The smug self-satisfaction of the liberal elite has one again been manifested on last week’s edition of Radio 4’s Any Questions by Irish feminist author Eimear McBride who, when asked whom she would like to talk to in a lift and what she would say, responded ‘Nigel Farage: Please be a better person than you are’. To understand the full extent of the crassness of this remark, you also need to know that Mr Farage was a fellow panellist on the same programme.
I think we can be reasonably confident that Mr Farage would not have felt the need go and have a little cry in the gents afterwards, but Miss McBride’s moral superiority is nonetheless breath-taking. Be a better person than you are? What evidence has Miss McBride that Mr Farage is not a good person? Has he been caught in flagrante with his secretary? Pushing little old ladies out of the way in the queue at Tesco? Spitting in someone else’s pint?
So far as I am aware, Mr Farage has been charged with none of these offences, but with the far greater atrocity of daring to challenge openly the narrative of right-thinking progressives. The utter disdain of the liberal elite for those who happen to think (for example) that the impact of immigration on the ability of many low-earning men to find a job which pays enough to support their families is of greater concern than the (non-existent) ‘gender pay gap’ between those in elite professions, has already helped to deliver Britain from the EU (almost), and the USA to President-elect Trump.
It is possible to disagree with a person profoundly and to think that he is utterly misguided, while still believing in his fundamental decency and good intent. Touching and unlikely friendships can be formed across the political divide, such as that between Tory gentleman Jacob Rees-Mogg and youthful SNP firebrand Mhairi Black: such mutual respect speaks well of those involved. And yet it is increasingly the case that those on the progressive Left regard those of conservative inclinations as not only wrong but wrong-headed; and not only wrong-headed but evil.
American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who started out as a self-described liberal but now considers himself a dispassionate centrist, has conducted extensive research on the moral foundations of liberals and conservatives which offers clues as to why this might be so. He concludes that, while liberals have just two basic foundations to their morality, which he defines as fairness and care, conservatives also regard fairness and care as foundational, but have in addition three further foundations: in-group loyalty, authority/respect and sanctity/purity. That’s why, to someone of progressive instincts, it seems obvious that, for example, we should open our borders to desperate migrants; while to a conservative, it’s equally clear that this has to be balanced against the effects on the host community.
This also suggests that it would be significantly easier for conservatives to understand liberals than vice versa, since conservatives have moral principles which simply do not feature at all in liberal thinking; while the reverse is not true. Haidt asked conservatives and liberals to complete questionnaires on moral issues first in accordance with their own views, and then while attempting to anticipate the views of those at the other end of the spectrum: he confirmed that liberals did indeed have a harder time predicting conservative views than the other way around.
Add to that the progressive echo-chamber in academia and among the metropolitan classes, resulting in lack of day-to-day familiarity with an articulately expressed conservative worldview, and the tendency of many progressives to demonise conservatives begins to be explicable. Those on the right make moral decisions on bases that those on the left are incapable of comprehending, and come to conclusions that to them simply appear immoral. Trying to explain conservative morality to a progressive is like one of those tests in which inability to distinguish red from green means that you see a number 7, where those with the full spectrum of colour vision see a 3.
When Theresa May in her infamous Tory Conference speech in 2002 said that the Conservative Party was perceived by some as the ‘nasty party’, she was almost certainly right. What was unforgiveable was to seek to conform the Tory Party to the moral colour-blindness of the Left; but that’s another story.
Meanwhile, as social attitudes at last seem to be shifting in a more conservative direction, there is some hope that our culture as a whole may increasingly begin to see the ethical landscape in technicolour. And if that happens, we might just be a better nation.