The left has lost touch with its soul, and until it finds it again we are all the losers. From Berlin to The Baltic, from Scotland to San Francisco, the confusion is manifest, and the result is the political failure we witness around us. To the extent that there is any resurgence of left leaning politics, such as in Spain and Greece, those forces hark back to 20th century models and ideals that are unmodernised, and they are doomed to fail, if not electorally, then in office.
The history of this problem is fairly simple. In the middle of the 20th century most modern democracies had established two party systems. Each party was big tent representing one of the two essential characteristics of human nature: the imperatives of social cohesion, and individual autonomy. These twins were also represented internationally in the figures of the USSR and the USA, and espoused in the systems of communism and capitalism. Although each side was an incoherent half truth, together they represented the whole system, and achieved a semblance of balance through flip-flops in electoral success.
Once communism collapsed, there was an corresponding loss of half our truth. And because the two sides had come to be conceived of as opposites, as alternatives, then the ascendance of one and the fall of the other was taken as the triumph of one over the other. If history was defined as the battle between social and individual, then the fall of the social systems was assumed to be the end of that history, and victory of the individual over the social. Within a decade of the fall of the Berlin Wall every major political project of the left had adopted the ascendance of the individual into their platform, with New Labour and China as shining examples.
Now the left stumbles across the world in the dark, certain of their hearts but unable to find the connection to their souls. The social democratic left in Europe is in steady decline, from Scandinavia to Seville. The parties that created the “Nordic model” have been steadily losing domestic support as the mantra of individuality is catalysed by immigration. Labour in the UK, the Socialist Party in Spain and countless other “centre-left” parties across Europe, as well as the US Democratic Party, have all suffered because they only offer to be more caring custodians of a basically individual-centered system. The public, quite rightly, tends to the belief that if you’re going to have an individualistic system, then you’re better off having people who actually believe in that system to run it. When one-sided individualistic politics pushes people too deeply into the disquiet of their subconsious heart connection, they throw their support behind the alternatives available. Unfortunately the only alternatives available are reactionary, retrospective reanimations of outmoded 20th century caricatures, of both left and right. These are simply the “ideas that are lying around”, and they are grasped for lack of reasonable alternatives.
If the polities of the advanced nations are to find their way forward, they need their politics to find their souls. The challenge of the left is not to come up with an opposing narrative to the individualistic, it is to unify the individualistic with the social. Both are truths, both are self-evidently natural aspects of human character, that to oppose one side is to immediately invite disbelief and irrelevance. It is in the nature of those with left-leaning dispositions to feel the tug of their hearts, just as it is the nature of those with right-leaning inclinations to the feel the imperative of their heads. The problems we face may be rooted in unchallenged ascendency of individualism, but the solution is not to deny the self-awareness of individuals, for that will strike anyone as unreal. Neither is it a solution to try and reassert the heart over the head, for in that battle the truth is also lost. The way forward is to acknowledge head and heart, it is to reveal the truth that both are essential and complimentary, that they are dualities, and they are unified in the truth of their mutual necessity.
As befits those with caring hearts, the task at hand is to embrace the whole, to assert the unity of the group in a message of inclusion, not opposition. The soul, the truth, that joins head and heart, is that humans are the species that have succeeded in specialisation. Differentiated capabilities within our populations allow us, as a group, to do so much more than any individual could ever achieve on their own. But this specialisation only works when there is sufficient cohesion within the group to allow the benefit of each individual’s special capabilities to accrue to the group. The larger our groups, the greater the degree of specialisation we can support, and the better we can be at discerning and solving problems. The individual specialist is indeed a core of what makes us who we are, and as successful as we are, but each individual is dependent on the cohesion of the group for their ultimate success. Large groups need lots of specialists, and the more differentiated a specialist is the more they are dependent on a large group. The individual and the social are symbiotic, even requibiotic.
By recognising the essential role of the left in the 20th century, and embracing the function of the left to represent the imperative for cohesion, we can follow our heart and find our soul. For while our problems can be defined as the dysfunctional ascendence of the head, at the expense of the heart, we cannot restore balance with the fallacious assertion of the opposite. Instead, by embracing the whole, we can re-establish a truth that will resonate naturally with every population, and which can provide a keenly guiding light on the path through our problems, that embraces individual difference and common good.
The overarching narrative that we, humans, are defined by our evolution, and dependent for our future success on maximising the traits that have propelled our evolution to this point, is the key to clarity.
Broad specialisation held together in large cohesive groups, the mind and the heart, the right and the left, these are the soul of our species.
To give two examples of how this unified theory informs the issues of our time, let’s look at welfare and democratic structure – both areas that the left has demonstrated difficulty with articulation.
Symbolic of the left’s missing soul is the struggle to reason why society should provide welfare, and what form it should take. If those on the left can’t articulate it clearly, no wonder it falls further and further under the wheeling onslaught of individualism.
Welfare is the practice of the solidarity essential to harvesting the contributions of all the unique individuals in our society. What is necessary to deliver that solidarity is the provision of a set of basic LIFE sustaining services, provided unconditionally to every individual. If an individual is cold, shelter them; if they are hungry, feed them – the naturalness and simplicity of this beggars belief that it is not grasped more easily.
Money is the operating method of our individual side, and so it can never successfully provide the safety that defines solidarity. When poverty is defined in monetary terms, then money becomes the cure, but the diagnosis was wrong to start with. Because the construct of welfare as a monetary system has a false foundation, it’s implementation fails and it never receives the wholehearted support it deserves.
At the root of behaviour is decision making, and humans are the best decision makers on the planet, as a group. We assemble our best specialists to develop their various solutions, then the whole group selects which solutions to implement. This means that both diversity and decisiveness are necessary, and the best way to achieve that is to have a wide variety of decision makers, but to weight their decision making according to the degree of their popular support. Proportional representation does that.
Multi member assemblies for every constituency, elected from a single slate with a Hare quota using transferrable votes, ensures diversity. Weighted member voting ensures decisiveness.
Maximal effectiveness and efficiency are achieved when decisions are taken as close to the problem as reasonable. This means having multilayered, containing constituencies at the local, regional, national, and supranational levels. Self determination can be actuated by enabling self association for each constituency’s membership of the containing level constituency.
All this becomes more obvious when the proper purpose of our group, our society, is understood as the floor on which individuals stand. The purpose of democracy is to leverage diversity to support the group, to harness every individual perspective in service of the whole.