Why Jeremy Corbyn and the ‘politics of love’ is a load of mawkish bollocks

Love, February 2012 by Juliana Coutinho

You might think that the main reason for Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of Labour was a poorly thought-out electoral system that allowed large numbers of activists to vote without any reference to Britain’s wider political context.

But apparently for Max Harris, a fellow at All Souls College in Oxford, there is an alternative explanation.

Writing in a bizarre post on the New Statesman’s website, the academic suggested that Corbyn’s victory was down to “something deeper, something more fundamental” than the gaming of Labour’s electoral system.

“Perhaps,” he suggested. “It was a result of love.”

If you suspect a large amount of bollocks is about to be put before you then you are unlikely to be disappointed. For in short order Harris penned the following:

“The politics of love works in a world where politics is grounded in values. The politics of love makes love the foremost value of politics, and suggests that politics – and politicians – should be motivated by love. It takes love to be a deep warmth directed outwards towards another person or object.  And it emphasises the importance of active, wholehearted relationships in politics.”

Which, of course, is a load of total wank.

The first and most obvious criticism of Harris’s thesis is that all politics are grounded in values. Even Nazism, which had at its centre a commitment to Aryan supremacy and race hatred, was grounded in values. They were simply not ones that we would want to emulate.

Less extremely, the pragmatic politics of trade-offs and compromise carries its own values. A politician who believes it is better to get some of what you want rather than nothing will hold values that account for the limits of our political systems, as well as the innate tragedy of human life.

And even if that were not so, it is not as if the politics of Corbyn are even that lovely. As Harris goes on to say:

“First, Corbyn called clearly for more kindness in politics, with less negativity, less name-calling, less ruthless and unnecessary personal criticism. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has summed this up, saying that Corbyn’s ‘new politics’ is a ‘kinder form of politics where you respect the other person’s views’. Kindness is closely associated with love: both are personal virtues, grounded in altruism and goodness, that are rarely invoked in politics.”

This too is wrong. Kindness is not the same as love, nor is it even “closely associated” with it. Indeed, if you cannot be kind to those you do not love it does not say a great deal about your character.

Nor indeed is love “grounded” in altruism. Love is a feeling that enables us to make sacrifices for the good of others because we value their wellbeing above our own, but this is to say that a kind of altruism is grounded is love, not the reverse.

But the contention that Corbyn’s politics is “kinder” is questionable for less fundamental reasons. As anybody who turns up at hard left demos could tell you, there are some deeply unpleasant elements on that political fringe, as evinced by those who spat at journalists at the Tory conference in Manchester, alongside thousands chanting “Tory scum”.

There is also the fact that intentions are not the same as results. A Corbyn government would undoubtedly hike the minimum wage in the name of “respect”, “dignity” and all that well-meaning guff. But such a move would certainly result in job losses and make it harder for the low-skilled to find a starter job.

Is this kindness? No doubt Corbyn would say as much. But that does not make it so.

As for the notion of government involvement alluded to in the first excerpt above, Harris and Philip McKibbin elaborated further on it in an online blog:

“Jimmy Carter, the spiritually-minded and ethically-grounded US President, talked of the need for a ‘government filled with love’. And Vaclav Havel, the musician and playwright who led the fight to free Czechoslovakia from Soviet rule in 1989, said that a government must ‘radiate love’.”

A government that claims to love you might well dispense generous welfare. But then again, like an overbearing parent acting “in your best interests”, it might well tell you what you should be eating, whom you should be sleeping with and more generally how you should be living your life. There is no better justification for totalitarianism than “love”.

And this brings us to the central problem with Harris’ thesis. By his definition, to love something is “to express a sentiment of enduring warmth towards a person or people”.

But humans did not evolve to love thousands of others that they have never met and are never likely to meet. To say that you “love” humanity is mere virtue-signalling. What you at best mean is that you have compassion for humanity, or that you respect humanity, or would like them to live well.

And although this bastardised meaning of love will not warm the cockles of the mawkish, it is these emotion that constructed the welfare state, settled relations between once warring countries and restrained governments from interfering in citizens’ personal affairs.

The “politics of love”, far from being something we should strive for, is something that should be resisted. Let us hope it never takes off.

Image Credit – Love, February 2012 by Juliana Coutinho

Jimmy Nicholls

Jimmy Nicholls

Writes somewhat about British politics and associated matters. Contact jimmy.nicholls@rightdishonourable.com

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