Sunday, July 19, 2009

The march of history leftwards

Without subscribing too much to the Whig view of history as an inevitable progression, it does seem that there has been a trend over the past few centuries for progressive policies that have seemed very radical at the time to be adopted and then to become the conventional wisdom. There has been a march of history leftwards, so to /br /In the 18th century, few in Europe or the Americas wanted to abolish slavery. It was considered a very radical measure when the revolutionary French government decreed the abolition of slavery. However, as the 19th century went on, the abolition of slavery as a good in itself became the conventional wisdom. Conservatives who would have considered the abolition of slavery excessively radical in 1800 would have seen their successors, later on, cheer the end of slavery in Brazil in /br /The idea of a Parliament that represented the entire population was once seen as radical and revolutionary and confined to those seen as on the extreme Left. Reform Bills failed before the passage of the 1832 Great Reform Act. Parliament finally agreed to the 1832 Reform Act but, many of centrist and conservative opinions thought that it would be the last one. “Finality Jack” – Lord John Russell – earned his nickname because he thought the 1832 bill would be the final bill that was needed to reform the British electoral system. Instead, as history marched on, there were further Reform Bills – in 1867 and 1884-5. The idea of enfranchising all householders had been seen as a radical, left-wing idea and, by the 1880s, was becoming conventional /br /It was the same with women’s suffrage. In the 19th century, it was seen as ideal confined to a few cranks and feminists. But, by 1918, it became convention wisdom among right-wing politicians in Britain that the time had come for women to be enfranchised. In France and Italy, this step took longer but – in the 1940s – even conservatives in these countries accepted that women should have the same rights to vote as men. An idea that had started out on the radical fringe had become conventional /br /At the start of the 20th century, many thought that State should not take measures to support people in old age and sickness. Lloyd George was being radical when he put forward the ideas of a state pension, sickness pay and unemployment benefit. However, these ideas – seen as left-wing and radical – eventually become part of the centre ground and then part of the conventional wisdom. Nowadays, many on the Right would support them and wouldn’t think for a moment that the state should not have an unemployment benefit or some kind of state pension provision [although they might not think they should be particularly generous].br /br /In terms of the House of Lords, right-wing, conventional, Conservative thought had always been that it should be co-equal with the Commons. The struggle over the 1911 Parliament Act emphasised this. However, once it had been passed it became the new conventional wisdom that the Commons should be clearly and unambiguously recognised as the more powerful chamber. It became the consensus. Nowadays few Conservatives would say that the current House of Lords should have its powers increased so it can veto the House of /br /The creation of the NHS and the expansion of the Welfare State can be seen as another example of this. Labour in the 1940s was being radical in extending nationalisation, extending the welfare state and creating a health service free at the point of use. Many conservatives and vested interests like the BMA opposed them. However, once created, the NHS became something that both parties pledged their support for. The Conservatives accepted it as part of the post-war settlement and it became conventional wisdom to support it. The nationalisation measures of the Attlee government may have been reversed, but many of its other achievements /br /Social policy, too, has marched onwards. The issues of abortion, homosexuality and the death penalty came onto the agenda in the 1960s as private members bills liberalised the position with respect to this. These were controversial measures at the time. However, nowadays, even many social conservatives would not want to return to an era when homosexuality was illegal. And many on the Right, even if they would like to see the time limit for abortions reduced, would claim that they do not want to see its illegalisation. What were controversial, left-wing ideas have now become the conventional wisdom. People accept gay rights and abortion /br /The question I would thus like to pose to the right-wing readers of this blog [if there are any] is at what point they think the forward march of history should have been halted. Presumably, they accept universal suffrage and some form of welfare state, so perhaps it is 1918 at which they cease to think that what was the left-wing and radical position then is now something that should be accepted as conventional and uncontentious. And, to some degree, some of what were considered radical policies in the 1940s and 1960s and opposed by right-wingers then are things that most right-wingers today would support [like the NHS and gay rights]. So, at what point did the trend of left-wing ideas of one generation being the conventional wisdom and the centrist position of the next, cease to be desirable from the point of view of present-day right-wingers? When do they think the march of history leftwards should have stopped?div class="blogger-post-footer"img width='1' height='1' src=''//div

technorati tags:
| |
More at: News 2 Cromley

No comments: