The full interview between Marian Tupy and Douglas Carswell can be found here. The transcript is below.
Marian Tupy: Douglas Carswell is a British former politician who served as a member of parliament between 2005 and 2017. He co-founded the Vote Leave Campaign and currently serves as president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, which is a free-market think tank located in Jackson, Mississippi. Douglas, welcome.
Douglas Carswell: Thank you for having me. It’s wonderful to be on your show.
Marian Tupy: It’s an absolute pleasure to have you, we’ve been communicating for many, many years. I’ve been watching your career, both in the British parliament and out of it, and over the next hour or so, I want to talk about many of the things that we are both concerned about such as the rise of authoritarianism and protectionism and the threats of those two to liberty and economic growth. We can talk about political polarization and retreat from the enlightenment, but I think that we must start by talking a little bit about Brexit, your role in… The role that you played in Brexit and its consequences. So here in America, Brexit is often described as a precursor to the 2016 presidential election with all of its bads and all of its goods. It is interpreted as a precursor to nationalism and a retreat from globalization. That however is not, I think, how you perceived Brexit, is it?
Douglas Carswell: Absolutely. If the thing that you heard about Brexit was through CNN or via the BBC, then of course, you’re going to think of Brexit as being a bad thing. Of course, the media organizations that create those narratives, that disapproved of Brexit will tell you that somehow Brexit was a retrograde step. But actually, what is so illiberal or nationalistic about the idea of democratic self-determination. Surely, in much of the 19th century, the very essence of being a liberal was to believe in national self-determination rather than having your society run by some sort of grand imperial elite. So I think Brexit, with its focus on democratic self-determination of taking back control, of giving people ultimate say over how their country is run, that’s a profoundly, to me, liberal idea in the true meaning of the term “liberal”, the idea of democratic self-determination. There’s nothing anti-other countries or anti-foreigners or xenophobic about it at all.
Douglas Carswell: I think what actually the… Insofar as there are parallels between Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, I think they are two very different phenomenon. But they were certainly phenomenon that showed the limits to which the established opinion-forming classes can shape and control political narratives. That, I think… In 2016, I think we saw the political opinion-forming classes finally losing their ability to decide what was and what wasn’t politically acceptable. Although I think how that manifested itself on either side of the Atlantic was profoundly different. I don’t think the election of Donald Trump had much in common with the Brexit vote at all.
Marian Tupy: No, I agree with you, and of course, I wrote in favor of Brexit. We will come to what’s happened since Brexit in a moment, but I think there are two things which I think may be of interest to the American audience. The way that I understand it is that the American comprehension about European politics and British politics in general is very heavily influenced by sort of sister media organizations in Europe. So what the New York Times may be publishing about Brexit, and Breton, Boris Johnson, the EU, may be heavily influenced by The Guardian and The Economist and things like that. So very often in the United States, you do not get both sides of the story, but heavily ideologically-influenced reportage from the European Union and from Brussels. Is that correct?
Douglas Carswell: The commentariat in America recycles the same cliches that the commentariat in Britain and Europe band around. I don’t think there’s much in the way of original analysis done by many American newspapers. And it’s only really now in Britain that the mainstream media is really trying to genuinely understand why it was that tens of millions of people voted differently to the way that BBC would have preferred them to vote. So I do think that there’s a profound laziness, I think, by the opinion-forming classes on both sides of the Atlantic. They would much rather agree with other commentariat-type people, rather than try to genuinely understand why it is that people think so differently to them. But fundamentally, we couldn’t have won the referendum simply by appealing to people on the basis of anti-immigration sentiment or narrow nationalism. And I know this because I was very, very heavily involved in running the official referendum campaign.
Douglas Carswell: And for us, we could only have won a majority by actually running a campaign that was outward looking, optimistic, upbeat, and appeal to the sense that Britain could rightfully regain her place in the world as a truly internationalist country by leaving what we regarded as an increasingly parochial and a protectionist European Union. We argued that we were leaving a cramped and crowded, protectionist trade bloc, in order to become a genuine, internationalist globalist country. And it’s only by framing the choice in those terms that we were able to win a majority. So the idea that it was somehow a pessimistic and protectionist movement, I think couldn’t be further from the truth.
Marian Tupy: I think that one thing that may be beneficial, again to the American audience, is to note that being against the European Union, does not mean that you are somehow against Europe or against European cooperation. To me, there are two very important dates in the evolution of the European Union, and please correct me if I’m wrong. One was the single European Act of 1986, which basically brought into existence, things like qualified majority voting. And so for the first time in the history of European cooperation, you no longer needed all the governments to agree to a certain policy to a certain way of integrating European economy or society together. But it could now be done by a majority voting. So if you and your population were fundamentally against a certain procedure, a certain law, or a certain regulation, you could be for the first time out-voted.
Marian Tupy: And in that sense, once you have qualified majority voting, of course, some of the legitimacy, a democratic legitimacy, which goes along with your government signing on the dotted line is lost. And then the second date is the 1992 creation of the European Union with all of its accoutrements, which really leads to something different than intergovernmental cooperation. It talks about supranational organization, where the parliament in Brussels can suddenly start devising all sorts of laws and regulations for independent countries, whether they like it or not. And obviously, in a situation like the EU, where you have 27 countries with very different histories and cultures and so forth. So that in itself leads to a lot of resentment and calls for separation? Did I sum it up correctly, and where do you disagree with that?
Douglas Carswell: You were very eloquent. I would simply add to that by… Yes, the European Union began life as an essentially liberalizing project. Initially, the European Union used the language of facilitating trade, facilitating the easier movement of peoples, it was, I thought as a classical liberal, a force for good initially. However, you quite rightly point out it morphed into being something profoundly different, far from actually facilitating greater free trade, it actually ended up doing the opposite. You mentioned, the single market, the Single European Act. Absolutely, initially, the idea of being a member of the European Union was that if you produced a product in Britain, and it was legal to buy and sell that product in Britain, it would be legal to buy and sell it anywhere in the European Union and vice versa, and who could possibly be against that?
Douglas Carswell: On the contrary, that would be a profoundly good thing. It would help facilitate greater specialization and exchange within Europe and help drive up living standards. But what happened was that the European Union changed into something profoundly different, so that you could only buy and sell something in Britain if it complied with regulations drawn up in Brussels, often at the behest of corporatist vested interests. So what started out as a liberalizing, in the true sense of the word, project, became an inherently protectionist cartel system. I would argue that the European Union owes much more to the Habsburg tradition in Europe, which is to have a small self-serving elite presiding over a multinational empire than it does to Adam Smith or anything that Hayek ever said, the European Union morphed into a profoundly illiberal project. The single currency, which we haven’t mentioned again, initially, the idea of European sharing a single currency was sold as being a liberalizing move. It would facilitate greater trade and the free flow of capital across borders.
Douglas Carswell: Far from doing that, what it’s turned into is a system of monetary advantage seeking by Germany that uses monetary union to give it an inherently mercantilist trade advantage over the rest of Europe, which is driving down living standards outside the central bloc in the EU, and forcing tens of millions of Europeans in countries like Spain and France and Italy to move either to Britain or to Germany in order to maintain their standard of living. It’s a profoundly illiberal mercantilist measure.
Douglas Carswell: So the European Union began life as something good, but I think it’s been profoundly corrupted by fundamentally, as Hayek might have said, “It’s a project that started off being based on what you might call… ” What he would have called evolutionary rationalism, competition and choice. It’s ended up becoming a system of top-down design, a blueprint for 500 million people. And it’s not working for ordinary Europeans. The tragedy of the European Union is that it’s real victims are not the British who’ve been able to leave, it’s those tens of millions of people living in France, and Germany and in Italy and Spain, whose life chances and whose children’s life chances have been profoundly damaged by what is, in a sense, a bureaucratic and imperial project.
Marian Tupy: Yeah, I mean, Americans complain about our growth rates being anemic and living standards not increasing as fast as we would like. But I mean, when you think about Italy, Italy hasn’t seen growths in the last two decades, their GDP per capita is exactly where it was [chuckle] at the start of the millennium, which is remarkable given that even Africa has seen a 30% increase in GDP per capita adjusted for inflation.
Douglas Carswell: I lived in Rome in my 20s, and I left Rome in the year of 2000. And the per capita income in Italy today, is the same level it was when I left Italy in my 20s and so much so that many of my friends who I made, friends I made in Italy in my 20s have had to move to either London or New York in order to enjoy the kind of living standard improvements that their parents and grandparents would have taken for granted. It’s quite extraordinary.
Marian Tupy: I have a friend in Rome, and when I was visiting Northern Italy, a few years ago to work on a book, I asked whether he wanted to join me for a couple of days in Lombardy, and it required to take a train, and he says, he’s never been to North of Italy, because basically, they don’t have enough money to go and travel on all of these wonderful trains that American politicians think about and talk about about the European infrastructure and how wonderful it is. The reality is that a lot of people don’t really use it, don’t really go to places, don’t really travel around their own countries, let alone somewhere else, because the disposable income is very low. But I think that one of the ways of describing to the American audience, the difference between the European economic community, which is something that Britain joined in 1974, or was it ’73, ’73, and then the EU of today is to think about how the American Republic has evolved.
Marian Tupy: So you started off with 13 Colonies which were quasi-independent toward one another even though they were dependent on the United Kingdom. And then you had the Articles of Confederacy and then Americans realized that this wasn’t good enough that they needed to move toward the Constitution that we know today. And then, over the last 100 years, a lot of that Constitution got ignored and the federal government started to grow more massive. And so, a liberal, a classical liberal in America should understand that when you talk about the United States, you’re talking about government in the United States, you’re talking about a beast that’s evolving over time. And sometimes it is more congenial to classical liberal values and sometimes less, and that’s exactly what has happened in the EU, maybe at some point in the past, there was a golden equilibrium where if it had remained, there wouldn’t be Brexit but unfortunately, it didn’t remain there, it moved beyond that, somewhere where some of the countries didn’t wanna go.
Douglas Carswell: I still meet Americans. Who would agree with us as free marketeers, who tend to think of the European Union as just being a European version of the United States. And if the European Union was a European version of the United States, it would be very difficult to be against it, but I think it’s actually profoundly different from the United States. The United States was founded in rebellion against a small elite by ordinary people, who then, as you say, went on to frame a constitution that preserved power and ensured that the center couldn’t have too much control. The European Union is very different to that.
Douglas Carswell: It’s formed by the elites to bind in its constituent nations. If you want to understand what the European Union is really like, imagine if the United States was governed directly by Washington DC. Brussels has this extraordinary remit and power over the rest of the European Union, which even to this day, even despite a hundred years of progressive attempts, Washington politicians, simply don’t have. So I think there’s a profoundly different attitude and approach between the two projects. I suspect the United States will still be around in a 100 years time, and the American Republic will be even more successful than it is today. I don’t think the European Union, which is a project of Europe’s version of George III, I don’t think the European Union will be around in 50 years’ time, I hope it’s not around in 10 years’ time.
Marian Tupy: Moving on to what happened in Britain since Brexit. So I dare say and obviously I’m leaving it to you for comments that it’s been a mixed bag. On the one hand, the globalization side of things seems to be doing well, in a sense that Liz Truss and the free trade types have managed to sign a lot of free trade deals with the rest of the world. In other words, Britain has not sort of collapsed on itself, it’s still pursuing free trade deals as far and as wide as it possibly can. On the other hand, the government of Boris Johnson seems to be much more interested in heavily, getting heavily involved in the domestic economy. So, you know, my impression of Boris was that he was basically a Libertarian light. He kept on writing articles about how he disliked the regulation in Brussels when he was a journalist there. And, of course, he edited the Spectator, which is broadly speaking pro-market. So what’s gone wrong? Is it a specific peculiar personality of the Prime Minister, is it as a result of COVID, or is there something else happening in Britain?
Douglas Carswell: I mean when you get self-government and you take back control, that doesn’t mean that you’re gonna govern yourself necessarily wisely, and it doesn’t mean that the people who govern you are necessarily gonna be doing a brilliant job. I don’t think you can blame the growth in economic intervention in Britain that’s happened in the past 18 months purely on Brexit. It was inevitable once Britain left the European Union that the arguments in favor of free trade were gonna need to be made. And there are arguments that were gonna need to be made that probably hadn’t been made in Britain really for 30 or 40 years. On the plus side, Liz Truss, as you mentioned, has gone out there and negotiated some really good free trade agreements. Some of these are continuity agreements which we enjoyed as a member of the European Union. Some of them are actually an improvement on that.
Douglas Carswell: I think one thing as free marketeers, we need to be a little wary of is just because politicians in two countries get together and call something a free trade agreement doesn’t necessarily mean market liberalization. For example, there is currently no free trade agreement between Britain and the United States and yet an awful lot of trade occurs between those two countries, I would be very wary of a free trade agreement that ostensibly was in favor of greater trade, but we changed it up putting bureaucratic hurdles and procedures in place where currently there weren’t any.
Douglas Carswell: So, yeah I think we’re moving in the right direction on the free trade agreements, but we need to be wary and make sure that we don’t bureaucratize processes that currently allow spontaneous order. COVID, I think has massively shifted the Overton window throughout the Western world in favor of intervention, the political establishments in Britain, in America, in Europe and Australia believe that through bureaucratic firths, they can alter the trajectory of a virus, I would dispute that. But once you form the habit of trying to order society by top-down design to fight a virus, why not try and order society to ensure more manufacturing. Why not try to ensure that you are not so dependent upon overseas supply lines, which as we’ve seen over the past 18 months can easily be disrupted, the protectionist arguments have been given a huge boost by COVID, I think it’s imperative on those of us who believe in a free trade is to make the counterarguments to make the counterarguments anew.
Douglas Carswell: It’s often said that we need great protectionism because when COVID disrupted international supply chains, we suddenly found ourselves dependent on foreigners, I would turn that around, I would say it’s precisely because foreigners were able to sell us things, we couldn’t produce ourselves, that we got through it. Think of what would have happened if we hadn’t been able to buy things off foreigners and say… I would argue that actually, many of the problems the world has experienced over the past 18 months, some vaccine shortages, for example, they show exactly why we need to have greater global interdependence, but it’s a tough argument to make.
Douglas Carswell: And I’m afraid to say that in Britain, the other side has sometimes had the wind behind them, the wind in their sails, they’re now citing things like national security as a pretext to ensure that there is a system of bureaucratic permission giving in order to make inward investments in the UK. These are very alarming developments, but I don’t think you can blame them on Brexit. I think the one part of the world that is even more protectionist now than it was 18 months ago, is the European Union. At least by leaving the European Union, we have the chance of winning these arguments in London and in Washington, I think the Anglosphere is more likely to resist many of these protectionist impulses, but so far… Let’s not deny the fact that so far the forces of protectionism are advancing and we free traders are… We need to marshal our arguments, we need to be much better at making our case.
Marian Tupy: Yeah, I wasn’t really suggesting that it is because of Brexit, I was just wondering where did the domestic interventionist agenda come from, which is especially surprising given that it’s emerging from within the Conservative Party, now you left the Conservative Party sometime ago, but the fact that Boris has embraced it so fully has been a surprise. Now, you mentioned the Anglosphere, and I wanna get on the United States in a short while, but there is something happening in the Anglosphere that I wanna talk to you about, and that is a frontal attack on many of the values of the enlightenment that you and I believe are so fundamental to the success of the West in general, but maybe we can talk about it more in terms of like liberal civilization and what liberal civilization has achieved in the last 200 years. Here in the United States, I’m going to talk about freedom of expression first. Now, here in the United States, we have the First Amendment. I personally wish all of these things didn’t have to be written down, and I wish that it was just commonsensical that we shouldn’t make any laws pertaining to freedom of speech. But in Britain, and I believe in Australia as well, freedom of speech has been getting knocked about a lot. Is that something new? Where did it come from? Is it just an American export of political correctness, or is it domestically brewed?
Douglas Carswell: I think there is a virus that is fundamentally more dangerous to the health, the political health of the Western world than any COVID virus, and this is the virus of what you might call wokeism of intersectionism, and it’s spread out of university campuses into corporate HR departments into government bureaucracies, and I think it is… It’s really important we understand what is driving this woke intersectional infection, because I think it is in danger of driving much of the Western world slightly mad. I think part of it is a desire by people to appear intellectually sophisticated, and if you are not a particularly bright post-graduate student, and you’re not particularly original as a thinker, sounding and being woke can make you sound sophisticated, it can make you sound intellectually precocious. And so I think like all fashions and fads, it’s spread by those who think that wearing this shiny new intellectual cloth will make them appear cleverer and smarter than they are. But I think it’s still an issue of how do you explain the way in which Western elites, particularly governing elites and corporate elites have given into this way of seeing the world, this woke intolerance.
Douglas Carswell: I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that Western elites don’t really believe in anything. And if you don’t really believe in anything, you end up in a moral fog, a moral haze, and you don’t have any objective standards and ethical system by which to judge things. And so, you seek in your Twitter feed, a way of signaling your virtue. You seek in your social media outputs, a way of trying to establish and separate good from bad, and you end up in a mess, you can’t create a hierarchy of good and bad based on the content of your Twitter feed. I think it’s a profound lack of self-confidence amongst Western elites, they don’t… They’re post religious, a lot of them have got a very managerialist view of the world, a very technocratic view of the world, but they don’t really believe in anything, and I… Compare them to elites in non-Western societies, I don’t imagine the Chinese elites have an absence of belief, they believe very clearly in China or in China’s place in the world. Elites in Russia and Turkey and many other parts of the world, believe in things.
Douglas Carswell: There’s a fundamental lack of belief amongst Western elites, and it’s into this nihilist vacuum that woke ideas have come. So, yes, one can do what many people in America are suggesting, which is you try to use the fear to the state to ban these bad ideas. But I’m not sure you can ever ban a bad idea by passing a law, I think you need to understand the fundamental malaise of the Western mind. Allan Bloom was a great American intellectual who wrote a book called “The Closing of the American Mind” some 30 years ago, and it’s the most prophetic book I think I’ve ever read. He described this problem in the late 1980s, he suggested that as Western elites became detached from classical ideas, from classical thought, they would become more vulnerable to these kinds of, what today we would call, woke philosophies. And I think the only way we can really address the advance of intersectionist ideas and woke culture is to return to some of those classical thoughts, classical philosophies and classical ideas. It’s our detachment from them that I think ultimately explains our present condition.
Marian Tupy: I want to touch on all of those things as we go forward in our discussion, but I want to backtrack just a little bit, and it seems to me that this particular virus of political correctness, wokeism, intersectionality, and of course, the newest one of them all is the equity business, equality of outcome, it’s really taking hold in Anglophone countries, the Anglosphere, much more so than anywhere else. As you know, my background is in Central Europe, obviously, none of this thing is in any way relevant to what people are discussing over there. And the French seemed to be out of it, by and large, Macron said, “We are not having any of this stuff played back at home.” I don’t know about the Germans, but the virus in all of its different variations and mutations seem to be particularly affecting the Anglophone countries. Is it because… Is it as simple as the network effect that it was born in America and at American universities, American speak English, Americans dominate global media, and therefore, any country which is a consumer of of English language and American news will catch the virus. Is it as simple as that?
Douglas Carswell: It could partly be that, that’s a partial explanation. I once, for example, worked for an Anglo-American company that had a very American corporate culture in it, and it’s easy to see how American corporate culture could be a transmission system to these ideas, I think that’s partly it. But I don’t think we should overlook the fact that these ideas came from America, in effect from Europe as well. The idea of cultural relativism was a very French idea, and I think the root cause of this are some ideas that actually went from Europe to American university campuses and festered there in the ’50s and the ’60s. Cultural relativism, perhaps what we’re seeing is that America is more vulnerable to cultural relativism, because France is clearly a nation founded by the Franks over a thousand years ago. Germans have been in Germany, and… When did Germany start, I would say it was long before the unification of Germany in the 19th century. Germany has a great, long history. Ditto Italy, ditto Spain.
Douglas Carswell: I would say that America is uniquely vulnerable, perhaps not uniquely, perhaps Australia and Canada and New Zealand are also as vulnerable to the idea of cultural relativism, because there’s a sense that everyone there is an import from somewhere. And so the idea that all cultures are of equal worth is uniquely debilitating in New World societies. I think the New World societies need to be particularly strident in fighting cultural relativism and saying, “Actually, no, not all cultures are the same. Not all cultures are capable of producing the human progress that we see around the world. Not all cultures are capable of producing the advances in technology and thought and moral progress that we see.” And let’s be honest, not all cultures and societies around the world, if they were the global hegemon would produce the kind of benign global conditions the United States has produced. So, I think the vulnerability of New World Anglosphere societies to cultural relativism is greater than the vulnerability of old-world Western societies. But I…
Marian Tupy: Perhaps, we can go even deeper and to ask then, why is it that what is essentially a French idea, be it Sartre, or Foucault, or whatever, has mutated in America and in Anglophone countries to the extent that it did, and then spread to other Anglophone countries. You say New World societies, but what do they have in common? They are offshoots of the British Empire, there are original colonial settlements. And we all know what happens in those centuries that followed the original colonial settlements, the good and the bad, and the question is whether… It’s really what we are talking about at its most basic level is guilt. Now, I do not believe in such a saying as transgenerational guilt. I do not believe that I am guilty for something my ancestors did during the Second World War, or for that matter, I don’t think that you should feel guilty for what [chuckle] the British did in India in 1740s and whatever. But for some reason, the argument that an individual born today has nothing to do with the colonial history and settlement and whatever has been lost, and I wonder if… Let me back track a little bit.
Marian Tupy: You know the basic definition or distinction between the shame societies and guilt societies, right? And Western societies, psychologically are much more guilt-driven rather than shame-driven. In other words, instead of being forced to behave in certain ways by societal reaction to us, we carry our own moral compass in our heads, and when we fall short, that compass tells us to feel guilty and ashamed of what we have done. And it seems to me that moral relativism, and this guilt is particularly destructive to the Western mind. What do you think about that?
Douglas Carswell: I think there’s a great deal in that, a huge amount in that. I mean, could you imagine the Chinese elite, or the Japanese elite, or the Korean elite being debilitated by this sense of cultural relativism and guilt? No, it would be very difficult to imagine that scenario. I think part of it is religion then. I’ve often observed over the few months I’ve been in America, some on the woke left, talking as if perhaps woke ideas have for them become a post-religion religion, if you like. It gives them…
Marian Tupy: Or a special puritanical type.
Douglas Carswell: Absolutely. It gives them a sense of purpose in the world, it places their actions… It makes lots of things all about them. It gives them a sense that they have transgressed, and people have transgressed, it creates a virtue system. It allows people to signal their virtue. I’ve often listened to some of the wokies in the United States and wondered if 30 or 40 or 50 years ago, they would have put that zeal into raising funds to help orphans? Whereas now they show their virtue by saying unkind things about people who’ve said foolish things on social media. And I think a lot of this is a post-religion religion. Religion gives people a sense of purpose, religion gives people a sense of virtue. Religion gives people a sense of their role in the world, and it explains certain outcomes in the world. And if they happen to be full of good fortune, it explains to them their good fortune. If you cease to have religious belief, I think you end up creating a sort of a woke-type religion, and unlike real religion, it doesn’t have this idea of redemption, it’s quite terrifying, it’s a sort of Puritanism without the tolerance. [chuckle] And there wasn’t much tolerance in Puritanism to begin with, it’s not a great step forward.
Marian Tupy: Yeah, there is only hell, there is no heaven, and there’s no redemption. No possibility of redemption, as you say, in the wokeism. Go on.
Douglas Carswell: I mean, here in the United State, this I think is the most successful republic in human history and why? Because it embodied the ideas of the enlightenment. I mean, that opening line by Jefferson about everyone having inalienable rights. The enlightenment was a revolutionary idea, because for the first time in human history, or perhaps for the first time since the days of Roman Republic, people were able to define themselves by something other than sort of tribe or something they were born to be. The enlightenment meant that we stopped to see people in those collectivist terms, and the idea of the individual, that you could be defined as the individual came into being. The woke virus in America attacks that idea of everyone being defined by inalienable rights. It attacks the central idea of the American experiment and says instead of inalienable rights, “You’re defined by mutable characteristics.” It’s going straight back to the pre-enlightenment. They talk about being progressive, these guys want to take us back to barbarism. I mean, that’s literally where we’re going.
Marian Tupy: Okay, so there is something very important there. So, wokeism attacks the enlightenment on different value… In different ways. One of them is that, you cease to be an individual and it treats you as a member of a tribe. Be it White versus Black, or be it female versus male, gay versus straight, old versus young, and that sort of thing. And that obviously is a problem. Then we have already identified the issue with intergenerationalism. In other words, something that you would expect in Communist China or the Soviet Union. You know… That if the father transgresses against the state it’s not just he who gets shot, but his entire family gets wiped out because everybody is guilty by association. And it’s the same thing with wokeism, where by association with somebody you can be tarred in the most horrific ways.
Douglas Carswell: You’re on a platform with that bad person, you must be bad, yeah.
Marian Tupy: Yeah. And then of course finally, is that the colonial episode gets described in ways which are highly simplified and only look at the debit side of the ledger as opposed to the credit side of the ledger. The fact that however America, and Australia, and New Zealand, and Canada, and places like that where it started, the people today who live here generally have better lives and have more rights than anywhere else, even in places which have been independent for thousands of years. The one country that comes to mind is of course the perpetually independent Ethiopia, which I think has been independent for thousands of years with five-year exception when Mussolini tried and failed to conquer it. And yet this is not a happy place. So, history is complicated, and very often things like human settlement will have negative but also positive consequences. And it seems to me that… And the reason why I mentioned colonialism is because of course the American history right now, which is taught in schools, seems to be particularly focused on the debit side of the ledger rather than the credit side of the ledger.
Douglas Carswell: If you look at human history, whether you’re talking about the late Roman period, or the spread of the Han Chinese or… You know… The history of people is often the history of the movement of people. The idea that the West was somehow uniquely bad because the West spread its people and its ideas is nonsense. You’ve had the movement of people, and the movement of people into land masses occupied by other people since pre-recorded human history. Western societies did move outside Europe and into the new world. I don’t think that’s something one should be ashamed of. I think the societies that the West created in North America and Australasia, I think are wonderful societies. Far from being built on hatred and racism, the United States, and Canada, and Australia, and New Zealand, are four countries which people from around the world want to come to. They give their ordinary folk a higher standard living than is found almost anywhere else on the planet, they preserve individual freedoms and liberties far better than anywhere else in the world. And yes, there are injustices in those countries, but do you think there aren’t injustices in other parts the world? You’re better off by almost any measure being an individual living in some of those Anglosphere countries, whether you’re of Anglosphere heritage or not, than you would be almost anywhere else in the world. And we need to say this. We need to…
Marian Tupy: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. We need to, we need to say that.
Douglas Carswell: Here is a factor, I wonder if the root cause of all bad ideas, and this is a point particularly pertinent to the human progress project, all bad ideas in human history, Jacobinism, Communism, Marxism, Socialism, radical environmentalism, wokeism are based on a fundamental idea. The ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The idea that human society has started off in a pristine past and gradually degraded and been corrupted. This is the root cause of all bad ideas, because it invites the notion that if human society is degrading, you need a small elite, a vanguard, a committee of public safety, a Bolshevik Vanguard, a politburo. You need a small group of people to come along and reshape society. And the root cause of wokeism, I think, is not that far different to the root cause of Communism and Jacobinism. It’s this idea that we need a small enlightened cadre to reshape society to make it more equitable and fairer. And we all know what happens, or we all should know what happens when you try to do that in society. You end up with Pol Pot, you end up with the sort of mass murder that you saw thanks to Communism in the last century.
Marian Tupy: It’s sort of… It’s the opposite of what actually has happened, obviously. We know that humans started off being dirty, violent, primitive, tribal, oppressing women, owning slaves, and then over time, and especially since the birth of the enlightenment in the 18th century, the society has become much more sophisticated, more gentle, richer and more tolerant. So, in a way, the fundamental distinction, I think, between people who write about human progress, like I do, and the idealists, be they communists, Wokeists, Marxists or Nazis for that matter, because they were also a revolutionary movement which was trying to create a better society from their standpoint, I want to emphasize that, is that we look at the past, as past imperfect. And we compare that past to today, and we say, “We can measure how much better off we are today. And as long as today is better than what it was yesterday, we are making progress, we are better off.” But that’s not sufficient for the Wokeists, for the Marxists, because they don’t compare today to the past. They compare today to some sort of imagined utopia where everything works.
Douglas Carswell: Like the Garden of Eden.
Marian Tupy: Like the Garden of Eden, precisely. The Garden of Eden. So in that sense, it is Rousseauvian, although you do have also, precursors to Rousseau in ancient Greek thoughts and so on. Recently, well, not recently, some time ago, I read Bures’ book on progress. And he has this beautiful quote about two ways of thinking about progress. One is the classical liberal way that I described. But when he talks about the socialist or the Marxist, he calls it, Social constructivist way of seeing the world. He talks about how socialists know the name of every street and every corner in the City of Gold. But they have no idea how to get there.
Douglas Carswell: Yeah, yeah, that’s a very eloquent way of putting it. I mean, if it’s the case that every disruptive-ism, fundamentally is rooted in the notion of a decline from a pristine past. Maybe the greatest antidote to those dangerous ideas is to tell people the truth, which is, as Hobbs first described all those years ago, the human condition is actually elevated. We had a past where life was short, brutish and poor, and the rest of it, and short. And what we see is this great improvement in the human condition. And it’s an improvement in the human condition, because humans are able to buy and sell and trade and engage in a spontaneous order. And this spontaneous order is the great driver of human progress. And maybe the key to dealing with woke, is to teach people that Rousseau was wrong and Hobbs was right.
Marian Tupy: Yes, but the only way I think that you can teach them really is… Okay, so we go to, [chuckle] it’s a trivial answer. It’s almost too trivial to say, “We need to educate people better.” But really, people are not interested in history, or alternatively, if the commanding heights of the education system are captured people who are not interested in presenting the real history, then…
Douglas Carswell: I profoundly disagree. I think here in the United States, one of the reasons why woke has spread so far in education is precisely because, when people get to the age of sort of 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, they wanna figure out how the world works. They wanna understand how the world works. And if you don’t teach them that the United States is richer than all other societies, because the United States has more freedom and liberty than other societies, then they will accept the woke narrative, which is that the United States is successful at the expense of other less happy lands. If you don’t teach people that the reason why Mississippi is the poorest state in the United States, is because, Mississippi’s economy is governed by a great sort of bureaucratic series of organizations and there’s not enough economic liberty, then people will believe the intersectionist explanations for income inequality in America.
Douglas Carswell: We need to… There’s a huge appetite out there for young people to understand why the world is the way it is. If we don’t speak to that, people who preach sort of a woke explanation, a woke template, will provide superficially attractive but fundamentally wrong explanations. And I think that’s what’s going on in American universities. I’ve gone to talk to quite a few American universities. I’ve always had packed audiences, and when I’ve talked about some of these issues, at the end, I’ve always had the same comments made. “I’ve never heard these ideas before.” Or, “Why aren’t we taught this as part of the curriculum?” Many of these ideas just simply aren’t taught.
Marian Tupy: Okay, so the problem is not that people are not interested in history and philosophy. You put me right there. I mean, I’m very interested in your notion that everybody goes through a certain period in their lives, you said 16, 17, 18, when they need to figure things out from a philosophical and historical standpoint. That’s good to know. But then the problem remains that here in this country, and quite possibly in Britain as well, the commanding heights of culture and education have been really taken over by people who have very different ideas. And, truly, surely, part of the blame rests with the non leftists, because they have sort of, dropped the ball on this. The far left hasn’t taken over. It’s taking a very long time. What were we doing in the meantime? Worrying about the economy, I guess. Which is in itself a good worry to have.
Douglas Carswell: Free market conservatives are very good at talking about how to add a few percentage points of GDP to the economy of supply-side reform. But actually, you need an animating argument, you need to make the moral case for the free market. And I think we’ve been far too downstream in our concerns. We need to move upstream in our concerns.
Marian Tupy: Many of the leading lights of economic history in the United States alive today, people like Joe Mulcaire, people like Deirdre McCloskey, Don Boudreaux and people like that are increasingly talking about, “What is progress all about?” It’s about ideas. Fundamentally, it’s about new ideas that are allowed to flourish. And so ideas are the driver of progress. They are the driver of humanity forward, but they can also take us back depending on whether they are good or bad ideas. So this intellectual conflict, this intellectual struggle between right and wrong ideas is really what it’s all about.
Douglas Carswell: Absolutely. I think you know… Much of the Anglosphere, America in particular, is going through an intellectual spasm. But I think we can come through this. And I think the classical liberal ideas can be strengthened. But we’ve been far too complacent. We’ve been far too… We assumed that the successes of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, a generation ago, marked the triumph of these ideas. On the contrary, I think these ideas are now in mortal danger, and we need to make the arguments in favor of the free market, in favor of spontaneous order, and in favor of the notion that there is such a thing as human progress, and it’s driven by the spontaneous actions of individuals, not by governments. I think we need to find better and new ways of making these arguments.
Marian Tupy: One question that springs to mind is; Why now? I know that, you know, we had the killing of George Floyd, and we had many other things that have happened since, let’s say, the start of the millennium, which sapped the Western self-confidence. 9/11 happened, we had The Great Recession, and all these things. But is there something else to it? Why has… Why does this malaise of the Western mind as you describe it, why is it happening right now, at this moment? One thing that I keep on thinking about, and let me know what you think, is that, I keep on thinking about the Maslow hierarchy of needs. You know… At the bottom of that pyramid, you have things like shelter, food, personal security. And on top of that pyramid, you have self-expression values, like for example, caring about what kind of a society you live in, and wanting to shape that society in your image, in concordance with your values.
Marian Tupy: And here in the West, it seems to me that we’ve been so good at taking care of things at the bottom of that Maslow pyramid, that we have really gotten to the top where we have the time, we have the money, and the space, the independence, and the freedom to get involved in really fighting battles over what’s at the top of that pyramid. And that is the self-expression part of it, “Am I living in a society which really lives up to my imagination of what an ideal society should be?” And the problem with that is, of course, that, at the bottom of the pyramid, the market can always produce more food and better housing, but at the top of the pyramid, it gets very crowded very quickly. Because if your idea of an ideal society is one, which is, say, for example, more religious, and the other one is more atheistic, one is more egalitarian, the other one is free, that’s where zero sum battles take place. What do you think about that?
Douglas Carswell: I think that’s… I hadn’t heard anyone make the case quite so eloquently. I think you’re absolutely… You’re on to something there. I was wondering the other day, if, maybe 30, 40 years ago, if you wanted your emotions to be played with, you might go to the cinema to watch a film. And you would watch that film, and it might make you angry, it might make you happy, it might make you sad, it might make you elated. And you would come away from that experience having paid a few dollars to have your emotions played with. I wonder if one of the reasons why we get these events on social media is because people are looking for that emotional stimulus online. They go online in order to feel enraged, or angered, or have their emotions played with. And that seems to chime in with that suggestion you made that perhaps because we’ve got all our material needs taken care of, we have the time and the inclination to worry about some of these other issues, which by their very definition, are zero sum issues. I think you’re certainly onto something there.
Marian Tupy: Not to mention that the genius of capitalism also is to provide enough surplus wealth to support masses of academics at universities, teaching subjects and brainwashing children into believing all sorts of things, which actually go directly against the system which has created it.
Douglas Carswell: But none of this would matter if it was widely understood that Western values and the Western way, are not universal. There is no inevitable end of history. Far from being an inevitable end of history, Western values only appear universal in the way that Roman values must have once appeared pretty universal around the Mediterranean, precisely because they were so successful. Western values are not universal. They are the unique product of a unique culture. And they are fragile, and they’re precious, and they need to be preserved. And perhaps the twin sister of cultural relativism is this belief in the idea that certain things we take for granted at the top of that pyramid are universal. I think, perhaps societies that have a more recent memory of conflict, a more recent memory of non-Western ways, are perhaps a little bit more resistant to some of these indulgences.
Marian Tupy: Yeah, it’s certainly… You know, 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western values, or maybe we should just call them liberal values, not to offend anyone, [chuckle] classical liberal values, certainly seem to be on the march. They seem to be sturdier than ever, but now they do seem very fragile and under threat. And I think that another thing which is underappreciated by the critics, is how extraordinarily recent this world that we inhabit is. So, if archaeologists are right and Homo sapiens has been around for 300,000 years, Liberal society, the enlightened society has been around for 200 years. That’s like 0.006% of our time on Earth. It’s a blink of an eye and you miss it. Right? I mean, I would love to see like, if since the birth of humanity is like one hour, we must be in, like, the last second. And that gives you a pause for thought, because we could really lose it very quickly.
Douglas Carswell: There’s a very famous hockey stick graph.
Marian Tupy: Yes.
Douglas Carswell: Not one for climate change, the one that shows per capita output. And it runs completely flat until about sort of 17-1800, and then it takes off exponentially. I would… Say, you’re referring to that graph, I would say there are a couple of incidents where you’ve got localized flourishings before the great takeoff in early modern Europe, 200-300 years ago. I’d say the Roman Republic where they quadrupled per capita income in the days of the republic by creating a market economy, the Venetian Republic was a very small, little European Republic. And then of course, the Dutch Republic, which was really the start of the creation of the… I would say the Dutch Republic was actually having the world’s first Industrial Revolution. I think it beat the English, even though England slightly overshadowed it. These were all Republics, and they all had dispersed power. And they all had ideas within them, that allowed people to define themselves and operate as individuals.
Douglas Carswell: What we’ve really seen in the past 200 or 300 years is another one of these takeoffs, but a takeoff that went from the Dutch Republic to England, which was a republic in everything, insofar as you can be a republic with a monarchy, post the Glorious Revolution, then the American Republic. But it is incredibly recent, and it’s incredibly fragile. And we know from what’s happened in previous incidents in history. If you had lived in Rome in 100 AD, you probably would have thought that human progress was an inevitable part of the human condition. If you had lived in Venice in 1600, you probably would have thought that it was inevitable that your society would grow richer and more prosperous. But these things are very ephemeral. And, you know, I think if people were to appreciate how recent human progress has been, how contingent and dependent it is upon a very special set of values that emerged from the Western world, and which are highly vulnerable to cultural relativist attacks on it, I think it’s really important that people understand this.
Douglas Carswell: There’s nothing inevitable about the triumph of these values. I mean, here’s a thought experiment. The United States recently withdrew from Afghanistan, and this was treated by many media commentators in Europe, almost as a form of entertainment. There was a sort of gloating at America’s misfortune. Just imagine what the world would be like, if the American side had lost in 1918, or 1941, or during the Cold War. The world would be a pretty grim and horrific place. So the consequence of Western values and Western ideas, being beaten back and being defeated, I don’t just mean in Kabul, but I mean, in the battle zone of the Western mind, in Western campuses, the consequences of that are truly horrific. Just as that graph saw living standards shoot up, if Western values and the Western way are defeated, that graph could shoot down very, very quickly.
Marian Tupy: I haven’t been following much of the sort of woke response to American withdrawal from Afghanistan. It’s not my bailiwick, you know. But I wonder how they reconcile the universal fear of what is going to happen to women and to girls, not to mention gays and whoever else under the system of the Taliban, and how they reconcile that with their insistence that there isn’t really a hierarchy of societal values, hierarchies of civilizations that they are interchangeable, no one is better than the other. I wonder what what sort of mental pretzels they have to twist themselves into?
Douglas Carswell: I tweeted as I saw those images of those desperate young men clinging to an aeroplane, so desperate to get out, they would risk, and many of them lost their lives trying to get out. I looked at that and I thought, “How can anyone seriously suggest that all cultures are the same?” Clearly they’re not. Clearly there are some cultures that are backward, and I would say, barbaric, and encourage powerful people to behave as savages towards weaker people. And clearly there are societies where there is a constraint on the powerful, and where all people are respected for what they are and who they are, and they’re free to live their lives the way they wish to lead them. And they’re free to buy and sell things and come up with ideas. And to pretend that all cultures are the same, people who pretend that all cultures are the same, know little of other cultures and probably don’t even understand their own Western culture that well either.
Marian Tupy: Douglas, thank you very much for that wonderful conversation. I really appreciate the time that you have taken to to speak to me and to our listeners. I wish you all the best and please come and say hello, next time you are in Washington, DC.
Douglas Carswell: It’s been wonderful being on your show. Keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing you soon.