From the Dead Forest
"Beyond Left and Right"
A review of
David McKnight Beyond Right and Left: New Politics and the Culture Wars,
Allen and Unwin, 2005
These comments started as a series of posts on the blog Catallaxy in 2005/06. Later Kevin Rudd picked up some of McKnight’s errors and recycled them to establish his credentials as qenuine thinker in his new role as the (then) leader of the Opposition.
Robert Manne wrote for the dustjacket "This is one of the most attractive and fruitful books I have read in recent years. Through critical reflection on the foundation stones of our political thought - conservatism, liberalism and socialism - and through an easy mastery of the most important contemporary political debates, David McKnight has managed to write something that is at once original, courageous, realistic and fresh. For those who are uneasy with the stale dogmas of Left and Right and whose hopes for the creation of a more humane society remain alive, McKnight's book will act both as an inspiration and as a stimulus to further thought.”
This provokes the thought, how can the man who was hailed by his peers as the leading public intellectual in the nation be so impressed by a book that is packed with errors of fact and stale dogmas of the Left?
David McKnight has advised in private communication that he does not see any need to revise the book for a second edition despite the considerable number of errors which can be found, including major misrepresentations of Hayek’s ideas. This is a strange situation, possibly related to the fact that more than 20 of his friends and colleagues have been named as readers of the manuscript, so presumably they signed off on the errors as well. It seems that David McKnight is speaking from the dead forest of the left, a forest of trees that remain standing despite being cut off at the base, held up by the press of numbers and the intertwining of their branches.
The book contains many critical references to neoliberalism however it is possible to read right through without gaining any impression of what it is. In case DM is referring to classical liberalism (the philosophy of Hayek) it will help to identify the core principles that are worthy of support, which may not be the same thing as the caricature that DM depicts as a malignant growth in the body politic.
Three pillars of classical liberalism can be sketched without claiming that these are exhaustive.
1.A suite of freedoms including freedom of speech, belief, assembly, movement, and free trade, namely the voluntary exchange of legal goods and services between people, including those in other countries. 2.The rule of law, including due process and property rights, also equalitarian justice (equality before non-discriminatory laws). 3.A robust moral framework including things like honesty, compassion, civility, enterprise, and community service.
Contents of the book.
The Age of the Market
1. Beyond Right and Left
2. A world made by markets.
3. The triumph of an idea.
The End of the Old Ideas
4. Neo-cons, ex-cons, and the death of the old Right.
5. What was socialism?
The Culture Wars.
6. The culture war and moral politics.
7. Rethinking family values.
8. We're all in the same boat.
9. A new humanism.
Chapter 1. Beyond Right and Left
This is a reasonable but unoriginal account of the limited value of the labels right and left to make distinctions between different political groupings and the futility of trying to place people on a right to left spectrum. People who have read Hayek "Why I am not a conservative" (1963) could have moved on from the conservative - radical spectrum, maybe to a different position which Hayek called the Old Whig or classical liberal position.
Chapter 2 A World Made by Markets
The title signals a serious misunderstanding of markets, suggesting that they are impersonal, self-motivated forces rather than things that happen when people exchange goods and services.
On page 20, there seems to be the suggestion that the privatisation and deregulation of water, telephone services, electricity, roads and so on violate the principle that these things should be organised for the public good.
Actually the aim is to provide those goods in a more efficient manner – for the benefit of the public. Some people will recall the scandalous rorts and the lousy service provided by the old public telephone monopoly, the over-manning in the water boards and the railways, the ongoing resistance to necessary and desirable changes in education by the teachers' unions.
On neo-liberalism and family values.
"Families, friendships and other non-market bonds are a problem for economic liberalism and the commercial culture which it promotes...Care for others, altruism, non-market relations - such feelings, such motives and the actions which flow from them do not make sense for most economic theorists". (page 36)
Can McKnight name some economic theorists of his acquaintance who cannot make sense of altruism and non-market relations? Economists don’t normally talk about these things in public because they are usually called on to talk about economic policy and little is gained by trying to talk about everything at once.
On page 42 "Not only are families moving into crisis, but wider social cohesion is fraying."
Evidence of genuine trends “into crisis” would help, also a recognition of the impact of the radical leftwing adversary culture that has undermined traditional values, especially civility. It would also be revealing to explore the impact of the corrosive doctrine of the class war, as it has been preached and practiced by the left and especially the more militant trade unions over the last 200 years.
There is a reference to "The Liberal Party ideologue Andrew Norton". That is not a fair comment, in fact it is a false statement because Andrew Norton has been critical of the "tax and spend" tendencies of the Howard administration and other aspects of policy especially in higher education. He may coneivably be a classical liberal ideologue (like myself) but that is not the same as being a Liberal Party ideologue.
Moving on to markets and the environment he writes of "the desires of property developers and construction companies to tear down heritage buildings, or for logging or mining companies to despoil the natural environment" (page 43). The language is strangely slanted to suggest that developers and miners actually want to destroy heritage buildings and despoil the environment, as though they are deliberately vandalistic.
There can be genuine issues of principle between heritage conservation and private property rights. These need to be addressed using some set of principles without resort to rhetoric that suggests that private entrepreneurs, more or less by definition, have no regard for history or the environment.
On the environment, it will help if the second edition of the book acknowledges the rather large literature on market-driven and private property based conservation strategies.
Here and there in the chapter one finds critical reference to "commodification" which seems to function as a general purpose “boo” world (rather like “capitalism”) to describe the activities of buying and selling. More explanation is required to find whether it is a kind of code to signal that the writer is endowed with wisdom and virtue or whether it signals a problem that needs to be addressed. It is not hard to be critical of the taste and prudence that many people display when they go shopping but if there is a policy issue that needs to be addressed then it needs to be defined more clearly than McKnight has attempted in this book.
Talk of “commodification” is reminiscent of the snobbish and elitist criticism that was directed at factory workers in Dickensian times when they used a part of their wages to buy cheap “luxury” items of clothing and jewellery, dismissively called “gee gaws” by upper class comentators to signal that it was cheap, mass produced trash, not like the expensive handcrafted items of furniture and decoration that were designed by socialists like William Morris for consumption by the gentry.
Chapter 3 The triumph of an idea.
This chapter spells out some of Hayek's ideas which are supposed to be the major inspiration for "neo-liberalism". That is the term that DM uses in favour of "economic rationalism" to signal that the body of ideas that concerns him has ramifications beyond economic policy. This is a step in the right direction because many "economic rationalists" have been irritated that the larger agenda of classical liberalism is too often ignored by critics. However it is apparent that the larger agenda of classical liberalism is not adequately captured by McKnight's "neoliberalism".
His summary of the "better known" stances of neliberalism (page 50)
1. Individual choice.
2. "Government regulation of private business should be abolished in
favour of self-regulation and greater competition".
4. Low tax and user pays.
5. No trade barriers between nations.
6. The market principle to be applied to all public goods - education, health, environment.
A minor criticism of (2), I am not aware of anyone in the mainstream of neoliberalism who adopts the extreme view on government deregulation as suggested by DM above. It is true that there are concerns about the amount of regulation. Lindsay Tanner has appointed a well qualified economist Nicholas Gruen to pursue the possibility eliminating silly regulations. It is true that neoliberals would want to see more self-regulation and greater competition but who is proposing that "government regulation of private business should be abolished"?
He proceeds "There is more to this than meets the eye, including certain deep assumptions about human nature". However I am not aware that neoliberals make any controversial assumptions about human nature.
The revival of neoliberalism.
DM suggested that two factors triggered the revival, one was the failure of Keynesianism with the emergence of stagflation in the 1970s, the other was the libertarian tendencies that emerged in the raft of social changes that started in the "swinging sixties".
The Thatcher Revolution
"In her first term, Thatcher...cut government spending savagely" (page 53).
No evidence provided. Evidence in hand suggests that there was practically no reduction in spending on health, education and welfare under Thatcher.
Neo-liberalism in Australia
In 1976 Hayek toured and gave some speeches, one of them a critique of the concept of social justice. "The apocalyptic and extreme tone of Hayek's speeches cast its shadow over the succeeding years" (page 57).
So who is being apocalyptic and extreme?
Labor and the New Right
The Labor government embarked upon some reforms, along the lines advocated by the neo-liberals. DM wrote
"With hindsight, some of Labor's economic reforms were unavoidable and contributed to a more efficient and globally competitive economy."
In other words they worked, as competent economists predicted, for example Shann in the 1930s.
But still 1986 and 1987 were vintage years for irrational hate speech directed at liberal reformers. DM refers to some of the episodes of hate speech that I have reported elsewhere, although he does not seem to find them objectionable.
Prophet of the Free Market
DM started with Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.
"A remarkable quality of The Road to Serfdom is its absolutism. Not only is central control and planning an absolute evil, but there is a rapid and slippery slope between government planning of any form and total social control." (page 64)
No passages are cited to support that claim.
"Hayek was also blithely unaware of (or dismissive of) the realities faced by many ordinary people." (page 64). That is supported by the following quote from Hayek.
"In a competitive society it is no slight to a person, no offence to his dignity, to be told by any particular firm that it has no need for his services, or that it cannot offer him a better job. It is true that in a period of prolonged mass unemployment the effect on a many may be similar. But there are other and better methods to prevent that scourge than central direction." (my italics)
I don't understand how this reference to the scourge of mass unemployment indicates that Hayek was ignorant of dismissive of the concerns of ordinary people. "Scourge" is a strong word. McKnight may need to refer to a dictionary and read right to the end of the passage that he cited.
The Spontaneous Market Order
"Hayek was quite right about this fatal flaw in completely centrally planned economies but, as always, he extended this insight to its most extreme point: any intervention in market forces is as flawed (nay, evil) as Stalinist central planning...Indeed, one could make a case that restraints and modifications on markets also 'evolved spontaneously' when the amoral quality of the market became apparent. But Hayek would reject this."
It would help to acknowledge the large amount of text that Hayek devoted to the kind of legal and institutional framework (including an extended moral order) this is required to ensure that markets (more precisely the activities of people trading in the marketplace) deliver benefits.
Morality, Reason and Social Evolution
Major criticisms of Hayek emerge in this section. According to DM's gloss
"The value of liberty rests on an account of the benefits of the market. This,in turn, depends on a general conception of humanity - of the limits of human reason...Crucially, and related to this, it depends on some unorthodox and, to many, unacceptable ideas about morality." (page 69)
Readers should be warned that DM has misread Hayek in many and various ways. For a start, it is speculative but not repulsive to explore the kind of rules that are required to maintain an extended market order, in addition to the rules that maintain order in small, self-contained groups.
"Hayek defines morality as those attitudes that are necessary for, and develop within, the market - and thus form the basis of modern society.”
Hayek does not define morality in such a limited way. As McKnight records below, Hayek acknowledges the benefits of altruism in the family and primary (face to face) groups. Hayek is concerned with another layer of rules that make for good outcomes in the extended order. “Good outcomes” is a shorthand for peace, freedom and prosperity.
“ A market relies on rules of good conduct and fair dealing by all people towards anonymous others who are rarely met face to face... These rules of conduct concerned rules about 'several [i.e. private] property, honesty, contract, exchange, trade, competition, gain and privacy'. These are what Hayek understands by moral rules. The unexpected (and repulsive) concomitant of his notion of cultural evolution is that feelings of altruism and obligation (usually regarded as the kernel of morality) are here seen as its antithesis, as primitive instincts from earlier, hunter-gatherer societies, which have to be overcome."
McKnight’s critique has detached a part of Hayek’s argument from the context where it was written. As noted above (and below) Hayek did not restrict his vision of morality to one or other level of social organization but sought to apply principles that are appropriate at each level. His reference to the rules that apply in self-contained groups of hunter-gatherers was a part of his argument against the theory of social justice that calls for equal shares all round by coercive redistribution from rich to poor..
"Hayek turns our normal conception of morality upside down by insisting that it is 'primitive', and by claiming that untrammelled self-interest is both moral and modern. The essence of Hayek's political position - that the free market must be safeguarded at all costs - follows from this."
The point of maintaining free markets under the rule of law is to benefit people. The case for free markets can be made without reference to "untramelled self-interest" (whatever that means) and the idea of safeguarding freedom "at all costs" looks like a piece of rhetoric that adds no value to the argument.
"A modern society with little or no altruism would be a bleak place indeed, though Hayek's modern followers in global corporations, think-tanks and government continue to strive mightily to take us there. page " page 71. No evidence provided.
DM then describes how Hayek apparently confused the issue by reserving a place for the primitive feelings of solidarity and altruism in the family and voluntary associations, otherwise we would crush them.
"Hayek recognised this paradoxical inconsistency, and proposed that we must simply learn to live simultaneously within different kinds of orders according to different rules - those of the market and those of the family. We must be ruthlessly self-interested in the market and sweetly caring in the family, greedy at work and selfless at home. But such a solution is self-evident nonsense." (page 72)
That take on Hayek is almost self-evident nonsense but Kevin Rudd picked it up in order to talk about Howard's "Brutopia" where ruthless self-interest would prevail in the public domain. People and firms in the marketplace have to pursue their "self-interest" by satisfying customers (unless they have a state-protected monopoly). So success depends on keeping other people happy with the products and services that they provide. So much for greed, and relentless self-interest.
Confusing two concepts of justice
It is helpful to note the way that the traditonal concept of justice (equal treatment under non-discriminatory laws) has been supplemented by the notion of social justice which means handng out equal shares of everything. The use of the term justice in the leftwing sense of social justice creates confusion both for the pursuit of justice, as traditionally understood, and also for the aim of helping the poor.
Equalitarian justice is a worthy objective and one that is highly valued but it has nothing to do with the redistribution of resources. Any serious attempt to implement the program of equal shares would fall foul of all the arguments against central planning - the productive capacity of the economy would be destroyed.
For many of us (and not just the people of the left) the aim of helping the poor and the weak is just as important as equalitarian justice but they are not the same thing and the socialist ploy of making them the same thing has frustrated both objectives.
Chapter 5 What was socialism?
In this chapter David McKnight starts the job of regenerating socialism by lightening the weight of lead in the saddlebags of the movement. He begins with some reminiscences on the role of the coal miners as the vanguard of the working class and some mournful comments on the way that things have changed.
“By the time I had joined the Communist Party in 1972, I was puzzled to hear that the miners were the subject of a wistful regret by the organisers of the party. A similar regret was expressed about the waterside workers. Both of these sections of the working class had become relatively affluent and their militancy turned inward, spurred more by self-interest than by a wider role in the shared interests of all workers. The class consciousness of miners and many other groups of workers has been hollowed out." (p 106-107).
He could have learned from Bill Hutt that the militant unions became the aristocracy of the working class, to the detriment of everyone else, especially the unemployed.
The death of a legend
In this section he pays tribute to The Australian Legend by Russell Ward, a Marxist spin on the myth of the bushman. Incidentally this myth has taken a severe beating as I noted in a recent post of some old book reviews. He noted that the legend has been hijacked by John Howard in "one of the most successful pieces of cultural politics of modern times". He suggested that this move has confused the left who sometimes appear to assume that the working classes belong to them.
“Among the Left, there is still a residual feeling that workers and trade unions are not just important institutions, but are central to building a better society, even to the exclusion of other constituencies. There is even a view that workers (blue collar workers) are more authentic, 'better' people.”
Inverted snobbery is no better than any other form of snobbery, and it becomes very dangerous and damaging when it is associated with the corrosive doctrine of the class war and is translated into militant industrial action.
Beyond the world of class
In this section, DM propagates a view of history that needs to be challenged.
“In its time, the class analysis of socialism was an enormously powerful weapon. It cut through the ideologies that obscured the greed of the corporate ruling class, both locally and internationally. More importantly, it gave a confidence and inner strength to working-class movements. The idea that all workers shared a status in that they were oppressed by the same force was the basis for class-wide solidarity, the first expression of which was the formation of trade unions, on which were founded labour and socialist parties in the late nineteenth century.”
One of DM's aims is to locate the flawed beliefs at the core of socialism. Several are located in the above paragraph. In brief (1) the casual reference to greed, as though that was a special characteristic of the corporate ruling class. (2) what was the "same force" that oppressed the poor? (3) the early trade unions were not engaged in helping the oppressed, rather like the modern ones they were concerned with maintaining the privileges of their members against outsiders, especially the unemployed [see Hutt again].
The death of socialism
He suggests that many of the Left today have no investment in socialism and there are at least two different schools of thought. There is a 'cultural left' based on an educated middle class and a socialist left based on trade unions (though presumably not the "right wing" unions). He notes that many notionally left regimes have been a disgrace and he poses the question, why should anyone care about the fate of about socialism these days.
His answers to the question.
1. Historical curiosity.
2. Poverty, injustice, violence and gaping social inequality are still with us, and these were the original causes of the socialist movement.
3. "The socialist Left has been a weighty force for over 150 years in forcing social change and reform. Its greatest achievement, ironically, has been civilising capitalism". p 113
4. A new youthful movement is emerging to resist global economic injustice.
5. Analysis at this pivotal moment in history (after the collapse of the Soviet Union) may be illuminating.
How did things change so quickly? Thirty years ago the New Left was riding high, now DM suggests that this was "the last gasp of an older Left, not the promise of a renewed one".
He hopes that understanding the flawed core beliefs of the Left will be the start of understanding how a new politics of social change might evolve.
The collapse of 'actually existing socialism'
In this section DM confronts the dilemma of the Left to account for the failure of the Soviet experiment while keeping alive their own hopes for the movement. There is an element of contradiction when he writes that the pivotal moment for the death of modern socialism was the collapse of the Soviet Union, but just as the reader is about to shout that it was dead in the 1930s, he writes that the doubts accumulated for decades because no modern Leftist had any illusions about the Socialist experiment. (still they kept very quiet about the failure of the communist experiment during the rise of the left on campus during the '60s and '70s when they were promoting the communist takeover of South Vietnam).
He refers to the hopes of the diehard communists as "the ancient dreams of a generation traumatised by the Great Depression". He might have added that the Great Depression was caused by constraints on markets, not by "unfettered market forces" as claimed by the left.
The collapse of the Soviet regime and the cognate apparatus of central planning did not produce a rapid recovery of economic growth because "Markets require a strong framework of law and civil society to restrain the dynamic but destructive tendencies and the absence of these continues to be one of the key reasons for economic and social chaos in modern Russia" (page 116). He could have added here "as classical liberals have long pointed out, but did anyone take any notice?".
Marxists have attempted to retrieve whatever they can from the wreckage of the Soviet experiment and DM describes the suggestion that publicly owned companies might compete in a market to get the best of public ownership and market forces. But all that is beside the point if only people realise that there is no inherent problem in private ownership provided that the state does not protect special interests.
Having realised that we have to live with markets instead of central planning (as argued by Mises and Hayek in the "calculation debate" of the 1920s) DM lists some of the other questions that emerge.
Within what institutional and moral framework should markets operate?
To what degree should market mechanisms be used in any given sphere?
Which areas of human activity should largely be quarantined from markets?
To what extent should should the surplus generated by private enterprise be put to social uses by the state?
How can value and prices be attributed to finite natural resources such as water, minerals, timber and so on?
I suspect that these questions will not seem overwhelmingly daunting when it it realised that markets are just the process of people trading goods and services. The law and its agencies will need to protect people from force and fraud. Parents will need to bring up children to respect the persons and property of other people. Markets are already operating for water, minerals and timber but they are likely to produce perverse outcomes if the use of these things is separated from private ownership and the interest in productive use and long-term husbandry that private ownership tends to encourage.
Fatal flaws - class, rationalism, social constructionism, defining progress
DM wrote "Over the course of the twentieth century, the varieties of socialism tended to share an outlook based on a number of flawed ideas which need to be confronted." He considers that the flaws of Marxism are especially important because:
"Marxism acted as a kind of wellspring of ideas and intellectual strength whose influence rippled out into labour and socialist parties, into cultural and academic life and into society generally. It dynamised succeeding generations of young people, fired by the ideas of socialism". (page 123)
He considers that many of the flaws have been recognised by many people for a long time but they have hoped that the ailing patient can be saved "by amputation, addition or invigoration". However his conclusion is that Marxism is well and truly dead and much of socialism with it.
"The original motivations and values of socialism, however, can be reconfigured as part of a new social and political philosophy: however, this first requires us to understand why such an idealistic and hopeful doctrine failed." (p 124)
Class. The analysis of class and the class war was particularly misguided. DM does not actually say that this was always the case, just that the analysis has not stood up to the changes that have happened over the last 200 years. He talks about farm labourers being "compelled" to sell their labour in a market to another class of people, a rather odd account of the process of emancipation from subsistence to relatively well paid work in the new factories. He also notes that Marxism had trouble explaining the family.
Rationalism. Rationalism in the philosophical sense is identified as a problem. This applies to the particular rigid kind of abstract reasoning from (dubious) first principles that Hayek called ''constructivist rationalism' which, allied to the utopian impulse, rapidly degenerates into fanaticism and violence.
Defining progress. He suggests that socialists have been too focussed on material progress, which is not surprising in a world of poverty and deprivation but the attitude has persisted into our current situation of relative abundance. The argument here is flawed by the recurring problem of cause and effect, where DM has not come to grips with the central errors of socialist theory, among them the failure to understand the relationship between freedom and productivity, the need for increased productivity to enable the able bodied to prosper and to deliver a surplus to support those who are not able bodied, plus the old and the young.
DM concludes that a way forward has to be found that retains the values and aspirations of socialism without the flaws that he located. Here one must protest. Was it only socialists who wanted to alleviate poverty, hunger and disease, who wanted to provide more equality of opportunity, peace, freedom and justice? The answer, of course, is no. There have always been non-socialist conservatives and liberals who have shared those aspirations, but for some reason it was the ideas of socialism and coercive utopianism that overwhelmingly captured the intellectuals and others who manned the socialist and communist movements of modern times.
Chapter 9: A new humanism
David McKnight askes "So what can legitimately and usefully be retained from old philosophies of Right and Left? " page 237.
Liberalism he sees as the source of valuable ideas concerning individual freedom, the rule of law and equality before the law, also the idea that governments are not above the law, the ideas of due process and the separation of powers. So far so good!
For DM the core of Socialism is the ideal of "collectivism and the common good...with social equality (as distinct from political equality) and social solidarity. On the basis of these moral values, socialists - through the workers' movement - struggled for decent health care, education, employment, income support and other building blocks of a civilised way of life" (page 239). A bit of special pleading there - as though socialists were the only people who ever cared about health, education etc etc.
He sees Conservatism making a contribution in connection with the ecology, as a corrective to utopian rationalism, and the "regulatory aspect...expressed in terms of social obligation and security, can be a valuable ally in protecting society from radical economic liberalism." (page
However he does not consider that the combination of ideas from those sources will be enough to handle the problems of the New Capitalism.
The terrain of the New Capitalism
This section contains some confused thinking about the old Capitalism "built on class and on economic inequality" (what does that mean?) and also on the so-called New Capitalism.The argument here suffers from DM's unhelpful view of markets as though they represent some superhuman agency rather than the outcome of plans and decisions by people and firms.
There is a litany of evil tendencies that this agency is supposed to be delivering - decay of social fabric, hostility to the family but there is no evidence that these problems are (a) actually getting worse or (b) caused by the kind of influences that he attributes to "New Capitalism".
"The New Capitalism is not the friend of the family, nor of the values which families embody at their best: caring, altruism and love. Such relations do not make sense to a system whose logic insists that the truly valuable things are those that can be commodified - that is, bought and sold in a market." (241)
No evidence provided.
The New Capitalism is ecologically unsustainable
He notes that capitalism and new capitalism have been highly productive, as reflected in the expanding world economy and "extraordinary advances in the wellbeing of many people" He cites the expanding world population and various issues related to stocks of resources and moves on to make the challenging claim that "neoliberalism, socialism and other philosophies have neither the explanatory framework nor the terms to analyse what is going on". (243)
That claim is quite preposterous as 'Nugget' Coombs pointed out in a paper "Matching ecological and economic realities" delivered to a conference in 1971, printed in The Economic Record March 1972 and reprinted as an occasional paper for the Australian Conservation Foundation. He explained
that decision-making between the alternative uses of scarce resources has always been a central concern in economics.
On the next page we read that "Major environmental problems have made an impact only on the consciousness of a minority so far" (244). Those of us with children in school in the 80s may recall a period when the notice board in every class room burgeoned with diagrams of the greenhouse effect and the ozone layer. Clearly a massive education effort was under way in the classrooms of the nation and the result has been an unprecedented level of concern, now full-on hysteria over climate change, not necessarily well informed and balanced.
The level of concern was rising in the early 1970s when conservation and cognate issues moved from the fringe of public perception to become a part of the mainstream of social and political concerns. Typical of the response was the clean-up of the Parramatta River and Sydney Harbour, and much
progress has been made worldwide. However good news has not been welcome in some circles, as witness the hostile reception to Lomborg's book that documents some of the gains that have been made.
A hybrid vision of humanism
He has taken up humanism as the label for his position, though it is a 'new humanism' with four implications (1) humans are not entitled to conquor the natural world with impunity, (2) this humanism is not ethnocentric (restricted to WASPS), (3) it is non-sexist and (4) it is open to the spiritual dimension of human existence.
This new humanism has to be enriched by caring values with an 'ethic of care' for the natural environment. This sounds like the very old injunction to "Cherish the earth, for we live by it". It also has to press on with the array of concerns that prompted the development of the welfare state. At
this point, without being argumentative, I want to just suggest that there were other ways to express caring conerns without "extending the 'maternal' values of care and compassion from the family to the state" (page 251) because this has spawned a massive, inefficent, bureaucratic monster.
This section contains another swipe at "the short-term view of neo-liberalism, which discards traditions of all kinds, including that of our environmental heritage" (page 253). No supporting information provided.
A new moral framework and the future
This framework is supposed to be a challenge to the Right (on its own grounds of conservatism) and to the Left, to rethink its values and "reconfigure them as a defence of social solidarity, the environment, and regulated civil society which is antithetical to market-based commercial values." (page 262)
In conclusion, there is a lot to be said for people of all persuasions to rethink their positions and especially to adopt the ecological approach to "look downstream" from the point where policies are initiated and see what urns up when they take effect and produce results some way off in time and
I think that David McKnight will need to heavily edit many passages of the book to gain credibility in the second edition.