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The most acute legacy of 1968, undermining political programmes on both Left and Right, has been the transmission of a historically particular sense of what politics should be. Liberal commentator Mark Lilla was widely condemned by the Left for his rather acute observation that the “New Left” has been responsible for the bipartisan adoption of two core beliefs. First, that “movement politics was the only mode of engagement that changes things . . . The second was that political activity must have some authentic meaning for the self, making compromise seem a self-betrayal (which renders ordinary politics impossible) . . . The lesson . . . was that if you want to be a political person, you should begin not by joining a broad-based party but by searching for a movement that has some deep personal meaning for you.”

No one better epitomises this ideologically vapid political platform than Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn offers reflexive hostility to the idea of the West, a left-liberal worldview which is inclusive of Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA and naked anti-Semitism but blind to Russian or Iranian neocolonialism in its highly selective call to pacifism. He has a strange relationship with the Marxist ideology he is supposed to represent as he is unable to offer a coherent ideological platform or anything resembling any form of socialism that might be expected to offer a critique of capitalism. Corbyn’s hypocrisy has been to appeal to the concerns of the middle classes over issues such as university tuition fees while trumpeting social equality. This has been twinned with an unpleasant form of identity politics that turns liberalism on its head.

There has been much talk of the post-liberal world but if anything the more worrying strand of thought is, as John Gray characterises it, “a hyper-liberal ideology . . . that aims to purge society of any traces of other views of the world”. Liberalism has always struggled with the balance between the commitment to liberty and a human need for collective identity. Now the acceptance of divergent opinion is being angrily denied as a form of oppression. Liberalism is being inverted into tyranny.

Witness the fury animating the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign at Oxford University which gained traction on campuses across the UK. The complex history of colonialism was not only ignored — it was suddenly placed beyond debate. There was no room for a nuanced understanding of the past.

It is all the more curious that the Labour Party has been embroiled in successive controversies linking prominent members to Holocaust deniers. Surely we might expect a similar passion to the anticolonial fury to be applied. It has not been. Indeed, Labour’s disputes chief Christine Shawcroft was grudgingly made to resign for supporting a Labour councillor embroiled in a Holocaust-denial row. We are left with the question of why legitimate debate on the interpretive history of one issue is suppressed, while denial of fact on another issue is tolerated to a point where it is almost indistinguishable from encouragement.
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