The New New Left Book Club

by Henry Farrell on April 27, 2010

John’s posts have pushed me to write a post that I’ve been thinking about writing for a while – which books are useful for understanding where we (‘we’ here being the left under a reasonably expansive definition of the term) are now, and what possible new directions we might take? I’m putting up this post to learn rather than to dictate, but will list a few books that I think (given my own personal history, values, geographic location etc) are valuable to start the ball rolling. None of these choices will surprise people who have read _CT_ for a while – but they do seem to me to be books that are at the center of a set of interlinked debates that I’ve gotten pulled into over the last few years. Feel free to talk, of course, about other books in other debates (with as much detail about context; why you think these books are important etc).
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Cameron and Blair

by Harry on April 27, 2010

A clarifying (for me) piece by Chris Brooke at the Virtual Stoa, comparing Cameron and Blair:

The reason Blair was far more successful as a centrist politician than Cameron is managing to be is that he went out of his way to humiliate the Left of his party in public as a part of his move to the right. He chose to pick fights that he really didn’t have to fight, with the result that it made it all much easier for former Conservative voters to think that it was safe to vote Labour after all.

Cameron, by contrast, has made a lot of centrist noises, and he’s done various things that the Tory headbanger tendency doesn’t much like (stuff on the website about tackling homophobic bullying in schools, running more women candidates or candidates from ethnic minorities in winnable seats, banging on about the environment, usw), but he’s never seriously tried to stage a meaningful fight with the party’s Right, to lure them out into the open, and to slap them down in public.

Going Swedish

by Harry on April 27, 2010

The headline Tory education policy is introducing Swedish style school vouchers — basically, making it easy for non-profits to set up schools, and funding them strictly on a per-pupil basis (see manifesto p53). I’ve criticized earlier version of this proposal in the past (as an out-of-the-blue email reminded me yesterday — its nice to know that people read 6 year old CT posts). Swift and I (PDF) wrote a piece recently about the latest version of this proposal, not criticizing it, but offering unsought advice about how to implement it in a way that is most likely to produce some benefits for less advantaged children. When we wrote it, it really did seem relevant to something: right now it seems like something written in another age, to me. Still, in case that age ever returns, I thought I’d point to it for people to consider.

My last post, arguing that the left needed to offer a transformative vision as an alternative to rightwing tribalism has drawn lots of interesting responses, and generated some great comments threads, both here and elsewhere (Some of them: Matt Yglesias,DougJ at Balloon Juice, Democracy in America at the Economist,Aziz Poonawalla at BeliefNet,Geoffrey Kruse-Safford |, and Randy McDonald).

Since my idea was to open things up for discussion, I don’t plan to comment on particular responses. I do want to respond to one theme that came up repeatedly, a combination of discomfort with words like ‘transformation’ and ‘vision’, and a feeling that a politics in which such words are employed is inconsistent with the pursuit of incremental reforms. Even though I stressed the need to learn from such critics as Burke, Hayek and Popper about the need for reform to arise from organic developments in society and to avoid presumptions of omniscience, the mere use of words like ‘vision’ set off lots of alarm bells.

To me, the difficulty of getting this right reflects my opening point in the previous post. After decades of defensive struggle, we on the left no longer know how to talk about anything bigger than the local fights in which we may hope to defend the gains of the past and occasionally make a little progress. But the time is now ripe to look ahead.

My main point in this new post is to reject the idea that there is a necessary inconsistency between incremental progress and the vision of a better society and a better world. (I’ll link back here to my earlier post on Hope, which might be worth reading at this point, for those who have time and interest.)

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