|Ideology and ethics|
of Tony Blair
Mine is the first generation able to contemplate the possibility that we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war.Tony Blair at the NATO-Russia Summit, May 27, 1997
But I think it is extremely important to carry on the air campaign and intensify it, as I say. We have got to realise that at every single point of this military campaign we have to show complete determination and absolute will to overcome the Serb resistance and make sure that the objectives of NATO are secured in full.Tony Blair CBS interview, April 18, 1999
This is a just war, based not on any territorial ambitions but on values....No longer is our existence as states under threat. Now our actions are guided by a more subtle blend of mutual self interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish. In the end values and interests merge. If we can establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society then that is in our national interests too. The spread of our values makes us safer. As John Kennedy put it "Freedom is indivisible and when one man is enslaved who is free?"Tony Blair in Chicago, April 22, 1999
Blair is committed to a political style of exhortation, to reinforce common values. He also favours a political culture of competition, awards, standards, and prize-giving. It is tempting to relate this to his public school background (in Britain, the public schools are elite private schools). However, it was also a political culture in eastern Europe: each year the German Democratic Republic gave some form of award, prize, or medal, to a quarter of the adult population. The negative side of this is a contempt for under-achievers and the untalented, exemplified by Blair's education minister Blunkett. Also excluded from Blair's moral universe are those outside the nation: this site describes his sometimes surprisingly explicit racism.
"Blairland" is also a free-market economy, but perhaps more for its homogenising effect, than for purely economic reasons. Relatively new, in terms of political emphasis, is the idea of "national knowledge", as a competitive element among nations. It implies that the nation is a knowledge society, competing in a global competitor of knowledge societies: however Blair and his advisors probably have no clear idea of exactly what such a world would mean. The "knowledge" theme is not specific to Blair, it featured in two Clinton/Gore campaigns, and also the Schröder campaign in Germany.
Tony Blair's policies are clearly unjust and unethical, but they are not only policies of one individual, (or some Third Way politicians in Europe). They illustrate an underlying approach to political issues. As political theory, Tony Blair's views are in the European liberal-conservative tradition, They combine belief in a liberal open society, with rigid belief in the legitimacy of the nation state, national culture, and national community. This category also includes Margaret Thatcher: there is no new "Blairism" in this sense, nor is it specifically British. In a May 1998 interview on the future political course of Europe, Blair refers to the Dutch Partij van de Arbeid as a related model. Unlike Labour in Britain, the PvdA adopted an explicit "social-liberal" ideology, with John Rawls as theoretical source (they are now apparently switching to Michael Walzer). Blair has not attempted this kind of explicit political-theory categorisation for his New Labour, preferring vague terms like "new" or "modernisation". Since the victory of Gerhard Schröder, it seems that "Third Way" will become the definitive label, in European media. (Its impact may be in a negative sense - in the issues it ignores. Questions such as the future state structure in Europe, fall outside this kind of politics entirely). So to summarise some characteristics of "living in Blairland"
...a class of schoolchildren in a Britain of the near future, intelligent, articulate, highly motivated to learn what their teachers tell them. Children who wear a neat school uniform: not because they are forced to, but because they take pride in a neat appearance. They are talented, and they use their talents for the good of Britain. The class debating team has represented Britain in the International School Debating Competition, and won a prize. School students regularly represent Britain in competitions, and are genuinely proud of combining personal achievement and national status. Achievements of teams like the Young British Accountants are well reported in the media.......and so on.
For some people, morality is not about good and evil: it is primarily a weapon against the non-conforming. (It is especially a weapon against the non-conforming young). And some people have an excessively sociophile type of personality. Their existence helps to explain the existence of liberal political philosophy. If I see a nation where all males wear a suit and tie, I think they are conformists. People like Tony Blair, however, see personal achievement - hard work for a neat appearance, working for employability. So for Blair individualist talent, and social conformity, are not opposites. It is those who do not conform, who Blair sees as "inflexible" - and therefore less talented. In turn, his social moralism equates this conformist mentality with "morally desirable".
This attitude ("conformity as excellence") is central to the liberal ideals of both Blair and Thatcher. It has a certain political advantage, compared to more specific "family values" or "war-on-drugs" moralising. It is less likely to generate political embarrassment, when individuals deviate. (The Blair government has already had a stream of such scandals: the Home Secretary's son sold cannabis, ministers lent and borrowed from each other in obscure transactions, and there was even a traditional British cabinet sex scandal. Ministers are less likely to get into scandals, for "incomplete use of talent".) The liberal-democratic society of both Thatcher and Blair, is like a school debating society, but elevated to national scale. A liberal nation state ("society") can be intensely competitive, and intensely conformist, at the same time. Market neo-liberalism, classic political liberalism, conservatism and moralism can all combine, in this form of society. This centring effect of the free market, "unity through selection for excellence in conformity" probably means more to Tony Blair, than economic growth. The British economy, in turn, is seen as the "British Team", playing the global economic game: that fits into his ideas on the nation.
See Liberalism: interacting to conserve for more on this aspect of liberalism.
The Dome: A Message from Tony BlairThe future, for Blair, only exists as a national future. Global future is a sum of British future plus French future plus German future, plus all other national futures. A national Millennium exhibition, about a national future, is a typical expression of this. This is one reason why the Millennium Dome in Greenwich is so important to Blair. (Ironically, the Millennium exhibition will probably mean less funds, for British representation at EXPO 2000 in Hannover).
I urge people to support this project because I believe it is good for Britain. It is a display of confidence in the creativity and talents of our people. It is a chance for us all to shape our future and begin the 21st century with a sense of purpose, hope and unity. It will be a time for the nation to come together to be excited, entertained, moved and uplifted. Visitors from all over the world will have the time of their lives. Today Britain need not settle for second best. In the dome we have a creation that, I believe, will truly be a beacon to the world.
The geopolitical vision is clear, if you consider the logically possible alternatives. It is equally possible to open two exhibitions, one for all women, and one for all men. However, even if they were both "Millennium" exhibitions, this would not be acceptable for Blair. World future, as the sum of gender futures, is not acceptable to classic nationalists like Blair. For them, the only legitimate unit of future is the nation. Each nation, for Blair, is a unit with respect to other nations, each competes with other nations in the brilliance of its future. The future for each individual, is participation in that national future. The objection to this is simple: it limits human creativity, to participation in one of 180 unitary futures.
Blair's speech to the 1997 Party Conference emphasised this basic vision. The Guardian counted the words Britain, British, country, nation, people 150 times in his speech. The aim, said Blair, was that Britain should be "a model 21st century nation, a beacon to the world". Past national achievement is the inspiration: Blair listed British inventions. Claims to national inventions are classic nationalism, at its most explicit. Again, if you want to trace this, as political theory, then Mazzini is probably the best source. In the 1998 Conference speech, the emphasis was on the communitarian aspect of nationalism, on national cohesion - for Blair the words community and nation are interchangeable.
When nationalists are criticised on cross-border inequality, the usual defence is, that their government has no authority over the disadvantaged area anyway. For instance, they would say that Britain and Germany do not control Freetown or Tirana: so (they say) there is no obligation to provide British or German standards of medical care. This excuse does not apply to evacuations, where outside forces intervene (Britain, Germany, or a third nation, often the US). Temporarily, these forces were in control, at least in control of the evacuation.
In both evacuations, forces were sent to evacuate British citizens - but not the local residents with the local nationality. This is a plain discrimination on grounds of nationality, and a de facto discrimination on biological racial grounds. It is clearly a racist decision in the usual sense of that word - but it is logically inherent in the structure of the nation state. If there was no such discrimination, then logically the evacuating forces would keep on flying people out of Freetown. In practice, admitting most of the population of Sierra Leone to Britain. And so on in Albania, and every time there was a crisis.
The two other policy options are: leave everyone to suffer equally, or discriminate on the grounds of nationality during evacuation. All nationalist politicians would choose the last course of action: so did Blair and Major. (In practice, the decision was probably taken at the Foreign Office, but a Head of Government is morally responsible for policy. I would guess that the decision for the Freetown evacuation was taken by foreign minister Robin Cook. If so, he is technically guilty of genocide: "imposing on a population group conditions calculated to bring about its destruction". The fact that others were the killers, does not change this: it would also be technical genocide, if a Fire Brigade had a policy of not rescuing Africans).
Here too, there are logically possible alternatives. If there was such a thing as a women's army, it might evacuate only women. An Islamic force might evacuate Moslems by priority. This does not mean all priorities are wrong - it would be morally acceptable to evacuate children first. But that is not what happened, in Tirana or Freetown. Selection was national, and therefore without moral grounds.
Blair (and other national politicians) probably never think about the ethics of evacuations. For them national priority is right, unquestionably. If forced to make concrete policy on evacuations, they would still chose national priority. Evacuation is an extreme example, but nation states would collapse without this kind of discrimination. It is reasonable to hold Heads of Government responsible for it. The fact is that both Blair and his predecessor, and other heads of government, sanctioned the abandonment of people to face rape, assault and murder - on the basis of their ethnic origin. Yet both Blair and Major can get away with this, because any tribunal to try them for it, would undermine the nation state as such.
Similarly, if you are unemployed in Tirana, you can not receive British unemployment benefit. The Albanian unemployed are not allowed to come to Britain either. No matter how bad the housing in Bucharest, Romanians can not register for social housing in Britain. All this is standard practice in nation states, but that does not make it right. These policies are, by definition, exclusionary and discriminatory. Again, since British nationality is largely hereditary, the policy can be described as racist. The fact is, that some people qualify for these benefits purely by reason of descent (from British parents). Many others do not, and have no guarantee that they can ever acquire UK national status. This is a selection on a biological basis, and it can therefore be characterised as racist, even if the privileged group is racially mixed. Blair is morally responsible for these policies, as Head of Government.
There is, again, nothing logical or inherent about "British Technology". By its nature, as a national technology, it tends to exclude non-national technologies (at least, on the national territory). The term shows how Blair thinks about technology: as a unit, transmitted within each nation. If there was such a thing as an "Islamic Technology" (some Moslems claim there is), then it probably could not be included in a British technology. In any case, by definition, nothing anti-British can be part of a British technology. A national technology is a unit: no-one ever speaks of British technologies, in the plural. So this technological vision would exclude any technological innovation, if it was not compatible with national values. Like national futures, national technology, and national cultures limit possibilities. There are moral grounds, for this exclusion of non-national entities. Yet Blair speaks of British technology, as if that were something to be proud of.
...education is about opening minds not just to knowledge but to insight, beauty, inspiration. Schools and colleges which are good academically are often also dedicated to helping every student develop as an individual. They create a community of learning that is about personal growth as well as personal achievement.For Blair, there is a single unit, "knowledge", which is loaded by the educational system: there is no alternative knowledge. Learning this knowledge passively (like downloading) is "personal growth". The values Blair leaves out, are indicators of what he does not want: criticism, questioning, and above all innovation.
Ironically William Hague, the present leader of the Conservative Party, gave a perfect example of the results of this mentality. At 14 years old, Hague learnt the names of all the Parliamentary Constituencies in Britain. This is undeniably knowledge (and from the viewpoint of a Young Conservative, useful knowledge). Questioning the British Parliament is not "knowledge", in this sense. Hague passively accepted the existing structure of an existing nation state: for him and Blair, this is an achievement.
The National Curriculum imposed by Blair (and predecessor Major), is a more complex product of this mentality. By definition it is oriented to the nation: for instance, Blair would reject a Euro-Curriculum. More importantly the educational system as a whole is structured to reward passive acceptance of the existing world ("insight"). Formally, it is based on the assumption that there is essentially a single Truth, which can be known, by learning it as presented. And this Truth also, is nationally organised: French children will download French Truth in their national curriculum, and so on. This is the effective meaning of the term Knowledge Society (or Learning Society).
Blair also sees educational achievement as the primary legitimation for inequality: this can be concluded from his vision of the educational system as an open-access competition of talent. The moral objection to this is obvious: you cannot simply ask people to participate in a competition, and then claim any resulting inequality is justified. In practice however, it is not future inequality which is being legitimised, but present inequality. This is how it works:
What are those inequalities? Blair himself will know this well, but they are a consistent finding of research in western Europe in general. Parents social class, and especially parents educational level, determines children's educational level. Instead of acting as a social leveller, modern educational systems accelerate and amplify social inequality over several generations. It is only the frequent wars in Europe which prevented the emergence of a rigid caste society, in 150 years of mass education. War, unlike education, brings genuine social mobility.
So Blair has a triple vision of education, of the knowledge society: firstly as a future national unifier around a single knowledge, secondly as necessary and good competition of "talent", and thirdly as philosophical justification for existing inequality.
The negative side of an ideology of knowledge and a commitment to education, is the emergence of an exam society, an assessment society. Lifetime learning means lifetime exams. People will be constantly assessed, and each new course or training they are obliged to take, brings another exam. The exam-stress lifestyle, of students at the end of their degree course, will become the norm: so will the associated fear of failure. There will be no "final exams" any more, after which you can relax: there will always be another course, and another exam.
Blair: linguistic privilegeTony Blair favours and implements
linguistic privilege, as do most national leaders. In Britain it is still
possible to complete primary, secondary and tertiary education in English -
probably the only completely monolingual educational system now existing.
Because of this status, it unjustly privileges native speakers of English.
English-speaking monolinguals can get a job as teachers at all three levels,
also a form of privilege.
This inequality is reflected in discrimination by third parties, which is tolerated by the Blair government, as it was by its predecessors. A typical example is scientific publishing: many British scientific publishers refuse to accept anything not in English. Monolingual conferences in English are another example. So are student exchange programs. Students coming to Britain must always learn English: students from Britain can usually take English-language courses outside Britain. The Blair government refuses to criminalise language discrimination. In fact it would be surprising if anyone had ever thought about the issue, English is simply considered the global language, which everyone must speak. Blair reflects typical British attitudes here, or more accurately typical English attitudes.
Indirectly the Blair government, like its predecessors, tolerates the same inequality (or worse), in the private sector. All European countries show dramatic differences in the social position of various groups - by ethnic origin, religion, politics, and class. Some groups such as "gypsies" in eastern and central Europe, "travellers" in Ireland, are entirely excluded from some employment (such as the diplomatic services). In reverse, membership of the aristocracy still dramatically increases chances of a high-status job. In Britain the lowest groups in the hierarchy are probably the multiple-generation urban poor (mostly ethnic British), and the most recent illegal immigrants. There is continuing inequality for longer established immigrant groups, but it concentrates at high-status employment, from which they are generally excluded.
The primary cause of this hierarchy is, the freedom of employers to choose their employees, a classic liberal "freedom". This freedom is only morally acceptable if there is no prejudice or invalid preference, or if the results can be freely avoided. By allowing the average British employer to choose his employees, the government acts to continue inequality and hierarchy. (Given the widespread racist attitudes in Europe, no anti-racist government would allow employers to choose their own employees)
It is acceptable for employers to choose, if the consequences for employees are avoidable. However the Blair government pursues a policy of structural inequality, which limits this possibility, and is discriminatory in itself. If a male clothing shop manager discriminates women, there are enough clothing shops run by women who do not. But the example shows, that this is an exceptional case: clothing retail is traditionally accessible to women, other sectors are not. Economy, administration and infrastructure in Britain show extreme formal inequality. There is absolutely no women's airport or women's railway, there is no black Telecom, there is no black Police, and so on.
For Blair, as for most nationalists, this is so logical that it is beyond discussion. A nation has its national structures, public and private. In reality these are always controlled by the dominant social group: and in Europe that is always the male members of the dominant ethnic group. In Britain, white British males run the railways, airports, airlines, police, courts, army, and almost all industry. Some of this inequality is a legally enforced monopoly: a black police is legally excluded, organising a black army would be a serious crime. Mostly it simply results from unequal allocation of tax revenues: white male airports get government funds, anti-racist airports do not. The government is therefore directly responsible, for most of this formal inequality. (It could change it by simple policy changes, although there would be economic chaos). Tony Blair bears the most responsibility as Head of Government, but also as a politician advocating the continuance of this formal inequality.
Blair advocates a free market economy with entrepreneurial production. Logically it follows from this, that production is in the hands of entrepreneurs - what in Britain is called "the business community". These people are indeed a group, or "community", with their own values. In practice it is a self-selecting group: those who oppose the free market, are excluded from decision-making in business, and therefore from control of production. There is no moral justification, for giving one group or community control of the economy. It is an unjust monopoly. If it is done without explicit consent, it denies freedom.
By advocating, supporting, and implementing a monopoly control of most of the national economy, Tony Blair has acted unjustly, as did his predecessors. Nor would he allow any secession from the United Kingdom to set up a non-market economy (for those with conscientious objections to injustice). This is a perfect example of the combination of liberal political philosophy, with nationalism. This combination has not changed in principle for the last 150-200 years, and is predominant in western Europe.
Again the policy of national preference provides examples. Without the excuse of the "Iron Curtain", spatial inequalities in Europe are harder to justify. The case of the Tirana evacuation has been mentioned above: whatever, the threat, the Albanians were left in Albania. As the Kosovo war introduced a new crisis to Albania, many western politicians explicitly stated that refugees "belong in the region", as if they were genetically tied to it. Refugee or citizen, residents of Albania are excluded from political and social provisions, available to richer EU member states. Although Albania is in Europe, they can not vote for the so-called European Parliament, or join the so-called European Union. In different degrees this applies to most of the land surface of the European continent, and about one third of its population.
Blair opposes the immediate end of this situation: the idea that Albanians should simply be allowed to travel all over Europe would horrify him. Europe, for Blair, is a free-trade association of nation states - and for the members benefit only. (In the 1998 interview on Europe, Blair stated his clear preference for a Europe of the nation states, retaining their sovereignty. However, Blair also sees United States as ultimate arbiter in Europe, empowered to override sovereignty).
The use of the name "Europe" by a privileged group of states within Europe is morally wrong, in itself. It is usually based on a form of cultural racism, especially stereotypes of wild, uncivilised eastern Europeans. In any case, it is correct to say that Blair supports a policy of exclusion in the short term, as do most political leaders in western Europe.
The most important resulting inequality is in resources and government funds. The national principle which is applied here by Blair is morally wrong. If it is right to for raise taxes in London, to finance projects in Birmingham, why is it not right to raise taxes in London, to finance projects in Tirana? Any justification of such policies will be based on some form of racial distinction: honest nationalists admit they favour their "kith and kin". Whether this distinction is open or not, there is no moral justification for it. Allocation of tax revenues on a national basis is an expression of an ideology: nationalism. Outside that ideology, it has no logic and no legitimacy.
Tony Blair repeatedly states his belief in the allocation of national funding, to Britain as a unit: he does this unconsciously almost every time he announces government funding. Compare it with this fictive non-national political speech and you will see the difference:
Tony Blair was elected on the slogan "New Britain", but Britain is not new. The abolition of Britain in favour of Europe, that would be new. Post-Britain would be new, Ex-Britain would be new, but New Britain is a contradiction in terms. In practice Blair's Europe policies are a defensive nationalist reaction. This is traditionally presented by nationalists as "national renewal" or "national salvation". The last thing Europe needs is a generation of populist Generalissimos, running New Britain, New France, New Germany and so on.
So, in the short term, Blair represents a return to nationalist idealism, inspired by a rejection of "Europe". This rejection is partly based on logical self-interest. It is probably now clear to most people in western Europe, that their standard of living will fall, in any form of unified Europe. However the genuine emotional commitment to national identity is more important. Tony Blair, and politicians like him, succeed in presenting this fear of "Europe" as national innovation. In the medium and long term, it is inevitable that elements of xenophobia and chauvinism will predominate.
The moral objection is, that the nation is an arbitrary group, and that injustice is inevitable. Imagine a black minority, subjected to discrimination, and a white Christian majority with objections to the death penalty. In such a nation state, the death penalty for discrimination can not be introduced. In fact, if the white majority objected to any penalty for discrimination, the black minority would be entirely deprived of the protection of the law. This can be a perfectly democratic decision.
This example is not far removed from social practice in most European nations. Discrimination and formal inequality (as described above) can not be legally ended. The majority profits from them, and will not criminalise them. And in general, liberal-democratic states do not abolish what is not criminal. Yet if a minority seceded, a new pro-reform majority could be formed, in a new state. Both majorities could be equally "democratic", in the sense of free and fair decision. However, such secessions are prevented by nationalists, if necessary by military force. So things remain much as they were: the minority can complain, but no more than that.
So like all other national Heads of Government, Blair in effect denies the victims of injustice (within a nation), secession from that nation. The issue of discrimination is a good example of the politics. Blair supports a de facto "war on drugs", but not an equivalent "war on racism". The application of even the existing law in Britain is unequal, the introduction of the death penalty for discrimination is politically unthinkable. As Head of Government Blair is responsible for this unequal application of the law. It contradicts the claimed "equality before the law" of liberal theory, but it does not contradict democratic theory. In a democracy the majority may decide of the de facto application of the law. The only remedy for a disadvantaged minority is secession, and that is ruled out by the idea that the "demos" must be a historically constituted nation state. A separate anti-racist state, on former British territory, is unthinkable in a world of nation states. Again as Head of Government Blair unjustly applies that nationalist principle. The arbitrary choice of a decision making unit, to the disadvantage of the minorities so created, is unjust.
Blair's political morality is liberal within a nationalist framework. The most general belief within liberal ethics is, that process legitimises outcome. For liberals, the free market legitimises the economic and social results, liberal debate legitimises policy, and so on. Tony Blair has identified himself with one central element of liberal thought. He said that his political ideal is, that politics should be a matter of argument. (Blair equated this ideal with Britain, in the time of Gladstone).
It is reasonable to conclude from this that within the framework of his nationalism, Blair sees argument itself as an overriding moral value. The moral defects of this, will also be familiar to political theory students. Suppose that Auschwitz had been decided on, by totally free and fair debate, suppose the issue had been decided "by force of argument alone"? Would that make Auschwitz right? If they are to be taken to the logical extreme, then both Tony Blair and Jurgen Habermas apparently believe it would. Both of them would deny this, of course. However, it is the inevitable logic of a neo-liberal philosophy, where debate and argument are elevated above morality.
In practice both Habermas and Blair are strong defenders of the nation state, as a limited arena of debate, as the de facto "speech community". Yet the principle of argument as a political ideal is only acceptable in a group, where all the members have freely consented to accept the outcome of argument. Once again, as in the case of the free market, Blair as nationalist removes this option. You are born into a nation, a minority of immigrants excepted. If the national Head of Government wants to run it as a debating society, then you can (hopefully) emigrate, but you may not secede. Not in nationalist theory, and not according to Tony Blair. You are presented with these options, for your future: belong to a nation state and help build its national future - or have no future.
Blair is therefore wrong, to impose political, social and economic structures on persons, without their explicit consent, and without the same chance to leave them, as Blair had to impose them. Yet in the last instance Blair would appeal to liberal theories of implicit consent, and democratic theories of the will of the people, to justify his government. And he is not the only leader who does that. It is accurate to characterise Tony Blair as immoral, but this judgment applies to most political leaders in Europe.
|This section infers Blair's beliefs in explicit form: the example is the EFF ideology site. For clarity: the statements below are Blair's inferred ideas, not mine.|
Equality(Note: the Blair idea of equality is best visible in the attitude to group inequality, the example given here).
Talent and mediocrity
Assessment, standards and audit
Success and failure
Europe after KFOR