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What texts and experiences shaped the development of your political views? What were the seminal factors in the growth of your civic sensibilities? What books most influenced you? What events?
I am somewhat surprised to have been A2A’d this by four people. That my politics should be of interest at all, though I haven’t expressed my politics here coherently, is likely more a token of their esteem than my interest.
I am somewhat mortified to have been A2A’d this by four people. Unlike the other answers here, I have not distilled my politics in the crucible of texts and reflection; I’ve inherited tribal politics, identified axioms, and drifted accordingly.
I am somewhat grateful to have been A2A’d this by four people. The Decalogue of Nick was stalled at #8, my politics. So I get to write that here.
I come from a long line of Greek peasants, on both sides. The Left in the Grecosphere did not make social progressiveness its main rallying point (though that is there); the Right in the Grecosphere had no equivalent of the American Dream, to seduce the entrepreneurial poor. There are regions in the Grecosphere that are die-hard right-wing anyway; and they are not where my parents are from.
My father tried to be a union organiser as a nurse, before he was intimidated out of it by management. He kept a belief in social justice, but also a reticence which his boisterous brothers-in-law could not understand. The household was broadly socialist in Greece, though with a touch of cynicism that I was too young to identify.
1981 was a heady time to be a kid in Crete. Our apartment was across the road from the Socialist Party headquarters, blaring out Theodorakis and Loizos anthems: “This soil is theirs and ours”, “We’ll get the sun drunk”, “We took our lives the wrong way, and we changed our lives”.
There was hope, there was ferment, there was anticipation. “The People in Power!” “For the First Time, The Left [in government]!” And when the Socialists were voted in, honest to God, random people were lighting each others’ candles in the streets. Just like Easter. The People had been reborn.
And then there was clientelism and corruption and disillusionment, but I was not around for that. I came back eight years later, shocked to see Andreas a laughing stock, and much of the country bought up by a con-man.
A chubby blunt-spoken first time MP was around for it though, and was surprised when he discovered that his voters expected the same favours and preferential treatment as did the supporters of the party they’d just ousted. Greeks have never forgiven that MP, for proclaiming his conclusion three decades later, “We embezzled that money together”—that the People were complicit in corruption. (So much more blunt in Greek, μαζί τα φάγαμε.) The People are not guileless, and The People are not always right. That’s always a useful corrective to realise.
I’m grateful I wasn’t around for the election of Syriza, “For the First Time, The True Left!” I’m grateful that my formative political experiences were not the sullen betrayal and dysfunction that Dimitris Almyrantis witnessed, a generation later. I’m grateful I got to taste some of the romance that comes before the Fall.
In Australia, first generation Greek migrants were just as tribal about being Labor. The conservative parties were aggressively Anglo; Greeks in the Liberal party are a second and third generation thing. Those first generation Greek migrants were after all, for the most part, labourers. Menzies founded the Liberal party to appeal to the “forgotten” middle class of shopkeepers, but he never tried to grab the vote of the working man. (That was much later, under Howard.) So there was no question of the household aligning with Labor, and yelling “You ape” whenever Howard was on the TV. I don’t think they quite realised that the Labor vision was being traduced from under them until it was too late.
In Australia, Labor had the largesse and vision of Whitlam, who my parents venerated. An appalling manager of his caucus and of finances, I’ve learned latterly; but this was back when people expected politicians to do more than manage finances. It had Hawke, who charmed the people into reform, and it had Keating, the last left visionary the country has seen—though he was the pioneer of fiscal managerialism, he still dared to have big ideas, backed with an acid tongue.
And since then, we’ve had a queue of puny shopkeepers, reactionaries and reactive centrists, poll-spooked functionaries. And myself voting Australian Democrats while they still existed as a third party, then Australian Greens until the Greens were big enough for people to start talking about “tripartisan” consensus, and then the Australian Sex Party for the lulz. (Well, for the left-wing libertarianism. And the lulz.)
So I was formed with a tribal allegiance to the Left, and with a vague notion of ferment and the People.
I’ve realised, gradually and annoyedly, that I’m not Left in the way I’d assumed I am. To the extent any of this crystallised, it was in my 30s and 40s rather than my 20s.
The axioms I’ve come to arrive at are:
- Society must afford opportunity and equity to all. The State and redistribution of wealth are an appropriate mechanism of achieving this; and the individual owes a duty to the State, inasmuch as the State is going about this task.
- Social cohesion and continuity matter, though not at the expense of opportunity and equity.
- Individual freedom matters, though not at the expense of opportunity and equity. (And often not at the expense of social cohesion and continuity, but I concede that as more of a judgement call.)
Of these, (1) is Big Government left; it’s the overt continuation of where I started from, though much more socially aware than its tribal origin. (2) is a social conservatism I’m somewhat surprised by, but it’s there, bolstered by my thinking on nationalism and on my upbringing. It’s the covert continuation of where I started from, which I had not acknowledged because it did not fit the tribal narrative.
(3) is a libertarianism I’m also somewhat surprised by. A Libertarianism by Australian standards, at least, and a reaction to the curtailment of personal liberties that has emerged as a national consensus in Australia in the last couple of decades. (The stuff libertarians decry as the Nanny State.) I don’t think that reaction in me was led by reading so much; but it certainly has been informed by awareness of the American libertarian streak in political thinking (and not just its big-L Libertarian manifestation of wishing to drown the government in a bathtub).
Economically, I have come to appreciate that The Market can be a force for good, so long as it is appropriately shackled and regulated. I don’t look forward to the People’s appropriation of the Means of Production, because The People are not guileless; I don’t rule out a future where technocommunism makes sense (though I think climate catastrophe likelier), but in our current fallen circumstances, a regulated market seems to me the best compromise.
- Comrade Victoria Weaver, my teacher of technocommunism along with Star Trek, has said similar things to that in her less careful moments.
- My main intellectual exposure to theories of The Market has been, oddly enough, a historical linguistics textbook: On Language Change, which drew parallels between Smith’s “invisible hand” and the forces driving language change—individual selfish choices converging into a stable equilibrium.
- As for the shackling, I don’t know where I read it, but I was heartened to find Smith hated monopolies, as disrupting the equilibrium of the market. Preventing monopolies is where the State comes in. The State also comes in with infrastructure, and I’ve retained my faith in the State as the guarantor of collective welfare.