As middle age begins to bite and life’s pleasures become either more vicarious, whereby one lives through one’s children, or less impressive, as with one’s ever-diminishing speed on a long distance run, one delight that actually becomes ever more gratifying is having one’s prejudices confirmed. There truly is nothing sweeter. For this reason, I recommend the autobiography of British journalist, Melanie Phillips, Guardian Angel .
Phillips’ description of her career as a commentator on the cultural politics of the day describes an experience familiar to many of us: She is an instinctive person of the left who now finds herself regularly lambasted by the new, trendy left for what are her allegedly right-wing views on family, education, Israel, Islam, multiculturalism, and the need for politics to be a fundamentally moral discourse. Like many others, she does not see herself as having altered her basic moral commitment to speaking up for the poor and the oppressed over the years; what has happened is that the imagination of the left, having lost the battle on economics, has been seized by highly ideological identity politics. She is an Oxford graduate who has been moved to the right by a Cambridge change in the political culture.
Here are a few choice quotations which give a taste of the whole:
Ours is a society of deep poverty . . . but it is not merely material but moral and intellectual, with the breakdown of marriage at the root of this impoverishment.
[T]he problem that now so bedevils politics in both the UK and America [is that it] is perfectly possible to believe, as I do, that Lady Thatcher achieved some great things but did other things that weren’t so wonderful. The left/right argument, which forecloses any such balanced approach, simply wipes out any political space on which people can meet and discuss issues on the basis of reasoned debate rather than ideological name-calling. It also prevents an appreciation that the most important omission from today’s polarised political debates—-and which in itself can cut through many of today’s paralysing political confusions—-is any acknowledgment of morality.
As socialism withered and the free market dominated, identity politics replaced economics. Above all, what was emerging was the cult of the individual, which gave rise to the dominance of subjective experience over objective authority of any kind, and was not merely to transform family life but also turn the understanding of what was normal and what was transgressive inside out.
As the last quotation hints, one underlying theme, only ever quietly stated, is the ultimate practical similarity between the identity politics of the left and the radical libertarianism which emerged on the right in the 80s. Both root sovereignty in the individual in a way that transforms notions of self and identity. That in itself makes the book worthy of purchase.
I have been a Phillips fan since the early 90s. I hope this book will earn her a few more.