Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Clarifying something

I've had an e-mail complaining that this post is too long. Shuggy has gone one step further, and written a post saying (nicely) that it's wrong.

However, I have the drop on Shuggy here. I know what the post was meant to say. And Shuggy hasn't really understood what I meant to say. He has, however, given me some perfectly reasonable criticisms of what I actually did say. So I suppose we can er ... call it a draw?

Actually, looking back on it, I've missed a couple of vital disclaimers that change the meaning of a lot of the post. Blogging is part-time and unpaid – that's my defence. So, here, I'll do two things to remedy this, as briefly as I can.

Firstly, I'll correct the misunderstandings. Secondly, I'll summarise what I intended to say.

Firstly, Shuggy says:
“His argument, if I've understood him correctly, is that Protestantism is more illiberal - in practice if not in theory - than Catholicism and that this has fed into politics and finds its secular shadow in the tension between 'liberals' and 'democrats'.”
Though that post looked like it was about religion, it wasn't intended as such. I just wanted to use some observations about religious debate to illustrate other matters. I was actually trying - rather clumsily - to use the type of Protestantism that is all too evident in Northern Ireland to illustrate some of the problems with individualism and liberalism. It wasn't intended as any kind of defence of Catholicism, and I allowed the modern fudge of liberal high-ish churchness and 'Catholicism' to become interchangeable in a way that I didn't intend.

For the avoidance of doubt, I accept that Catholicism has all of the reactionary potential of Free Presbytarianism. Even on a whimsical level, Anne Widdecombe left the C of E because it was no longer reactionary enough for her – and she chose to run to the Roman church.

I was, however, preferring an 'aristocratic' form of government to the (small) one that some radical liberals would choose. I think that radical protestantism illustrates the shortcomings of some radical liberals – but I wouldn't intend to take this any further than that.

And – clarifying a second point – in using the term 'aristocratic', I was referring to the concerns of about democracy voiced by Plato, Burke, Mill and Schumpeter among many others. Not literally aristocratic in the way it is commonly understood (resolving itself into oligarchy and plutocracy). More 'aristocratic' in that it involves an administration of people who are expected to use their judgement and access expertise.

It's an application of the word that I've found in various texts, but I can't remember what they are now, and I can see why anyone would bridle at the way I used it. One of Burke's speeches is the single most quoted text on this blog (apart from Brian Clough's biography).

So, here's what I meant to say:
  • I listened to a Protestant being interviewed, and it reminded me of something that worries me about the kind of future that many radical liberals would like to promote.
  • Protestants – like many radical liberals – prefer to leave many important judgements to individuals who don't enjoy the vantage points that more aristocratic experienced well-connected and publically accountable individuals have.
  • Those 'aristocratic' individuals (in practice, elected representatives) are likely to make decisions that will result in a better and more tolerant society. This is less likely to be the case in a political settlement that fetishises individual liberties.
Radical liberals often object to some institutions because they are seen to be a project of 'elites'. I suppose this is what I was trying to illustrate with my Catholic / Prod opposition. The EU and the BBC are good examples, but I would argue that radical liberals are often really gunning for representative democracy itself.

This attack on democracy is rarely explicit - indeed, it is often cloaked in demands for more democracy - and there are large sections of the chattering classes that routinely fall for this.

I hope this clears everything up. ;-)

Update: It occurs to me that I could have saved a lot of typing here with a reference to the low church - whig - liberal continuum.

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