On Trident, Jeremy Corbyn has already won, and on economic policy he has shattered the comfortable, macro-economic consensus that debates deficits and debts and ignores Sally and Steve from Swindon. (If that sounds insulting, it’s how Corbyn’s despatch box interventions have been sneeringly characterised on all sides).
Socrates backs him on both issues. Here is Socrates on the nuclear doctrine, and remember, he had been a soldier: ‘One who is harmed should not seek revenge. It is never right to repay evil with evil.’ We have had openly discussed, on the Daily Politics and elsewhere, what instructions Prime Ministers give Trident submarine commanders in the event of UK annihilation. The consensus of those in the know, or who claim to be, is that commanders are told not to retaliate. PMs don’t want to go down in history as perpetrators of futile revenge. Futile it would be too: Russia is thought to have around 1000 launch-ready nukes to our three or four dozen. Corby’s allegedly extremist position turns out to be mainstream; he tells the truth, others lie. Socrates again: ‘Deceitful words and foul deeds infect the soul.’
Socrates was contemptuous of those who piled up wealth, and would be unsurprised by our colossal and increasing inequality: ‘One who is not content with what he has, will not be content when he has all that he desires.’ He thought those who acquired wealth through wrong-doing (the present-day sectors responsible for that are only too well known) harmed their own souls more than their victims. Alas, in a post-Dawkin world, that is trifling comfort for the victims of banks, motor manufacturers, energy suppliers or other capitalists who cannot be trusted out of our sight.
Hegel asserted that social and historical change follows from the in-built conflicts or contradictions in every set of circumstances. For example, a bud contains within itself the seed of its transformation into a flower; the flower likewise must give way the fruit, the fruit to seeds, and so on infinitely. However stable and permanent a state of affairs seems to be, the stability contains the seeds of change, even destruction. History provides plenty of examples of this happening. Sometimes for good: the dissolving of the Russian and Chinese economic tyrannies, and the associated moderation of their political counterparts. Sometimes for ill: the destruction of secular dictatorships in Muslim countries, and replacement with something no better.
Corbyn’s Hegel effect has begun in a small way. His approach at Prime Minister’s question time has been widely derided; but who would thought we would ever hear Prime Minster Calm-Down-Dear speaking respectfully of Kelly’s predicament? Who would have bet on the IFS spending time on the financial circumstances of Michelle Dorrell who shredded the Tory member of the Question Time panel? The IFS concluded that perhaps (note the humility of the word perhaps) she won’t lose as much from the benefit changes as she fears. Smooth Tory platitudes about the need for this or that budget to be got under control are left floundering in the face of actual people, tangible emotions and real tears.
A bigger Hegelian change is in progress for the Labour Party, which must now accept that dominance by public school toffs, and the apprehensions of London’s comfortably off, have brought forth a reaction. Whoever succeeds Corbyn will be no Blairite. But the Corbyn phenomenon cannot fail to change Tory policy too. Already we have had claims that the Tories are the party of the centre, the representatives of the ordinary working family. To make this stand up we can already look forward to amelioration of benefit cuts, and expect more being done to bring tax-avoiding rogues like Facebook and Amazon under control. It would be simple, for example, to make taxes payable on receipts (not profits) taken within the UK. There’s no practical or ideological Tory reason for not doing so, even this year. If not this, watch for something else that brings howls from the Tory Right.
A last word from Socrates: ‘A man should really be what he pretends to be. Good reputation cannot be gained without being as you appear.’ If he can eschew the hemlock, Jeremy Corbyn might become one this country’s greatest Prime Ministers. He is already a prodigious influence on whoever is next in that role, Labour or Tory.
(Whose book on applying philosophy to everyday life, love.philosophy, is presently piling up rejections from all the best publishers.)