Offences and defences
‘Standpoint is, as it has always been, a magazine for small-c conservatives and small-l liberals. But it is also for small-s socialists and small-g greens, and for those who resist pigeonholing on principle’
Standpoint’s mission is to defend civilisation. Some foes are familiar: religious extremism and terrorism, and the closing of the Western mind through timidity and conformism. Others have surprised us, notably economic failures, political polarisation and the revival of disguised (and overt) anti-Semitism. We are realising, belatedly in many cases, how authoritarian regimes in Russia and China, using old tricks and new ones, exploit these and other weaknesses.
My generation is lucky. We remember, just, the struggle against Communism in the 1970s and 1980s, with the perilous weaknesses and divisions of the West and the daunting strengths (or so they seemed) of the Soviet empire. We need to remember, and in many cases to learn again, the lessons of the “old” cold war as we fight the new one. One is to stick to our principles. Standpoint stands unflinchingly in defence of often-unfashionable ideas: liberty, legality, tolerance and most of all honesty, intellectual and otherwise. We cherish our civilisation’s cultural, moral and philosophical foundations.
Second, we must practise what we preach. Sectarianism spells defeat; ideas trump ideologies. Standpoint under my editorship is, as it has always been, a magazine for small-c conservatives and small-l liberals. But it is also for small-s socialists and small-g greens, and for those who resist pigeonholing on principle. If you believe in debating difficult questions rather than muffling them, our pages are open. Standpoint has never failed to be serious. We aim not only to inform and provoke, but also to amuse. Maureen Lipman exemplifies this as she parodies the ignorance of anti-Semites. Humour is on our side; our adversaries loathe it.
Defence means fixing our flaws as well as countering our foes. We triumphed against communism because the open societies of the West, despite their abundant mistakes, were mostly able to remedy them, while the closed Soviet system mostly could not. Brexit has exacerbated Britain’s cultural and political divisions—see Kirsty Lang—with costs that are still only partially visible. But it has also started a political ferment, highlighting our openness to change. We take to the campaign trail with the idealistic activists of the Brexit Party in Uxbridge, and explore the possibility of a personal political upset for Boris Johnson—still prime minister as we went to press.
The hallmark of a free media, as Nick Cohen notes, is its dogged willingness to pursue a good story, regardless of political allegiances and personal ties. That is our principle too: Standpoint stands for robust, constructive self-criticism on all fronts. This must include a close scrutiny of our financial system’s flaws, highlighted by Grace Blakeley, Oliver Bullough and A.N. Wilson. Adam Smith would be the first to ask why we have allowed greed and recklessness to replace enlightened self-interest as the driving force of our economies. Corporate secrecy is a besetting sin, corroding the public trust that underpins our system. We must also acknowledge the failures of our courts, starved of cash in what has proved to be a grievously false economy in the era of post-crash austerity. The anonymous Secret Barrister, who has excoriated judicial chaos in a best-selling book, makes a debut in our pages.
Failing to acknowledge and correct our failures paves the way to defeat. As Ross Babbage shows, our adversaries in Beijing and Moscow feast on our complacency. Their systems are set up to attack. Ours are not set up to defend.
Self-knowledge should mean more self-confidence, not less of it. Nigel Biggar lambasts the Robespierres and Brezhnevs who bully dissenters in the home of lost causes; Samir Shah takes up the cudgels against moaning minnies who use post-imperial guilt to infantilise ethnic and religious minorities.
Standpoint’s defence of civilisation has always included celebrating it. That does not mean abstruseness. Our job is to make seemingly complicated things simple and boring things interesting. This applies to the heights of literature, art, music and philosophy.
Part of the counter-attack is telling our story better. Tristram Hunt, who examines Britain’s frayed soft power, lays down a challenge. This relaunched Standpoint eagerly accepts it.
Edward Lucas, Editor
A housekeeping note: the editorial hiatus over the summer means that this issue, due in late August, came out a couple of weeks late. We apologise to subscribers who were kept waiting. This magazine is therefore labelled September/October. But we will still produce ten issues (including two double ones) in the course of the next twelve months.