The sources of cupcake conservatism

Among the fascinating prospects you poor fools are going to have to suck up is a full dress review of David Harvey’s History of Neoliberalism (shorter me: I think it’s adequate-ish), but before we get to that, a point I’d like to pull forward. In his conclusion, he spends quite a lot of time arguing for the localist-green-voluntary synthesis that we don’t really have a word for, as a way of opposing some sort of moral economy/communitarian/anarchist but he couldn’t say that being a Marxist world view to the common sense of liberalism.

I think you can probably see both David Graeber (not that I’ve read his book yet) and most Crooked Timber threads for the last 18 months from there. The problem is that you can also see David Cameron from there.

The synthesis we don’t have a word for yet draws on a few sources. One is the post-1968 urban alternative Left, or at least its tactics, techniques, and procedures. A major theme of this blog in the last few years is the ambiguous relationship between the technology of politics and the ideological content, but who’s going to read me if I own up to that? Another is the style and tone of Green politics.

This is where some of the “local is good” comes from, although I’ve often pointed out that you need to think very hard about logistics if you’re really interested in energy-saving or systems resilience. The ideas are great, and cry out for empirical judgments. But if you think like an economist…well, you get in your car and drive to the farmers’ market so as to save on shipping mileage. Let’s not go there. Or you get really worried about tsunamis in deep southern Germany, and end up with new brown-coal power stations opening up, upwind of you.

Yet another source is the complex of ideas around Burke, Oakeshott, and in general, the thinkers Tories quote just before they roll a centralised technocratic bulldozer over your job. Another one is the complex of ideas around Jane Jacobs and the new urbanists.

But you’ll note that all of this stuff works from the micro- to the macro-perspective, never the other way around. I couldn’t find the link I wanted here, but this is pretty good, although it doesn’t get quite to the point. Economists like to have micro-foundations, but never talk about macro-foundations. The macro-environment influences individuals and therefore shapes the microfoundations while they shape the macroenvironment.

Either way, the politics of forgetting the boring suits and sticking to the kiez has the huge flaw that it can perfectly well inter-operate with a deflationist macro-economic policy. Hence, your Big Society. One thing Harvey is right about, by the way, is that nobody wants to take part in neoliberalism. It lacks appeal.

So, we get the hollow centre of British politics. A relatively small slice of opinion, circling around common assumptions on most things that matter, constantly trying to get the public to care more than anything else, arguing about the relative doses of cupcakey and bogus asylum.

I think the answer, from a tactical point of view, is to oppose the hollow centre with the radical consensus.

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