The Art of Ruling & Being Ruled

Our associate Valery Morozov has secured an interesting interview with Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Tory Cabinet Minister and a leading figure in Mrs Thatcher's Administration.

Although published for a Russian audience on and on his own blog, Valery's interview is available in English in two parts here and here. Now just over 70, Rifkind retired from Parliamentary politics in 2015 but was Chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence & Security Committee from 2010. He has an insider political view of Anglo-Russian relations as well as representing mainstream Tory values in foreign policy.

There is nothing dissident about Rifkind in his view of the Crimean and Ukrainian issue. The Russians made a point of including him in a ban on visitors to Russia in the ridiculous tit-for-tat that passes for foreign policy nowadays. What we found interesting was his recognition, which is ours, that liberal democracy is now not quite as coherent as we like to think in the West. The exercise of democracy (which he treats as an absolute value as do many Atlanticist Tories) can come up with surprising challenges to liberal assumptions as it has done in the case of Trump's election and of Brexit.

Rifkind is a British liberal but appears to accept that democracy is a check on a liberalism that has ceased to connect with ordinary people's needs and aspirations. This is in stark contrast to a tendency emerging on the Left which seems to think that liberal values, as defined in strict Enlightenment terms, are so absolute on their side that questions can now legitimately be raised about democracy. Nowhere is this so clear as in Richard Dawkins' New Statesman recent article which is a variant on a theme expressed in the title of the pro-fascist artist Wyndam Lewis' The Art of Being Ruled.

Rifkind also speaks for classically British free trade, expressing more in sorrow than in anger his belief that Trump has got it wrong on the negative effects of a policy that has stood the British in good stead for nearly two centuries but accepting (even as a tolerant post-imperial Tory) that the mass migration of people from entirely different cultures is causing strains in the West. He also recognises that free trade has selective negative effects on some parts of the population and that this is a political problem that has to be addressed by elites if they are to remain in control.

Where perhaps Rifkind is too simplistic is in the absolute assertion that there is no 'ideology' behind Trumpism. We can play with words here and, of course, Trumpism (or Faragism for that matter) are not as coherent as Marxism-Leninism or neo-liberal orthodoxy but fascism was never very coherent nor was socialism before Lenin, so perhaps we may speak of the emergence of sets of ideological formulation that are all in opposition to the prevailing ideology of liberalism as well as to socialist state direction of culture and which cohere around a symbol of resistance, whether Trump, Brexit or Le Pen.

There is much more to this recent phenomenon than one man riding a wave of discontent with globalisation. Some of the ideas within Trump's ambit can be traced back decades and longer and were there for the studying - it was just that liberals of all types dismissed them as atavistic. But, for a sense of how intelligent mainstream British Conservatives think about the world, you could do much worse than this two part article if only to learn just how much even the wisest are still trying to come to terms with phenomena that none predicted and whose future trajectory remains unclear.