, because on the whole British left wins are devel people and not totalitarian, so cannot push hard enough to get their vision.   Obesity is a problem with a left wing mentality.  Does not fit left wing vision of society, so talk about micro initiatives such as taxing fatty foods and other initiatives so things spiral out of control. 

Phillip Says very little is left now, as in large part it has won but has failed to deliver on its promise, namely to remove pover.  Under Blair things got worse, so if you won and this got worse you need to rethink.   The right has also lost, little one nation radical Tory right left.   Liberalism is the dominant ruling ideology.  It has a collective wing and an indivual wing.  Resolution of one leads to the other.   A society based on individuals is that the strong win evening, then you have to create the nation state.  Liberalism has won, but  rights based discourse is based on something liberals cant cope - references abortion, Rita cannot be resold without an objective account of the good.  All have lost this.   Feminism modelled women on a patriarchal basis, no children.  We should allow them back in at a higher level of. Wages, that is about inequality.   So where do we get an objective idea of the good?   The left is socially libertarian and has destroyed family strucutue which walks hand in hand with riot wing economic liberalism. Both are wrong.   Under the guise of rights and liberties and single issues and politics we have delivered wealth to the elete.  We need a new form of communitarianism.

DEBATE BETWEEN SPEAKERS

What was the left? Diane says the other speakers have not talked about power, historically labour party was the parliamentary wing of organised labour.  Peter says fundamental mistake as to argue that means to power was ownership of means of production.  But there was no real change,  the left fetishes ownership to the neglect of control.  Phillip in part agrees with Peter, commissar class displaces people.  Redistributive state cannot and has not solved policy, does not change basic power relationships.  Fight about who was responsible for change in the 70s.  Jamie agrees those things are left wing.  In the 19th century a liberal would have been left wing because they didn't like privaledge.  But this has changed, the concept of rights has. Hanged from 'liberties' in the 19th C to 'entitlements'. The left want to accumulate power in the centre then distribute, but the left is now hostile to movements as they may want something which does not match your vision.

Question on what a the issues?  Philip says distinction on left is between liberals and socialists.  The former are too focused on rights an destroy community.  In favour of gay marriage but thing heterosexual,arrive is a form of facism.  That has been damaging to the left. (chair interrupts again and does allow him to complete which is a pain obsessed with means and ends).  (Dianne abot playing personal anecdotes against concepts again - never sure of that game but popular).   That hell says conflict between liner and equality characterises left and we need both.  Feels economic democracy is the most important, where we have a dictatorship of the few.  Wants measure of economic democracy thought legal requirement for worker and consumer directors for all companies with more than 50 people and decentralise economic power for example allowing employee mutual control to take over pension funds.  Jamie says the problem with democracy is that everyone has one vote ,but in economic erms you coud not align demand and supply, democracy is calamitous.

Lefts future role.  Phillip says the only future the left has is because the right has not create a popular capitalism,but has allowed capture of markets by the few.  So we now have a new form of serfdom. 
The left has to tackle things the way Peter suggested   Creating an Adam smith economy in which everyone owns and trades.   What we have is capitalism captured.  Diane repeats her point about being on the left is where you stand and you need to limit the workings of the free market.  References bankers making money from gambling with tax payers paying the consequence.   Jeremy says that a free market in finance would have meant that we were not in hock, it s constrained.   Infest rates are set by government agency, so we do not have a free market in capital.

AUDIENCE QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS

Diane raised issue of blue collar males and loss of jobs resulting in violence.  Phillip agrees that this is the frightening reality that neither left or right can deal with.  Whole generations hit.   Second wave will hit middle class professionals and we have no plan.   Everyone is getting As at A level but we are now 32nd in the world for literacy,  British education is failing.  Phillip repeats we need the debate between liberalism and Communitarianism.

Equality of opportunity question.  Chair asks again for means to achieve it?  Jamie says that we have scarce resources so people will be disappointed.  Everything is regulated. The left have what they have asked for so maybe there is something wrong with the ideas.   Peter argues again that the left are against things but do not have answers.   There are a raft of ideas to handle economic position.  For example the very rich should do their duty and make personal sacrifices.  A 20% graduated tax on most wealthy.  Phillip is ok with the idea, but the left have stopped talking abut morality.  After Marx it became statist.  Regulation won't deliver justice.   We need to rebalance the system,  radical free market approach with ethical economy, low barriers to markt entry etc.  Have to create new cultural norms and visibility of people's ability to confirm. 

Question about need to be international not just national.  Peter agrees that economic justice is global,  need a global agenda to shift economy in a different direction.  One off 20% wealth tax would pay off the national debt. 

Basic income for all would remove poverty.  Dianne says a combination of child benefit and taxation would guarantee an income

SUMMARY
Philip says the left should stop being liberal, needs to recast language of association and. Old unity and reting it's politics Moreland social economy around that.
Jamie agrees a little, left needs to realise they are following a hopless past, need to step back and think.  Disagrees with communitarian idea of Phillip
Peter says radical practical alternatives are needed.   Advertises his talk tomorrow
Dianne needs to remember that Blair was not left, needs to be internationalist, needs to be completely embraced of politics of genr and race (falling into the single issue campaign problem)

Note from The Empire Strikes back

Zoe Williams
David Aaronovitch
David Marquand
Phillip Blonde.  Res publica think tank
Chair Rana Mitter

Zoe  tradectory of chaos means that people seek unity, but when chaos arrives you want control.  Interests only opposed when things are really really bad.  She thinks fiscal unity will look worse and worse

Phillip the nation state is not natural, history is about empire.  Nation state is source of great. Carnage. End of pax Christiania which through moral codes and rules mirrored roman rule, then we get kings with exclusive and absolute power.  A good empire is better than any other human formation and you get a productive civitas.  We know have financial empires that are notcultural empires.  EU model would only have worked with political and cultural union.  So question is can we create one?  Church, Islam and a type of capitalism (strict winners and loosers) are the only ideologies.  What. An we create to handle globalistion.

David A referenced Counter reformation tendencies of Phillip,  says he is a Whig and Protestant as envy meant that we got the rights discourse.  However more sympathetic with later points.  Mobility of finance and people (and now information and knowledge) from the 90s has. Hanged everything.  Britain cannot be isolated.  Interdependence is so high, so Ida a country is in or out of the euro doesn't matter we R all impacted.  We haven't solved this in a democratic sense, he used to believe that the European parliament would do this but know realises this was wrong.

David M asked who are the empires?  USA expanded through slavery and genocide but was the dominant empire.  China is up oming, but it's not a nation state.   India is growing up but hardly national and then the is Europe.  Problem for Europe is that the rise of the rest is very difficult to accommodate.   Myth is hat we are civilised the rests are barbarians from the Greeks to the current day.  Heirs of enlightenment etc. is patently rubbish.  Tragedy of European union is that the finding fathers were technocrats and scared/dispised politics.  Take the crucial decisions away from politicians and the people.  So how can we cure this democratic void, suggests election for European Presidnt.

DISCUSSION BETWEEN SPEAKERS

David A does not think America is doomed or that china will succeed.  China will havea to mould the world around it, so they have to become more interventionist but they do not have a policy.   There are other international bodies.   The anti-politics movement (such as office of budget responsibility) is 50 years old because you cannot trust the people you have elected. 

Zoe says you. Could elect a president but it would mean nothing, your  vote would mean nothing. 

David M reminds us that EU was about stopping the endless cycle of war, in particular the conflict between France and Germany.  One person could have lived through both world wars and the Franco Prussian war.   French and German elites devised a structure to make it impossi le.  Coal and Steel were the sinews of industrials and military power.

Phillip points out that extreme right and left conflict with extreme inequity at a world level, elites capturing huge amounts of wealth.    We have not developed institutions that can deal with this.  We need a cultural form to deal with tis, and it is an empire

David A is unhappy with 'empire' due to baggage.  Britain has to combine with others to parley with china etc.

Zoe hard to determine rules and principles, if you don't have then you end up more atomised.

Phillip religion is more and more important, and Islam is a bad one.   Need something out there.   Need to bind together to meet the crisis, can't go it alone.   Zoe is arguing for smaller.

David M says that nation states are facing issue of how much to cede to Europe, but also how much to 'buried nations' such as Wales.  Thinks that devolution Wales is becoming a nation, the scots have always been one.  Look at France where Corsica, provene etc.  all emerging.  Phillip agrees and says that the response to globalism is the reawakens of older forms of political entity.

AUDIENCE

First question suggests that environmental crisis will overwhelm this.   Zoe says you can cooperate without being part of the same structure.  David M disagrees and says that certain rules have to be set transnationallly to avoid free riders.

Another question suggested nested scales of government; you can be loca, regional and global.
A second (before panel response) asks what the implications of a G-zero world and no one can step up to do something.

David A says we should realise that international rules have been successful  post WWII.  Direct invasion is rare. International criminal court etc.  all have shown progress.   Philip says that increasingly nation states are opting out of trans-national institutes, but we need a common sense of values.

Question from audience asks if fascism is more akin to the nation state. 

Panel finish off.  David M says that nationalism is the essence of faciam, but we should not think of either global or national or local, we have to have multiple identities.  Evolution of a global jurisprudence is interesting as it has escaped the boundaries of the nation state.   David A says. An we have exclusive it's with inclusivity.  How do we cope with mobility and local identity.  Can see the value of universal moral values.  Phillip says we need a new human universalism, but secular popularism cannot do it and facism is a real danger.  Thinks we are entering a form of Neo-medaevalism whe there is no single as ascenncy but so many sources of power and networks.  Zoe dictatorships are expansionary so against empires norm, while democracies not not expanse ry (WHAT).

Note from The new Philosopher Kings

Missed Philip  but saying that there is a role for philosophers

Simon. All prime ministers should have a phd which reflects what plato said.  Fitness for leadership requires a distinction from those ruled and this distinction belongs in knowledge.  Technocrats are meant to be independent,factual. But this is not about governance

Rana specialist on china  on tenth anniversary of ten amen square.  Greek philosophy emerged in a aeries of small warring states.   Compares with china at time of Confucius   Idea of hierarchy key and at the entre of its world view.   4th May 1919. Student demo under banner of two words mr science and mr democracy.  Present day and tension between society in which 380m are on web and best selling work is a simplified verse on of Confucius aphorisms.   Rise of a technocratic leadership trained as engineers, but no philosophical underpinning.  Liberal democrats need to find answer to Chinese question.

DISCUSSION BETWEEN SPEAKERS
Philip distinguishes between technocrat and philosopher king.  One says how to get from A to B the other decides if B is a good place to go.  Reference to 'trains running on time' against last speaker who was arguing that china had been pragmatic.
Phillip t here has never been a truant who did not abrogate to themselves the general will.  All utopian. Oops never talk about the transition from the criticism of the current state to the ideal end point.
Simon references rawls on justice.
Simon argues for speaking freely and publicly
Philip politics is the art of the possible and it's small things to make it better
Chair asks if technocrats are inescapable
Reference to Derrida but justice must not be bound to power

QUESTIONS
I made the yea minister point and it was as ever misinterpret.   Also how do you gain wisdom in leadership etc.  I also defended singapore

Only 2% of population are members of political parties

Simon references the facts that political parties used to be linked to movements and no longer.