Friday, 3 May 2013

Ideology, Tolstoy and Billy Bragg.

They were moved by fear or vanity, they rejoiced or were indignant, they argued and supposed that they knew what they were doing and did it of their own free will, whereas they were the involuntary tools of history, working out a process concealed to them but intelligible to us. Such is the inevitable lot of men of action, and the higher they stand in the social hierarchy the less free they are.” (Tolstoy, L. War and Peace, Penguin Classics, pp811).

Tolstoy’s description of the Russian and French Generals in 1812 could just as easily be used to depict many political events over the last 3 centuries. Following the Russian victory the claims by the Generals that they had lured Napoleon into Russia in order that his armies would perish in the harsh winter took precedence over historical fact (they had tried at every opportunity to prevent Napoleon entering Russian territory; it was Napoleons hubris that led him deeper into Russia where his superior army was defeated by cold). Almost two centuries later Reaganomics ‘rescued’ the US economy from high inflation and interest rates and secured economic prosperity.
Reagan came to power promising to reduce the burden of government on the people of America "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." Reagan embraced the theory of "supply side economics," which postulated that tax cuts encouraged economic expansion which in turn increased the government's revenue at a lower tax rate. He was also an advocate of reducing restrictions on business and increasing defense spending.
Reagan ended power with the USA in its 6th year of economic prosperity. The economic gains, however, came at a cost of a record annual deficit and a ballooning national debt. The budget deficit was exacerbated by a trade deficit. Americans continued to buy more foreign-made goods than they were selling. Reagan, however adhered to his free trade stance, and signed an agreement to that effect with Canada. He also signed, reluctantly, trade legislation designed to open foreign markets to U.S. goods.
After he had left office Reagan reflected on his time as president saying "I believe the same things I believed when I came to Washington, and I think those beliefs have been vindicated by the success of the policies to which we hold fast."
The belief in free trade that meant that the US economy is now dependant on imports from China; the belief in low taxes that led to fiscal deficits and national debt; the belief in small government that led to massive expansion of military power; the belief in democracy and freedom that was expressed in support for pro-US dictators and the imposition of proxy governments in Haiti, the Philippines and across the Middle-East.
Economic prosperity occurred in the USA during the 1980s in spite of Reagan, not because of him. Furthermore this prosperity was not shared by all. 30% of the black population lived below the poverty line; a situation that has given rise to further social problems.

Ideology is a dangerous thing, especially when you don’t or can’t understand the ramifications of all that you do in the name of it. Reagan believed that his economic policy saved the USA. It may have contributed to the rich getting richer but the nation grew poorer (OK GDP grew, but not as fast as the national debt and wages of regular people stagnated). Similarly IDS believes that by cutting welfare people will be driven back into work. Osborne believes that he can reduce taxes, reduce the fiscal deficit and increase standards in healthcare and education.
I can’t agree with Tolstoy when he speaks about an inevitable course of history (a process dictated by whom?). However I do concur that the higher up the social hierarchy an individual is, the more likely they are to be bound by social convention to maintain the status quo. If we all work together to build the foundations of a better future for our children; if we seek to further the interests of the common man (and woman) then surely we can succeed where vested interests fail? The careerist politicians do not hold all the answers; they all too often are blinded by their ideology; taking historical fact and molding it to meet their own interests and needs. People need to stake their claim in their own governance. Or the rich will carry on getting richer and the rest of us will return to serfdom.


When one voice rules the nation
Just because they're top of the pile
Doesn't mean their vision is the clearest
The voices of the people
Are falling on deaf ears
Our politicians all become careerists

They must declare their interests
But not their company cars
Is there more to a seat in parliament
Than sitting on your arse
And the best of all this bad bunch
Is shouting to be heard
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

Outside the patient millions
Who put them into power
Expect a little more back for their taxes
Like school books, beds in hospitals
And peace in our bloody time
All they get is old men grinding axes

Who've built their private fortunes
On the things they can rely
The courts, the secret handshake
The Stock Exchange and the old school tie
For God and Queen and Country
All things they justify
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

God bless the civil service
The nations saving grace
While we expect democracy
They're laughing in our face
And although our cries get louder
The laughter gets louder still
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

Above the sound of ideologies,
Above the sound of ideologies,
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

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