The Emperor Has No Clothes

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On
Fraternity: Politics Beyond Liberty and Equality

Danny Kruger
Civitas, London, 2007, 95pp, £7.50 (pbk)
ISBN 978 1 903386 57 6

At the beginning
of the short book, its author insists that "I do not speak
for the Conservative Party." This being said, Dr Kruger is
a special adviser to David Cameron and is a former leader writer
for The Daily Telegraph. He also showed the manuscript of
his book to David Willetts, Oliver Letwin, Daniel Hannan, and to
various other people more or less closely connected with the Leader
of the Conservative Party. It was, moreover, discussed before publication
at one of the lunchtime seminars hosted by Civitas.
I have attended several of these, and it is easy to imagine that
this one was attended by just about every important academic or
intellectual connected with the Conservative Party.

The disclaimer,
therefore, is a matter of form. The book is – and is intended
to be regarded as – an authoritative statement of Conservative
Party thought. I do not see how there can be any reasonable doubt
of this. But it is a point that I must ask my readers to bear continually
in mind. I once sat next to Dr Kruger at a private dinner party.
I do not recall that we disagreed on anything. He wrote a very nice
article
last year, regretting the death of Chris Tame. Some of the names
given his his Acknowledgements are of friends. If I now say that
this book is an intellectual fraud in its intention, and shabby
in its execution, I hope he and they and you will not take my comments
as personal.

So far as I
can understand him, Dr Kruger is trying to analyse the current state
of affairs in this country. During the second half of the twentieth
century, he says, we tried two great experiments. The first was
socialist equality. This began to break down in the 1960s, when
trade union privilege and heavy spending on welfare led to inflation
and a loss of competitiveness.

The second
was a return to market liberty under Margaret Thatcher. This restored
the economy, but led to a collapse of various customs and institutions
that gave meaning to the lives of individuals. Before coming to
power in 1997, Tony Blair did promise to sort out the resulting
disorder and general loss of faith in the system. However, since
then, that promise has been comprehensively broken. We therefore
need a new government that will reconcile the jointly necessary
but often opposed impulses of liberty and equality. Thus the title
of the book.

Exactly how
these impulses are to be reconciled within a new and stable order
is not made clear. But Dr Kruger does excuse himself in advance
with the statement:

In this essay
I try to outline the political philosophy which justifies the
‘communal [but] not official.’ It is necessarily abstract, a ‘resort
to theories,’ in Burke’s disparaging aside. It is devoid of detailed
policy, yet I hope it demonstrates that, all our common rhetoric
notwithstanding, there are real differences between Right and
Left, founded on very different ideas of how society works.[p.11]

This is a wise
excuse, as it saves Dr Kruger from having to admit the fraudulent
nature of his analysis. For there was no return to market liberty
in the 1980s. If it took me until nearly the end of the decade to
shake off the false assumptions I had made as a teenager, I was
one of the earliest conservatives to understand the real nature
of the Thatcher project. It was to reconcile the fact of an extended
and meddling state apparatus, plus big business privilege, with
the need to generate enough wealth to pay for it all.

There was no
reduction in tax for the middle classes. There was no overall cutting
of regulations. Instead, the taxes and regulations were revised
so that we could, by immense hard work, reverse the long term relative
decline of the British economy.

As for the
working classes, their ability to slow the growth of gross domestic
product was checked by the ending of various – and perhaps
indefensible – protections, and by the importation of a new
proletariat from elsewhere in the world that had no perceived commonality
of interest with the native working classes, and that would, by
its presence, drive down their living standards.

So much for
economic liberty. Where other liberties were concerned, we saw a
consistent rolling back of the gains made since about 1600. Procedural
safeguards were shredded, so that the law was turned from a shield
for the people into a sword for the state. A close surveillance
was imposed over our financial affairs. Freedom of speech and association
were eroded – partly by direct changes in the law, partly by
creating a general environment within which disobedience to the
expressed will of the authorities became unwise. At the same time,
verbal and institutional associations that bound us to a more liberal
past were progressively broken; and structures of democratic accountability
were replaced by indirect rule from Brussels and from a more general
New World Order.

The election
of a New Labour Government changed very little. Government under
Tony Blair became more politically correct than it would have been
under the Conservatives. But this was balanced by a greater caution
in matters of European harmonisation. The destruction of the Common
Law and its replacement by a panopticon police state went on regardless.

There is not
– and has not been during the past quarter century – any
political conflict in this country between liberty and equality.
We are both less equal today than we were in about 1980, and we
are less free. Such debate as there is between the two main political
parties is over details. The project common to both Labour and Conservative
Parties is the transformation of this country into a place where
the upper reaches of the ruling class can enjoy a status and relative
wealth not known since early Stuart times – and in which there
can be no challenge from below.

The Conservatives
under Mrs Thatcher started this. It was continued by Labour under
Mr Blair. It will not be reversed by the Conservatives under Mr
Cameron.

Given these
facts, it is not surprising that Dr Kruger has refused to discuss
any detailed policies. Where nothing new is intended, nothing at
all should be promised.

But this brings
me to the apparent purpose of the book. Our politics may be degraded
from the level even of the late 1970s. But we have yet to sink entirely
to the level of America, where elections seem to be decided wholly
by money and competing armies of drum majorettes. It is still expected
that political debate in this country should proceed from an intellectual
basis. The Conservatives have no intellectual basis that they dare
honestly explain to us. They must at the same time convey the impression
of one. They have, therefore, put Dr Kruger up to write a whole
book about Conservative principle, but to do so in a way that will
allow almost no one to understand him.

The language
of his book is in all matters of importance pretentious and obscure.

Take, for example,
this:

Central to
the Hegelian concept of Aufhebung or ‘sublation’ is the preservation
of the antithetic stages passed through by the thesis. Not only
is the thesis ‘realised’ by its sublation: the antithesis too
is strengthened and perpetuated. But the thesis only preserves
those elements of the antithesis it finds conducive to itself
– there must be, in the key Hegelian word, an ‘ethical’ relationship
between thesis and antithesis, by which one relates to another
in a natural and organic manner.[p.18]

Or take this:

The person
abstracted from all contingent circumstances – the main in
isolation – is not truly a man at all, merely (Hegel again)
‘the sheer empty unit of the person.’ The original Kantian individual
who signs the social contract from behind the veil of ignorance,
with his objective intellect and dispassionate morality, is admirable
and necessary. But he is not enough.[p.49]

Or take this:

For freedom
is attained, said Hegel, not by the individual divorcing himself
from society but by marrying it. True – what he called ‘concrete’
– freedom is not ‘the freedom of the void.’ It is the freedom
of ‘finding oneself’ in society; of ‘being with oneself in another.’
By my marriage with society I attain my true self, which before
was abstract. I am realised, socialised; I whisk aside the veil
of ignorance, ‘the colourful canvass of the world is before me';
I plunge into it, and find myself ‘at home.'[p.51]

The meaning
of this second and third can perhaps be recovered. They appear to
mean that individuals function best when they are surrounded by
familiar things that give meaning and security to their lives. As
to the first, your guess is as good as mine.

There is page
after page of this stuff. We have commonplaces dressed up to look
profound. We have manifest nonsense. We have knowing references
to Plato and Aristotle and Hobbes and Burke and Mill. We have untranslated
words and phrases, or words that have been taken into English but
never widely used. There is, of course, Aufhebung. This is
at least translated – though, until I looked it up in a dictionary,
I could only understand "sublation" from its Latin roots.
But there is also "noumenal"[p.13], "heteronomous"[p.38],
soixantes-huitards[p.40], "thetic"[p.66], and much
else besides. Oh – and we have the word "discombobulated"[p.58].
This is an illiterate Americanism from the 1830s, and has no fixed
meaning. Such meaning as Dr Kruger gives it must be gathered from
the context in which he uses it.

There are many
subjects, I grant, discussion of which requires a specialised language.
There is music. There is the law. There are the natural sciences.
But this is so only for the most elaborate discussions. For basic
presentations, plain English has always been found sufficient. And
it is not so for discussing political philosophy. For this, plain
English is ideally suited. I do know languages – Slovak, for
example – where foreign or unfamiliar words are needed for
meaningful discussion of political philosophy. Even here, though,
I deny the utility of asking thinkers like Hegel or Kant for guidance.
German philosophy is notoriously a learned gibberish. For nearly
two centuries, it has been used to justify every imaginable lapse
from humanity and common sense. Dr Kruger is supposed to be an expert
on Edmund Burke. It is worth asking why he has, on this occasion,
avoided all attempt at imitating the clear English of the Enlightenment.

The likeliest
answer is that enlightenment is not among his intentions. As said,
that must be to express himself in a manner that almost none of
his readers will understand. This book has been sent out for review
to hundreds of journalists and general formers of opinion. It is
hoped that these will all skim though it and scratch their heads.
"What a bright young man this is" we are all to say. "What
he says is all above my head, but I do not wish to look stupid,
so will join in the applause at his erudition and profundity."

It is all like
the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Newspaper articles will
be written about the "intellectual revival" in the Conservative
Party. Gossip columns will be filled with references to the gigantic
intellect of Dr Kruger. Even hostile articles about Mr Cameron will
contain some flattering mention of the philosophical depths with
which he has been put in touch.

If this were
all one could say about his book, there would be much reason to
condemn Dr Kruger. But there is more. His book is not only pretentious
and obscure. It is also incompetent. If he were one of my students,
and he were to offer this to me as a long undergraduate essay, he
would have it thrown straight back in his face.

Look at this:

But the 1980s
also saw the defoliation of the natural landscape. In The City
of God Augustine quotes a Briton saying ‘the Romans make a
desert and they call it peace.'[p.2]

Never mind
that defoliation happens to trees, not natural landscapes. What
matters here is that St Augustine did not say this, and could not
have said it, bearing in mind the purpose of his City of God.
The correct reference is to Tacitus
in his biography of Agricola:
Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium atque ubi
solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant. Dr Kruger went, I believe,
to an expensive public school, I to a comprehensive school in South
London. Perhaps the classical languages are not so well studied
in these former places as they once were. But anyone who wants to
quote the ancients should make at least some effort to do it properly.

Is this pedantry?
I do not think so. The quotation should be familiar to everyone
of moderate education – even to people who do not know Latin.
Its use is not absolutely required for the meaning of what Dr Kruger
is trying to say. Like much else, it is there to impress. And he
gets it wrong. And the fault is not confined to him. This book has
gone through many drafts. Remember that it has been read and discussed
by every intellectual close to the Conservative leadership. Even
so, this glaring error on the second page was not picked up and
corrected. This says more about the intellectual quality of modern
Conservatives than anything else in the book.

Or take the
casual reference on p.71 to Frederic Bastiat as a "nineteenth-century
anarchist." Bastiat believed in far less government than Dr
Kruger or his employers. But he was a liberal, not an anarchist.

Or take this:

Not everything
that ‘is permitted,’ said St Paul: ‘is beneficial.'[p.55]

This is a reference
to 1 Corinthians 10:23: "All things are lawful for me,
but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me,
but all things edify not." The meaning of the verse is difficult,
and may refer to the eating of sacrificial meat. It does nothing
to advance whatever point Dr Kruger is making. It is, again, there
to give an impression of learning that he does not seem, on examination,
to possess.

Or take this:

‘The state
is an association’ says Aristotle in the first sentence of The
Politics
.[p.79]

Aristotle may
not have said this. In Greek, he says – and do pardon the Roman
transliteration – epeide pasan polin horomen koinosian….
The word in question is given in the standard translations as "community."
It might bear the Oakeshottian sense of "association"
– but this is a gloss that needs to be explained.

Or – to
inhale yet another blast of Teutonic hot air – take this:

Hegel famously
argued that the slave could be more ‘free’ than the master, for
the slave is contextualised, subject to circumstances, and related
to his fellows even if only through their common bondage. Even
though he lacks liberty, one of the three rights of negative freedom
(even slaves, in ancient Rome, had the right to life and property),
he has more positive freedom than his master, whose wealth makes
him independent, and so unrelated to others. The slave is realised,
and the master is not.[p.70]

Regardless
of whether Hegel actually said anything so ridiculous – not
that I would put anything past him – these words astonish me.
In the first place, Roman slaves did not have a right to life: they
had, from fairly late in the Imperial period, a right not to be
butchered by their masters without what a court run by other slaveholders
considered to be good reason. Their property was at best a peculium,
to which they had no legal right. In the second place, no playing
with words can possibly obliterate the factual difference between
freeman and slave. If Dr Kruger doubts this, I only wish I could
oblige by chaining him to an oar for a few days, or putting him
in one of those disgusting underground prisons, or setting him to
tend the fish for Vedius
Pollio
.

Much else in
this book is worth despising. These three sentences simply make
me angry.

But I turn
back to the foreign words. I have found three uses of Aufhebung.
These all look like the products of a cut and paste operation. They
are all unexplained. When I come across phrases like "the crash
of Platonic speculation into Aristotelian reality"[p.19], I
now find it worth asking if Dr Kruger himself has the foggiest idea
what he is trying to say.

Some decent
endnotes might help to answer this question. But the notes are about
as slipshod as they could be without not being added at all. Quotations
are referenced with the author and title and date of the relevant
work. But no editions or page numbers are given. Bearing in mind
the length and complexity of the works cited – by Adam Smith,
Hegel and Hayek, for instance – we can legitimately wonder
how many of these Dr Kruger has actually read.

Of course,
I blame the Conservative leadership for trying to make us believe
it intends to do other than continue the work of turning England
into the sort of despotism that would have made James II gasp and
stare. But I also blame Dr Kruger for executing his commission so
incompetently. And I must blame many of my friends for having let
their names be used as an endorsement of his efforts – and
for having brought themselves into disrepute by not objecting to
so many scandalous blunders.

Above all,
I blame Civitas – otherwise the most authoritative and radical
of modern policy institutes. It has published the longest petition
of intellectual bankruptcy I have read in years. I do most strongly
urge David Green to withdraw this book at once and remove it from
the Civitas catalogue.

April
2, 2007

Sean
Gabb [send him mail]
is the author of Smoking, Class and the Legitimation of Power.
See his website.

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