Right is divorced from reason, reality


The left-wing rational position is rooted in an acceptance of human and social reality

SOMETHING IS definitely wrong when defenders of right-wing politics defend their essential “logic” with recourse to irrational argument.

An opinion piece on these pages last week (‘No need to take to the streets when logic is on your side’, January 18th, by Tony Allwright) advanced the idea that left-wing politics suffers from a lack of intellectual rigour. Too busy wringing our hands, we left-wingers have little time to construct logical arguments so resort to getting all “shouty”.

Yet is logic really a defining feature of the right? In a narrow sense the right-wing view of society is driven by logic.

Low taxes spur people out the door and into employment where they work hard, generate wealth, and take care of themselves, while at the same time those low taxes reduce the scope for state interventions designed to help those who cannot help themselves. This, of course, is a good thing – anything to stop those lazy welfare scroungers leeching off the rest of us.

A logical approach? Yes, undoubtedly. But is it reasonable, is it even rational?

Instead of seeing a collection of atomistic individuals, the left sees a collective of interdependent humans. The “human” part is important here. Humans fail. Humans sometimes need assistance to do the things they could not otherwise do.

While leftists are often dismissed as being idealistic, is it not even more idealistic to cleave to a view of society where no one makes a bad decision or where those who start the race face down are all assumed to be capable of pulling themselves up? In failing to examine their assumptions the right advances a world view divorced from reason and reality. The intellectual heft of the left-wing position is rooted in this pragmatic acceptance of human and social reality.

By contrast, irrational assumptions characterise the right-wing view. It is assumed that humans will always act in their own best interests, when experience tells us they do not, and it is taken on faith that the market functions perfectly. But perfect markets exist only in textbooks.

The other pillar of the left consists in embracing the fact of our inescapable interdependence. The fallacy of individualism is plain to see when we consider the consequences of adopting some of the right’s favoured policies.

Cut taxes right back to the bone and abolish various welfare supports and you may well encourage people back into work. But don’t start complaining when you have to step over the destitute on your way to your morning commute and don’t be surprised when you get home to find you’ve been burgled by people driven to criminality.

Social change is something that must be wrested from, not waited on. Those of us who believe that a society without fairness or compassion is not worth living in must continue to make demands for social change.

There are many arguments for doing so which, unlike those advanced by the right, are not only logical, but rational too.

Owen Corrigan is a PhD student in social policy at Trinity College Dublin