24 August 2007

Asymmetric intonation

Janet Daley in the Telegraph:
I've always suspected that when the Conservatives finally got round to talking about tax cuts, Labour would begin by shrieking "lurch to the Right" and end by plagiarising the best ones.

George Osborne has put it beyond doubt that the Tories ... will take only baby steps on to this territory, thereby allowing Labour to jam up behind them with a Brownite version of reduced death duties and fractionally higher income tax thresholds. By the time the election is called ... there will scarcely be a gnat's whisker between Gordon Brown and David Cameron on tax.
The true test of an ideology’s hegemony is the degree to which its enemies feel they can criticise it only on its terms, or oppose it only by relinquishing their original principles. In this way, mediocracy’s would-be opponents become implicit defenders of the status quo.

There are two preferred positions for the enemies of mediocracy. They can reinforce the mediocratic position by demonstrating a complete lack of self-belief. “Don’t support us”, they imply, “we are not worthy”. Alternatively, they can play by the prevailing ideological rules, and compete by offering a more aggressive brand of mediocracy, with emphasis on authoritarianism and/or military activity. Either way, the dominance of mediocracy is reinforced.

A mediocracy cannot permit genuine dissent. Apart from the fact that its ideology must not be questioned, there is the risk that its culture will be exposed as valueless. The solution is to create an ethic according to which any deviation from the consensus is treated as opposition to egalitarianism, to progress, and to fairness. The description ‘conservative’ does not necessarily mean much beyond a failure to subscribe to the prevailing shibboleths. However, to be labelled as such becomes anathema in most contexts.