In response to Belinda Brown: The problem is not inequality, but how we respond to it, Peter Evans wrote:
An excellent, thoughtful and compassionate article.
If I were to proclaim that I find it appallingly socially unjust that short, overweight people are systematically excluded from professional basketball, and insist that this outcome is caused by blatant lardophobia and endemic discrimination against the vertically challenged, I would rightly be laughed at as a crackpot by most sane people. Nature, and life’s contingencies, are neither egalitarian nor ‘fair’, but they can be exacerbated to an appalling degree by misguided (or malevolent) efforts to establish an earthly Utopia that treats both as ‘social constructions’.
Being born into a working-class family and raised by socialist parents, what I recall most deeply about my parents’ political outlook was the absence of malevolence and the presence of a deep patriotism: they had both willingly done their duty as very young adults in the Second World War to repel and destroy the horror of National Socialism (my father in the RAF and my mother in the Land Army). They subscribed to Orwell’s modest definition of socialism: sufficient provisions for all and common decency.
Their pragmatic and humane Leftism, which remained loyal to British freedoms and the institutions that enshrined them, bore no resemblance to the equality-of-outcome zealots of today, all of whom, I can’t help noticing, come from relatively prosperous backgrounds and know little to nothing about the ‘egalitarianism of necessity’ (as E P Thompson once put it) of working-class communities: the spontaneous sharing of limited provisions with those worst off but also the strong, shared disapproval of those who would prefer to sponge off others than work to earn a living for themselves.
Individual responsibility was part and parcel of this older, non-Bolshevik Leftism. Contemporary equality-of-outcome Leftism isn’t only perniciously unpatriotic (it characterises the West as an evil, oppressive ‘patriarchy’ that systematically subjugates ‘people of colour’, women and sexual minorities), it’s also motivated not by genuine fellow feeling with the poor, but by malevolence. The malevolence comes first, the theoretical justifications (identity politics) comes afterwards to rationalise and justify the malice.
The primary reason why Orwell embraced moderate patriotic socialism but despised socialists was that he knew that too many of the latter were well-heeled malcontents who secretly despised the working class they claimed to be fighting for and simply loathed (and envied) those who were wealthier and more successful than themselves. They weren’t opposed to ‘privilege’, they were just vindictively envious of the competence and enterprising endeavour they either lacked or refused to cultivate.
Poverty and inequality could be slashed, very fast and very dramatically, by encouraging two-parent families and revalorising the dignity and social necessity of loving, responsible fatherhood as well as motherhood. The equality-of-outcome revolutionists would rather incentivise irresponsible and undesirable behaviour, like welfare-dependent, serial single motherhood, which punishes women by the removal of benefits if they establish a long-term partnership with a male soulmate, while rewarding short-term flings that often result in ‘accidental’ children. Marrying the State is no substitute for marrying the father of your children. The first encourages economic inequality, the latter remedies it more effectively than any top-down Government redistribution policy.