Author: Ben Sixsmith

Inheritance Tax and the Overton Window

Abi Wilkinson, part of the Guardian‘s[1] quartet of progressive commentators Ellie O’wen Wilkinkriss (Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Owen Jones, Abi Wilkinson and Sam Kriss), supports raising the inheritance tax rate to 100%.

Well, I say supports. The column is a part of a series titled “Utopian Thinking” so it as at least somewhat speculative. But given that Wilkinson offers so many reasons to support this radical idea, with the only disadvantage she is willing to admit to being its unpopularity among other people, it is fair to treat it not as a curious thought experiment but as an attempt to push the Overton Window; or, in other words, to expand the ideological borders of mainstream leftism.

It is a profoundly bad idea. This is partly as its imposition would cause many to leave Great Britain. It is partly as it would encourage gaming the system. It is partly as it would require a vast authoritarian bureaucracy devoted to seizing private possessions. But these arguments alone surrender too much ground to Wilkinson. It is not just to take so much from people in the first place. 

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Israel, Eastern Europe And An Alliance Of Nationalists

The Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised eyebrows last week by meeting, among other leaders from Central and Eastern Europe, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Orban has been accused of stoking anti-semitism yet pledged to Netanyahu that he would protect the Hungarian Jewish minority.

Raised eyebrows shot higher when Netanyahu was recorded saying to the Hungarian, Polish, Czech and Slovakian leaders that EU policy was “crazy”. “I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive,” he suggested, “Or if it wants to shrivel and disappear.”

There was an element of realpolitik in the wily Netanyahu’s comments. It is simply untrue that European survival depends, as he went on to claim, on its stance on Israel. But exploiting the resentment that nationalist Central and Eastern European leaders feel towards the cosmopolitan supranationalists of Western Europe makes sense. He can link their desire for sovereignty to his struggle against opposition to and criticisms of Israel.

Still, it is interesting how much these nations have in common. 

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What Good is Going to University Anyway?

Fraud has been perpetrated against the nation’s youth. It has been perpetrated by successive governments. This fraud is not tuition fees in higher education but the status granted to that education in the first place. Universities are pillars of civilisation but millions of men and women would be better off not going to them. Britain would save millions in the process. Before abolishing tuition fees, then, we should minimise worthless tuition.

Between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, the proportion of young people going into universities across the Western European Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rose from about 20% to about 40%. Many, doubtless, have benefited from this evolution. Many, on the other hand, have not.

I could have lived without university. I took a mixed humanities course, with politics and creative writing, but learned nothing life and Wikipedia could not have taught me. I remember two things: my creative writing tutor telling me I used too many adjectives, which was true, and a politics lecturer claiming that everybody is bisexual, which is not.

(Aware of the pointlessness of the endeavour, I went home and signed up with a distance learning course. This was cheaper, obviously, and wasted a lot less time. I recommend it to potential undergraduates.)

Naturally, my work has little to do with either field.

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Anti-European left is welcome to migrate to humanitarian idylls like Zimbabwe

It is sometimes good to be reminded of how stark ideological differences are between us. Many had mixed feelings about President Donald Trump’s pro-Western civilisation speech in Warsaw, but my friend Niall Gooch wrote for many of us when he said two things are true at the same time: Trump is a bad advocate for Western values but those values are real, good and worth defending.

Others disagree. Often in strong terms. Franco Berardi, an Italian member of the pan-European leftist movement Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, offers this description of the continent and its civilisation:

Democratic Europe is an oxymoron, as Europe is the heart of financial dictatorship in the world. Peaceful Europe is an oxymoron, as Europe is the core of war, racism and aggressiveness. We have trusted that Europe could overcome its history of violence, but now it’s time to acknowledge the truth: Europe is nothing but nationalism, colonialism, capitalism and fascism.

Nothing. Philosophical heritage? No, nothing. Scientific progress? No, nothing. Great literature? No, nothing. Great architecture? No, nothing. A home of such unprecedented liberal order that Berardi can insult his homeland and its people in peace? Nothing. 

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The curious world of Owen Jones and British socialism

Owen Jones is one of the most successful writers in Britain yet he does not actually like writing. “I never wanted to be a writer,” he has written, “I don’t particularly enjoy writing, in lots of ways I’m not a very good writer.” The honesty is endearing. Still, how grim to see one of our most renowned columnists admit that writing is “a means to an end”. Where is the love of language that inspired such commentators as Mencken, Waugh, Hitchens and Cockburn? What does it say about the reading public that a man for whom writing is a mere propaganda tool has reached such heights?

Jones appeared almost from nowhere, with a slim, fresh-faced appearance and cheerful, down-to-Earth style that earned him a following above that of wordier, angrier leftist commentators. His books Chavs and The Establishment became bestsellers and he is one of if not the biggest attraction of The Guardian with his videos and columns.

The honesty that I mentioned is real and admirable. The problem is that it exposes weaknesses that – well – are not.

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Defining Conservatism for the 21st century

Mitchell Blatt defends “Never Trump” neoconservatives from my argument that they are not conservative. It is a civil, spirited and substantive piece. I shall endeavour to uphold these virtues in my response.

I do not think neoconservatives are pseudo-conservative because they are “small government, pro-free trade” supporters of “a strong role for America in the world”. None of these positions are contrary to conservatism in broad terms but they can be depending on their particular forms.

There is a question of scale. Salt is important in cooking yet it can be overused. Supporting an American influence in the world can be conservative yet backing regime change and democratisation is not.

There is also a question of ends and means. Small government and free markets might be means of maintaining peaceful and prosperous societies but are not ends in themselves. They can produce positive economic outcomes but if these arrive too gravely at the cost of social cohesion, cultural standards, environmental preservation and personal fulfilment something can be wrong, or, at least, can be missing. 

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Are “Never-Trumpers” still conservative?

It is and always has been patently obvious that Donald J. Trump is not a conservative. He is no more a man of ideas than he is a man of manners, and his instincts tend towards decadence, impulsivity and egoism instead of restraint, prudence and selflessness.

Nonetheless, people who emphasise that Trump is no conservative often remind me of Christ’s warning about motes and beams. There is no one set of ideas and attitudes that could call “conservative”. It is obvious that conservatism comes in different forms, not least as different people have different institutions to conserve. But anti-Trump conservatives are often hard to place in the traditions of American or European conservatism. Indeed, it can be difficult to know what such commentators are trying to conserve.

Take Noah Rothman of Commentary magazine. Mr Rothman argues that President Trump ignores “some of the most fundamental ideas of conservatism”. Such as?

…the benefits of free-market health care, skepticism toward centrally planned infrastructure projects, the moral imperative of the preventive use of American military force, the centrality of strong family and community bonds, the necessity of failure, the importance of immigrants to the American project, and an incremental approach to political change.

We shall generously assume that Mr Rothman means American conservatism, for Edmund Burke, arguably the father of modern conservatism as a coherent phenomenon, could hardly have believed in the “moral imperative of the preventive use of American military force” when America barely existed.

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