Alessandro Tomé isn’t a political extremist, surely? He has a liberal approach to hanging and flogging liberal amounts of it… No, it must be everyone else who has moved
SOMEONE SAID TO me the other day, ‘You’re not extreme right wing, are you?’ after what I thought were perfectly reasonable comments about education and schooling. I must admit to having been quite taken aback at this question. I have never really regarded myself as particularly either wing, more of an outspoken middle-ground guy. At least I thought.
So there I was, branded a near neo-con. An extremist. What next: fundamentalist, perhaps? (Even though that is an expression whose Western origins are misunderstood and misused today.) Either way, a marked man. But all I could feel was a growing sense of injustice, of unfairness, of denigration. That I have always had certain views and held firm opinions on matters, both important and irrelevant, is not in question, for I certainly have. Nor have I ever had any qualms in sharing them, sometimes when asked and most of the time even if not. Actually, probably more often when not asked, or even better when specifically asked not to by Angel Wife.
But I haven’t grown more vociferous or more extreme over the years. On the contrary, I would argue I have become less so. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I have mellowed, but certainly the French fougue is more controlled, the Italian verbal colourfulness has been toned down. So why the labels now and not then?
I think the answer is that it is the ground around me that has shifted, not me. I am an extremist because the ‘extremes’ have been moved to where I am, not I to them. It’s evolution, stupid, some would say. Evolve or die, like the dinosaurs. But is it really about that? I really don’t think so.
This shift is not about evolution, it’s about devolution. It is about the fact that Western society thinks it is so evolved that people can be given all freedom to choose what is best for them in all aspects of life; that from a very young age, all thought and behaviour is allowed, is even promoted. Because it is the only way we are free, liberated from the ills of our historical social construct. Devolve all power away from the institutions we have created to help us live together and give it to the individuals. Limitless ego power.
These views, which may have been construed as liberal extremism by some are now close to becoming the middle ground. Like most devolutions of power, they are wanted by a noisy, unruly minority, just like for Scotland. And we know unruly, loud minorities — or should I say moronities — tend to hold sway in modern politics. The fact that every such experiment in liberal extremism has ended up inevitably in anarchy, wanton destruction and often death doesn’t seem to faze anyone any more.
Kids that either won’t go to school or go armed with anger and offensive weapons, to pregnant twelve-year olds, to riots and looting, all this freedom doesn’t seem to bring peace or happiness to anyone. Millionaires that build mansions in protected areas of Brazil or elsewhere in full disregard of the law and judges’ orders and evade punishment. Footballers that insult, stamp and spit, all this liberal extremism seems to achieve is demonstrate how unready we still are, how much more evolution is needed before we go for devolution.
I am no extremist. I would say I am at best or worst a traditionalist. Boring, perhaps, somewhat dated likely, reminding me of my father certainly. Like him and so many generations before and, I hope, after, with time and patience if not wisdom comes understanding of the reason, the vitality, the strength of tradition — not only in the big pictures, but perhaps more importantly in the little ones. It permeates every little fabric of society and binds it together. It has a symbiotic relationship with the very root of humans.
I found great solace in hearing the smart, independent and young girlfriend of an ageing lothario friend of mine tell me that she did not feel like having children without being married first. She explained that her generation actually longs for tradition, not shuns it; that it is the current political class and the media that have pushed this subversive view of what the young want the future to be like.
And she’s right: freedom is fun on paper, much less in practice. We’re too gregarious to ever be completely independent of each other, and also now far too numerous to find the required space. But the fantasy always sounds so good. If only the damage done was just in fantasy, too. And do call me a traditional ‘normalist’ please.
Illustration by Jeremy Leasor
During the dark red days of the Red Brigades and surging popularity of Communism in Italy, a friend of my father used to send workers from his textile factories on paid holidays to Communist Russia. For those who survived the flight and local food, there was an option to return the next year. None signed up. Many renounced their Communist Party membership and strike action was never a huge issue there. The concept was very much based on the premise that it’s easy to create a fantasy out of what you think is a reality you haven’t experienced. The workers got to live what they were supposedly wishing for, and the reality had little resemblance to their fantasy. It rarely does.
I think our political leaders should be sent on a similar ‘reality check’ trip. Vince Cable should go back to Romania in the bad old days — but slumming it with the people, not the dictators for a change. George Osborne should go to a version of the economic experimentation of the Cultural Revolution type that he so cherishes, on the receiving end.
As for David Cameron and Nick Clegg, imagine a Camelot where Arthur and Lancelot are both gay activists. The Knights of the Round Table have to have 50 per cent female representation, appointed by popular vote, and the table is no longer round so as not to offend the Tetragon Cult, so no one knows where to sit. Or what to say or wear.
If they survive their trip, perhaps we’re in with a chance of being led back to a semblance of reality.