The power of positivity in politics│ Jake Scott
Negativity is the natural, resting state of each person’s mind. We begin our lives, devoid of any knowledge of who we are, by differentiating ourselves based on what we are not. The result is simple, but dangerous: it is easier to attack and criticise something than it is to find the things you love and powerfully argue for them. Harder still for the conservative, who intimately loves the things he has that are consequently under attack, as opposed to the socialist, who loves the things he does not have, but are nice to dream about.
Negativity, consequently, is a powerful tool for grouping human beings into vast blocs, arrayed against… something, yet bound together by nothing at all. We all, as thoughtful and reasonable people, oppose fascism, for example – but the rhetoric of Antifa and similar groups leads us to believe that we must, by necessity, join the “anti-fascist” groups in their endeavours. How deceptive this is: we may be together in what we resist, but we are not together in what we are aiming to build.
When the student riots of May 1968 in Paris erupted in a dire attempt to tear down what existed without ever explicitly stating what they were in favour of, the grim reality of a negative world-view stared us in the face. Hidden behind gobbledegook slogans such as “be realistic: demand the impossible” and “it is forbidden to forbid” was a venomous desire to remove the structures that had built the very liberty they were exercising in their protests. The historical evidence is not confined to Paris alone: in San Francisco in the 1960s, as Ernesto Laclau discussed in his essay “Democracy and the question of power”, the many protests by disadvantaged groups failed to overturn the structures they railed against because they never united behind a cohesive, single idea of unity.
But, negativity can only get you so far. Indeed, we do not have to go back decades to see this truth: we need only look at June of this year. As our election strategy was centred around negative campaigning, and the personality cults the polls seemed to have been indicating, we forgot to make the positive case for our own beliefs. I have discussed elsewhere my thoughts on the significance of a failure to articulate a positive message, and Matt Cowley’s article on the need for a positive message is exceptionally insightful, but this must extend out from election strategies alone.
Countless commentators and articles lately have stated the need for the Conservatives to make the positive message for capitalism, to try and win back the disillusioned young from the grip of Marxism. But this can only work if they can create a system in which capitalism works for them, not the big business bosses alone: British capitalism needs reforming, there is no doubt about that. No-one just seems to know how.
I can’t profess to know the answers, and economics is never my strong suit anyway. However, even as capitalism may need reforming, its successes do not speak for themselves – we must articulate them instead. We need to point out the massive increases in global living standards, the decline in global poverty, the power of entrepreneurialism, the liberty capitalism exhibits, and so on, that global capitalism has brought to us – but has not brought to us all. Of course, relative poverty is a problem, and it should be addressed as such – but poverty is not a by-product of capitalism, it is instead the natural state of humanity that capitalism has helped to overcome.
But capitalism is only one part of the debate. We cannot simply become Labour with a libertarian label: we need to make the positive case for the things we hold dear. Patriotism, and faith in one’s country and countrymen, should not be dismissed – last year, the greatest expression of faith in our country since the Second World War was heard. Voting to leave the European Union was not merely a negative moment, a rejection of rule by Brussels and the European project; it was a powerfully positive declaration of belief in Britain, the freedom we have inherited over generations, and the international worldview that Britons have always possessed. This local loyalty is the underpinning power that all democratic politics rests on – if we lose the connections between us, we lose the desire to improve things for everyone.
The industry of the individual, as well, needs to be championed. Corbyn’s Labourism, and the identity politics it rests on like a crooked crutch, reduces the individual to his characteristics, as if they were prescriptive determinants of how he should behave, and attempts to say, “this is all you will ever be”. The idea that all people of the same creed behave the same way, or the same colour, the same sex and so on, is as absurd as saying people of the same height will always behave the same. Instead, we should hold up models of behaviour as exemplars and standards to strive for, and prove to people that it is not their background that determines their future, but the way they conduct themselves in polite society.
There are many other causes we must not only defend, but make the positive case for, and I’m sure we will at length. But, it seems to me, the three pressing issues are those I’ve listed above: the disillusionment with the power of the free market; the rejection of the importance of local loyalties and community; and the attack on the very identity of the individual. All of which are under threat from Corbyn’s Labour.