The centre-left cleaves to a principle enunciated by Plato


Following on from what I recently wrote about the centre-left’s fidelity to principle , it’s fair to say it generally cleaves to a principle long ago enunciated by Plato.

Plato wrote about aspiring to the ideal state, one that is ruled by the “guardians” with truth and justice.

The “guardians”, as Plato’s Socrates says in the ‘Republic’, are meant to be specially educated to know only the very best ideas; no coarseness or falseness is allowed to touch their souls. In Book III of the ‘Republic’, Socrates speaks of the need to ensure that the guardians never “depict or be skilful at imitating any kind of illiberality or baseness, lest from imitation they should come to be what they imitate.”

The problem with such high-mindedness has been obvious, not just in the US but in the UK too, much before the pandemic struck.

For a time, there has been a growing sense that the centre-left is incapable of the ideological flexibility and political dexterity required to take – and keep – hold of power.

The right, however, displayed ideological flexibility, a rather remarkable example being the Conservative Party’s December 2019 election campaign in the UK.

Boris Johnson’s party reversed its objections to massive public spending, promising the equivalent of a free pony – and a unicorn – to everyone in the attention- and -funding-starved northern English belt of traditional Labour voters.

Of course, the pandemic has changed everything, forcing huge spending commitments from Britain’s Conservative government just as much as from every other in the western world. But the Conservatives’ pre-pandemic ideological flexibility is still worth noting. I’m not sure the left would abandon principle so precipitately just to win office.

Clearly then, when it’s said that the left is just  not pragmatic enough, what that probably means is as follows: it generally tries to put principle above the need to simply win office.

That’s true – both before and after the pandemic hit.