How weird is this? I find Janet Daley’s columns morbidly fascinating given that, in a manner not dissimilar to Simon Heffer, she often seems like an unusually clear spokesperson for the neoliberal world view in the broadest sense of the term. So when she begins to write peans to declining living standards, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that a crisis of moral confidence is beginning to set in amongst the ruling class:
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe profoundly in the value of mass prosperity and the ability of free markets to deliver it: the personal freedom, self-determination and dignity that come with financial independence are transforming for individuals and for the societies in which they are generally available. And yet, and yet… through this very independence that comes with relative wealth, something has been lost.
She then goes on a bizarre trip down memory lane, recounting how a lack of affluence in her upbringing went hand-in-hand with solidarity and mutual aid (presumably now absent from her life in exchange for the ‘personal freedom, self-determination and dignity’ that she enjoys as a wealthy columnist and leader writer). Apparently the 1970s were a moral golden age for an ‘impoverished’ British middle class before renewed affluence inflicted a plethora of pathologies on a blighted people. Furthermore traditional working values were mysteriously ‘junked in favour of celebrity culture and materialism’ (as if cultural shifts occur in a vacuum). All in all it sounds like Janet Daley thinks neoliberalism has been a bit shit really, in spite of all the virtues she has spent a career imputing to it. So now, thankfully, we can recognise that ‘there might be a chance to recover something valuable that has been almost forgotten’.
Wow. The article is so weird that it’s almost difficult to know what to make of it (particularly when one reads it in terms of Charles Moore’s admission that he is starting to think the left might actually be right). I’ll have a stab at understanding it though: the rambling weirdness of the article is not a function of Daley’s intellectual vacuity (she is an extremely bright woman) nor ideological incoherence (on the contrary the ex-philosopher is a resolutely consistent advocate of neoliberal doctrine). It’s a sign that the empirical claim on which her entire political framework is founded is finding itself more trenchantly falsified with each passing day. With this comes disorientation, inconsistency and a vague nostalgia for the past – a reassertion of ‘traditional values’, imbued with a moral charge that she herself (possessed of ‘dignity’ and ‘self-determination’) escapes in daily life.
Anyone else get the feeling that the neoliberals are going to get really nasty and moralistic rather than let go of their dogmas?