The text below is a letter I sent to the author of “The Long March - How the left won the culture war and what to do about it”
Marc Sidwell's book can be dowloaded free-of-charge from:
Below I have left the personal and anecdotal passages in the feinter font and put in a bold font the passages which are substantial.
My “letter” is a detailed but friendly critique of the book. The New Culture Forum failed to forward the substantial email to Mr Sidwell despite being asked to twice. Please note – but only when you have formed an impression of my critique – the response from Mr Sidwell when he finally received the letter.
Dear Mr Sidwell,
It is over fifty years ago that I last addressed someone, my language teacher, as Mr Sidwell. Read on.
I have been through your book twice with a fine-toothed comb. This was only possible because you kindly provided the text as a pdf, which I was able to convert into MS-Word and work through with colour-highlighting etc. My remaining eye would not have been able to cope with a print version.
Towards the end of this prolix missive I shall quote and address particular passages, but already between the lines you should recognise a close alignment of my arguments with yours.
So (as it is now said), I wish to engage at length, constructively and critically, with the (excellent) analyses and (less than excellent) remedies presented in The Long March. I have been preoccupied with many of these issues for a long time – depending on where one counts from, for a decade, but actually much longer.
We are agreed at being appalled by the developments you describe. But I have approached the issues from a very different standpoint and a contrary mindset.
I claim to present seriously novel (or neglected) ideas on the various fronts such that they constitute a cohesive whole. I presented the gist of these, which date from about a decade ago, in a book I self-published in 2015 in German: “Klasse Verantwortung – Weichenstellungen für eine starke Mittelschicht”. Meanwhile I have tried to propagate those ideas in English mainly, but not uniquely, through my five (5!) websites.
I should immediately correct any misconception. I am 100% British, but began learning German at Woodbridge School in Suffolk, aged 13, with a Mr Sidwell, the best teacher I ever had. In 2016 I left Berlin and Germany after 40 years to settle in a village south of Vichy, France. Therefore, in Rod Dreher’s words, the “Benedict Option”.
I found your narrative on managerialism versus professionalism especially illuminating. I did not know this expression, but immediately grasped that it is part of the problem I had been wrestling with, that is, until I found a solution that satisfied me. To give you an idea, until your book came in, I was working on an essay [on a related issue – text redacted here due to peer review restrictions]
I was involved with the so-called business ethics movement from the outset, i.e. the late 1980s, first in the UK and then in Germany. In this connection, a decade ago, I was on an official committee advising the German government on CSR. My suspicions were confirmed and I came to reject Codes of Conduct, CSR, etc., arriving at the conclusion that it is only through the re-invention of professional, rather than business, ethics that progress can be made.
As a graduate in philosophy, including moral philosophy, which we knew as “ethics” and would now be called “metaethics”, I do not use the word ethics loosely. Nor indeed other terms such as Democracy, Family or Christianity.
It is to be emphasised that we are not all agreed as to what ethics is while the assumption that we are causes much misunderstanding. Much the same applies to the other terms.
In the case of professional ethics my position is that each profession has an overarching purpose, or commitment, which cannot be reduced to the provision of a service, whether to an individual or an institution. I provide examples in various writings on my websites and elsewhere. Good conduct cannot be reduced to compliance, i.e. it cannot be captured in rules & regulations, but is a matter of judgement and a reflection of character. It would be possible to provide institutional support to reinforce the virtue of good, mature judgement and to restrain the vice of bad. At present, by your persuasive reckoning, it is the opposite that has been happening. But it is not enough to decry these developments. I claim to provide joined-up thinking for a counter-attack.
More importantly, though, your analysis of how “conservatism” (however defined) became a victim of the Machiavellian machinations you describe has a massive and glaring blind spot. It is here that my most important – constructive – criticism strikes.
Do you never have any discomfort or qualms when you speak of “democracy”?
Rather than enumerate the countless absurdities of the British (and US) political dispensation, let me say what a democracy in the 21st century might look like.
A democracy is not a culture of debate. That belongs properly to the “liberal” component of liberal democracy. The elements commonly listed as constitutive of democracy (rule of law, market mechanisms, separation of powers, etc.) are only the preconditions for democracy. Democracy is when meaningful (and secret) ballots are (can be) held and the results observed. (“Deliberative democracy” is, therefore, a misnomer.)
Representative democracy works (would work) on the principle that discussions and decisions must be mediated by individuals, i.e. elected representatives. My position is that political parties, as currently constituted, are inimical to this principle. (As, indeed, referenda.)
In the past there were practical constraints such that parties were a necessity. Meanwhile technology has moved on in every sphere of life – except politics. It would now be possible to give weight to the majority of votes that are routinely eliminated right from the count.
There is no longer any need for the preselection still performed by parties. At http://www.fuzzydemocracy.eu/ I have explained in sufficient detail how this would work and have dealt with all conceivable objections. That website contains various formulations, some polemical, some academic or philosophical, with one definitive. Implementation must seem as being as remote and unrealistic as, a quarter-century ago, the idea of the UK leaving the EU.
I propose avenues for this other Long Trajectory. Not least in thematic devolution instead of geographical. Let there be a separately elected assembly to deal with infrastructure; another for foreign affairs & defence; another for taxation; another to address “ethical” questions such as assisted dying, recreational drugs, parental responsibilities, the treatment of animals, and so much more. An overarching second chamber can provide safeguards and settle any demarcation disputes between the assemblies. It is not rocket science.
Voters would have meaningful choices and a distinctive voice instead of being presented with packages and unconscionable dilemmas. Quite apart from the fact that most votes do not count, the present dispensation deprives any thinking person of any precision in their political choice.
Yet in The Long March you talk glibly of democracy and the Conservative Party as if these were not diametrically opposed. Conservatives (and others) have fallen victim – in the spirit of victimhood – to Cultural Marxism because they have neglected and undermined, indeed betrayed, the one force strong enough to resist the drift to a new fascism, namely the powerhouse of serious, deep-rooted democracy.
My contention is that such a democracy can be the voice of reason, not consistently, but in the long run. The role of representative democracy is to be a check on how we are governed, giving the direction of travel, not the detail. For that, there are other institutions and mechanisms, not least the market. Without democracy we may have a liberal culture, with competing lobbies and compromises; this does not constitute democratic government, and to assume it does is an abuse of language. (Words are constantly being commandeered and twisted such that it becomes hard to express essential ideas succinctly.)
How many of the nefarious developments which you have narrated so well would have come about in a properly functioning democracy? Any at all?
I proposed thematic devolution in a cover article in the magazine Philosophy Now back in 1999. It fell on deaf ears.
I was already then working on the principle of fuzzy democracy but it took over ten years to make the breakthrough, that was staring me in the face and that others could easily have made. Fuzzy Democracy works by citizens only exceptionally voting directly for their eventual representative. Normally they vote for an intermediary, who is assigned a power of political attorney. This refinement has only recently become feasible as digital technology has spread and become familiar.
All obvious objections, misunderstandings and misgivings are dealt with at the website. This includes wider-ranging concerns such as ensuring government stability and its essential executive prerogatives. Fuzzy democracy enables almost every vote (i.e. well over ninety percent) to be reflected in the representation in the various assemblies.
Your narrative could be read as a damning indictment of the Conservative Party, yet you pull your punch. Many mistakes in life are due to misplaced loyalties. Time for you to have a re-think?
(My understanding of the task of philosophy, today, not historically, is that it is to uncover hidden assumptions and examine how robust they are. This applies, obviously, also to matters political and moral.)
Your personal loyalties aside, you should bear in mind the disrespect in which certain institutions are commonly held even among those who will align fully with your and my outrage. This applies not only to the established political parties, but also to Christianity.
The best that can be said of Christianity is that it is a muddle, spreading confusion in all directions. Do not expect people to distinguish your brand of Christianity (whatever that is, we readers do not know) from the wayward proclamations of the Archfake of Canterbury (where, incidentally, I studied at Eliot). What are Jews to make of your talking up Christian values? Do you not maybe mean Enlightenment values, or the sensibility cultivated by the Great Tradition of the European and English novel?
Therefore, to avoid alienating allies, leave Christianity out of it. Much the same applies to the nuclear family. In 1984 Anthony O’Hear co-published, reluctantly as I’ve meanwhile learnt, my most widely disseminated essay “Against Couples”. This was later translated, without permission, into German and published in two anthologies alongside many varied and prominent authors, including Adorno.
In 1986 Anthony O’Hear also co-published my sadly neglected The Two Sides of Love, part of which was a veiled attack on Erich Fromm, then all the rage in Germany, and who, with his conception of love as a panacea, I understood to have come under the spell of the insidious March of Christianity.
[I have further critical but constructive reflections on Christianity and the Family, including importantly my proposal of Statutory Godparenthood, in a separate file so as not to distract here from my principal message and observations.]
‘Friedman doctrine’: that a company’s only social responsibility should be to increase its profits.
Friedman left out one crucial word, which I add: “a company’s only social responsibility should be to increase its taxable profits”. The fact that I have failed to observe this refinement leads me to the thought that many commentators are either shallow or deliberately misleading.
Moving on from here, one can then comment on where the profits should be taxed. Where the wealth is created maybe? (Granted, not without controversy.) Then take the thought further by requiring that management bonuses should be linked, by statute, to this figure. The Friedman doctrine begins to look much more appealing.
His point was one about demarcation, i.e. the separation of obligations. Everyone is responsible for something, but no-one is responsible for everything. Hence there must also be limits, too, on the extent of business responsibilities. In a well-ordered society these should not undercut the responsibilities of other societal institutions. Managers who give corporate funds to charity, to the Arts, or any other good cause, are withholding, or taking, or stealing that money from someone, be it shareholders, customers, employees or suppliers. CSR is the latest figleaf for this misconduct. Hence it is the advocates of CSR who are socially irresponsible. (One principal reason for studying ethics is to avoid misplaced morality, which so often does more harm than much evil.)
By the way, when serving on a German government committee on CSR – composed mainly of representatives of leading corporations and trade unions – it emerged that it was understood solely as a PR measure. There was zero interest in the substance of CSR and I was upbraided for suggesting otherwise. I struggled to get a passage inserted into the final statement that the legitimate interests of independent (i.e. small) suppliers (i.e. as corporate stakeholders) should also be taken into consideration in CSR.
Milton’s point is a question of demarcation, much as the police are not responsible for punishing criminals, or even finding them guilty. Our whole societal structure depends on such institutional barriers and distinctions.
There is much more that can be done using money as a disincentive to bad behaviour. I return to the subject of professional ethics.
Professions have traditionally policed themselves. I propose instead that each profession be policed partly or substantially by members of other professions. For example, a rogue journalist or TV presenter would be answerable to an ethics committee composed of mature (!) members from a variety of occupations such that she or he could have their license to practise suspended. Again, I discuss in detail this proposal together with obvious objections in various essays as well as in the German book. I also explain why such an approach is needed, despite inherent perils.
For professions such as journalism, take-up into a professional body should be automatic (i.e. on application, or registration by a bona-fide newspaper or broadcaster). There is no need for formal qualification, any more than there is a need for entrepreneurs to hold a Master’s degree in Business Administration. The situation with surgeons, engineers, architects, etc. is obviously different, as I discuss elsewhere.
Civil servants and managerialists could also be classified as professionals, with, on occasion, corresponding oversight of their conduct by the proposed, highly independent “professional ethics” committees.
Since my – probably, our – default position is freedom of speech, overriding most other values, I am reluctant to advocate that journalists be banned from practice. However, in blatant cases, after due process (described elsewhere), it should be possible to deprive, temporarily or permanently, culpable persons from earning a living from a trade they have abused. (This principle might also, by the way, be useful in the case of extreme misrepresentation such as with holocaust deniers. My understanding is that one such person, who was imprisoned in Austria, was making a living from his assertions or at least getting the cost of dissemination reimbursed.)
One consequence of the regime of professional ethics I propose is that accountants, for example, would be terrified of giving way to pressure from their superiors to doctor the accounts. Professionals must be given backbone; it cannot be just a matter of appeals to conscience. Whereas the market flourishes on incentives, for unprofessional conduct there need to be checks & balances in the form of disincentives. In a secular age, and one where there is great anonymity (nice neighbours will know nothing of each other’s conduct at work), trustworthiness and inner discipline must be reinforced, and this can only be achieved by institutions that themselves are designed to avert group-think and any ganging-up on dissenting members. The “professional ethics” committees (not what may go by any similar name contemporarily) would also have the purpose of cultivating maturity of judgement, i.e. providing a learning environment for all involved.
An outgrowth of “professional ethics” committees might be jury-like bodies to re-examine the fitness for purpose of high-ranking officials who give the impression of abusing their prerogatives. For example, a judge who had a record of outspoken rulings which contravened common sense or commonplace morality might be subject to a de-selection process. His or her fate would be decided by a suitably qualified body. The suggestion is that this process would be triggered only exceptionally. Miles better than the US system of electing judges.
The background consideration here is that a key component of common-law jurisdictions is trial by jury (alongside the appointment of self-nominating magistrates from among the laity). Normally we think of democracy in terms of competitive election. But de-selection, too, may have a role to play as a check and a balance.
Individual professions could already move in this direction, without waiting for politicians.
I offer these proposals to you as ammunition in the fight-back against managerialism.
Your raised the matter of the BBC and its License Fee. I have submitted formally to the House of Commons and to Downing Street a radical proposal, aimed at consensus, which, it seems, has been systematically suppressed. I earlier submitted a journalistic article to the Financial Times, in keeping with their invitation, with the same proposal. The FT eventually turned the article down on the grounds that, although I addressed important matters, it was not a subject they were editorially pursuing at the time. Two weeks later the FT published an anodyne article on the subject. At least there was no plagiarism.
On the license fee, I note that you are still thinking within the box, 20th century through & through. Here is new thinking, outside the box:
I wish to put to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee a radical (original) but feasible and not unduly complicated solution to the dilemma surrounding the License Fee. It is designed to be consensual.
My approach is to see the License Fee not in isolation, but parallel with other developments. The controversy of how best to fund public broadcasting recurs in many countries. There, too, its equivalents are only one element in wider changes and challenges to traditional funding models.
As you will be aware, in the old days journalism and much high culture was provided at a discount thanks to advertising or sponsorship. People could also be asked to pay serious money for what was printed. Those days are past.
On another societal front there has been talk in many countries of a basic income. I leave aside here the arguments for and against. But my proposal involves something akin, namely a supplement or bonus that households can allocate to not-for-profit digital services of their choosing.
At present the public debate centres on the assumption that a license system, a subscription model or advertising are the only ways to fund public service broadcasters and indeed other providers whose offerings remain, or for the moment must remain, conveniently free at point of access.
There is an alternative, 21st century solution. It is to provide each household with a digital “income” which would operate in the manner of a vote. Retain the compulsory nature of the license fee, but prosecute for non-payment only those households which are close to or above the median income. There is no need to hound the poor, who can be defined on a discretionary basis.
Many citizens already make voluntary payments for free-to-access internet offerings such as some newspapers or Wikipedia. Therefore it is not the case that people only pay when forced to. The objection to the license fee is that it infringes the principle that people should only pay for what they appreciate.
Meanwhile, on another front, the local press is being starved of advertising revenue, and, dying with it, is an element of local democratic accountability.
A digital income would act in the manner of a bonus to a possibly reduced annual license fee, of say £ 100 or £ 140, to be allocated by the household for the next 3 or 4 years as part of a secure online payment process. One could allocate one third to that part of the BBC one appreciates, one third to one’s local newspaper in recognition of its free-to-access online publications, and one third to a rival broadcaster or a web-based information service. Or all to the BBC as a default setting.
The £ 100 / 140 would be boosted to £ 300 or £ 400 from a ring-fenced fund.
Where would this money come from? Traditionally, the press has been co-financed by all kinds of advertising revenue, which has now moved to the tech giants. Instead of threatening the latter with a special tax, simply end tax breaks on advertising expenditure. This would generate ample funds to redistribute to not-for-profit digital services dedicated to professional journalism and similar information offerings or indeed contemporary culture.
As a result, the BBC would compete for audience favour with other digital offerings. Possibly it would have more funding than at present, possibly less. That would be decided by how it compares in the public eye with alternatives. Most importantly, the dying local press could be resurrected to fulfil its journalistic role in democratic politics at the grass roots.
I suspect that, politically, the biggest objection to the digital income or supplement would be its funding model: ending or just reducing tax breaks for advertising would run into opposition from vested interests. It would of course be feasible, alternatively, to fund the supplement from general taxation. However, in a high profile public debate the case for ending tax breaks for advertising would likely be overwhelming.
There are of course technical questions around accounting and cash flow. For example, calculating the amount of the savings the Exchequer would make by curtailing the indirect subsidy given to advertising. But also obtaining, in the case of the BBC especially, planning security. It would not make sense to convert the “vote” given to different parts of the BBC exactly. These problems are not insurmountable.
There would also be an inbuilt dynamic since advertising expenditure might fall significantly. In the final analysis, the proposal implies a shift with resources for journalism, culture etc, no longer being channelled through the advertising industry or an inflexible license fee, but more directly to where they create most benefit for society as a whole.
Note that in my formulation above, the principle was that the allocation voted for by the household should be for a number of years, and not just one, even if payment is annual. Note also that the compulsory nature of the license fee is retained: the reason for this, apart from wishing to avoid too radical and controversial a break with the status quo, is that it makes people engage as they might not do if provided with something for free. The proposed allocation of funds/votes in parcels of one third here is, of course, for demonstrative purposes. In practice, there might be allocation parcels of a fifth or some other fraction.
Note also that the proposal, if taken to its logical conclusion, would resolve or attenuate many of the issues posed by the internet giants. Hence there would be no need to court tension with the USA by resorting to a special tech tax. But this is running ahead. There are, needless to say, other ramifications, most of which would, I believe, be beneficial.
The proposal could be rolled out in one geographical area, or among one demographic, on a trial basis. For planning reasons, it would not be desirable to implement it wholesale all at once.
My German book contains a forerunner of this concept with, there, in a German context, also using the principle in order to subsidise ground-roots arts events (small concerts, exhibitions, theatre, etc.) from below rather than having Quangos or civil servants and the like dispensing funds from above. The “culture card” would resemble a bank card and be credited with money only authorised arts people could access. The culture card would be available to all those paying the 222-euro broadcasting levy, which in Germany is compulsory even if you have no television or internet. It would be available on demand and compensate art-lovers for being compelled to pay for other people’s digital entertainment and news source.
Here are some telling quotations from your book:
Mr Oborne noted that the idea of parliament assembling representatives from across the nation had become a fiction.
The House of Commons is no longer really a cockpit of debate where great conflicts of vision are fought out across the chamber.
The fight against Brexit revealed to the public the unified nature of Britain’s political class, its cross-party contempt for democracy, its incompetence and its distance from the values of many voters.
Why, then, do you still argue within the straitjacket of the ruling political party?
Could it not be that political parties are tainted by Original Sin? Even new-born and reborn ones? Start they off ever so well-intentioned, they draw, like a magnet, characters bent on power, prestige and personal advancement.
My remedy is “Fuzzy Democracy”, which aims at countering the concentration of power and placing personal responsibility at the heart of the political dispensation.
FuzzyD needs advocates & allies. By all means celebrities and youtubers, too. But also a sea change among those close to the centres of power, which you have described so astutely. Can I win you over?
As I have argued, there are solutions and strategies aplenty for those who seek. But few seem to keep their attention fixed on a problem long enough to put aside the easy options and get to the roots.
I am doubtful that old dispensations such as the UK and the USA can reform in a timely manner. The prevailing mindsets are too imbued with venerable parties and an antiquated voting system modelled on sports events. Change is of course always generational. All I – we – can do is show what a new dispensation might look like. Even if it must wait for a rainy day. Meanwhile, the EU, where I live, looks to be the incarnation of managerialism. Hope may come from Eastern Europe, despite the present drift there towards an authoritarian right, or else the smaller anglophone and Scandinavian nations.
IX. Some minor remarks
There is a Church of England prayer from, maybe, the 17th century, beseeching the Lord in recognition of the insight that there is no known form of words or catalogue of rules that cannot be subverted to achieve much the contrary of what was intended. I have been unable, on the Internet, to track this prayer down. I may have learnt of it from reader comments at The Telegraph. If you know, pray tell.
Some time in the later eighties I “inherited” a large collection of Encounter, both the old and new format, which it took me a long time to work through, not least due to my poor eyesight. Someone (Richard Bird), who I knew from work, had read it during his dialysis sessions, claiming to be and looking 94 when he reached his final birthday aged 49. It remains the most insightful and well-written magazine I have ever read.
Below I list my websites, which need some revamping and updating, but with much that is as perfect as is practicable. They are directed at different (potential) readerships, which is why they are five. One would need a month to work through them, so they are here mainly as a reference, i.e. so that you know they are there.
1. http://www.fuzzydemocracy.eu/ as described in the body of my letter.
2. http://www.klasseverantwortung.de/ or http://www.klasseverantwortung.de/english the accompaniment to my book but also for diverse more topical comments of a political nature. See for example http://www.klasseverantwortung.de/english/money.html
My aim is always to say – and to say elegantly – things that are not being said elsewhere. Much on this website relates to the subjects touched on in the body of this letter. There are definitive statements, such as http://www.klasseverantwortung.de/english/Rules.html
3. http://www.contra-dnwe.de/ or, for English,
http://www.contra-dnwe.de/english/en_main.html On my engagement with the business ethics movement in Germany and an indictment of the academic and consultancy culture of that country.
4. http://www.thinking-for-clarity.de/ My philosophy site, including some epistemology and much metaethics, but also on themes of love, sexuality, relationships, family, and religion.
5. http://www.language-for-clarity.de/ and/or
Directed not so much at clients for my translation business but at fellow translators and our professional organisations. The German is much better than the English side. The link above connects to a pdf with a translation of a conference address I gave on professional ethics.
Our profession has been much undermined by what, thanks to you, I now recognise as managerialism. It takes the form of translation agencies (middlemen) creaming away the profits and preventing contact (and therefore learning experiences and quality) between users and translators.
Sincerely, Paul Charles Gregory
REPLY of Marc Sidwell
Thank you for your interest, Paul. Your proposals are certainly radical, but too long for me to study in detail, I am afraid. As such, I don't feel competent to judge them but I appreciate your ambition to find better solutions than the current mess. Your idea of how to improve professional oversight with a common-law type model is certainly intriguing. Very best wishes, Marc
Note that Marc Sidwell failed to respond to my mentions of actual or possible personal connections, which would have been a common courtesy. More substantially, in view of the content of his book, he failed to rise to the challenge of an alternative diagnosis of the ills he rightly decries. He might have replied that he would need time to digest my proposals and critique. In view of New Culture Forum’s failure to forward the letter to him, but also in the light of not dissimilar observations elsewhere, this leads me to draw the conclusion that many in the public eye – not least Conservatives and confessing Christians – are not much interested in dialogue on advancing the good of the nation, rather than in advancing their own profile through publications that fail to go the last – let alone the extra – mile in a long march.