By Richard Elliott
A few evenings ago, I left one of my favourite bars by Tottenham Court Road tube station after a modest tipple with some agreeable company, to head to Waterloo for my train back to Hampshire. Realizing I lacked the reading material sufficient for an hour’s train journey, I popped into a nearby off-licence to pick up my weekly copy of The Spectator. After passing my change and gratitude to the vendor, my eyes met with the young man waiting behind me in the queue, wearing a t-shirt beholding a portrait of Karl Marx as its centrepiece, with the large words ‘I WAS RIGHT’ emblazoned underneath. The man looked from me to my new acquisition, then back to me, before uttering a derisory “cunt” at my person. Yes, I was called a cunt for buying a right-of-centre magazine (I’m sorry if you find the word ‘cunt’ offensive: it is, however, just a word). Not being a particularly confrontational type, I passed my offender without response, save for a look that screamed “it’s not like I’ve just purchased the latest edition of Child Molester’s Weekly!” in protestation.
Mildly perturbed but pensive after this encounter, it reawakened my thoughts on political justification, my own personal political choices, and their place on the spectrum of left and right. I recalled the exact moment I realized that I was right-wing: that is, more specifically, libertarian on some things, conservative on others. It all fell into place for me: that I considered the prevailing voices of the left to offer no serious nor ethical alternative to capitalism, as well as realizing much of the left’s miserable failure to react aptly to the events of September 11th 2001 and the dawn of a new age of terror with the brand of internationalist pluck and veneer that used to get Trotsky, a man I, paradoxically, have grown to much admire, out of bed in the morning. But despite my well-considered convictions, I found it very hard to come to terms for some time with the notion that I was ‘right-wing’: for one thing, I didn’t know anyone who openly declared themselves on the political right (I just imagined them all to be old men sitting around in dusty castles on Scottish Lochs drawing out arcane battle plans to recapture Constantinople). It was only after some time that I began to grasp how many educated and thoughtful people held opinions and positions traditionally associated with the political right on issues such as the distribution of wealth, taxation, humanitarian intervention and free market capitalism. In short, it was really only through the assurance of strength in numbers that I felt comfortable enough to publicly declare my political affiliation.
Since I came out of the ideological closet, people can be relied upon to be unceasingly shocked in the middle of cordial conversations to hear that I am right-wing. Of recent, whenever I am treated with looks that portray disappointment, anger, confusion, or all three, I remind myself of the maxim laid out by Boris Johnson in the April edition of the New Statesman; “On the whole, right-wingers are prepared to indulge left-wingers on the grounds that they may be wrong and misguided but are still perfectly nice. Lefties, on the other hand, are much more likely to think right-wingers are genuinely evil.” A relevant aside: I am currently reading The End of Faith by Sam Harris, a brilliant disclosure on the role of religion in inspiring modern terrorism, where the word ‘conservative’ always entails a derogatory connotation. Even the dichotomy of left and right is imbalanced: hence why ‘leftist’ looks so much less alien than ‘rightist’ in political discourse. The philosopher Roger Scruton makes points of a similar theme here.
One should expect disagreement from others in matters of political opinion: politics is divisive by its very nature, and not being able to cope with the dissenting opinions of others is a bad sign for anyone wishing to partake in the great discussion at any level. But having a shared, well-grounded and valid political opinion subjected to public taboo is difficult to stomach: by keeping quiet to avoid a fuss, right-wingers mostly allow the mainstream of public discourse to be hegemonized without an oppositional view. The great Thomas Paine noted that if one stifles a political persuasion or opinion, then one denies themselves and others the right of having their own arguments challenged. What is interesting in this case is that the stifling is self-imposed, all for the sake of good taste.
I do not intend this anecdote to resonate as some tawdry attempt at a right-wing rallying cry: but anyone who can sympathize with this (particularly the young, who are the most likely to be the lone voices of right-mindedness amongst a flock of other, often very outspoken, voices for the left) should consider it the next time conversations of a political persuasion are lacking the oppositional voice, and the decision to either keep one’s head down or speak up must be made.