Civilising the brutes – or why we should love the state

As usual I’m a little late on the uptake, but George Monbiot‘s latest Guardian piece is worth a mention. Starting with a defence of financial regulation in the face of market mismanagement in the UK, Monbiot moves on to zoology, and then outlines a fundamental critique of individual human liberty. It’s quite a leap.

The Fat Man has a good critique of the Monbiot article on his own blog, and it was this that alerted me to the piece. I’ve almost weaned myself off my Guardian/CiF comment addiction, but I think I can handle the occasional article.

George Monbiot is an odd ‘un. His environmentalism is strident, but he is more often than not right. I have some respect for him as a journalist and eco-activist, but it must be said that the politics hum to high heaven.

Following Monbiot’s rather dystopian thesis that we humans are all savages who must be kept in check by a benevolent state, there appears to be a debate. However, I’ve sampled only a small selection of the comments, and so could be completely misinterpreting the situation.

One rather haughty commenter has posted an interesting bibliography for the edification of his fellows. It’s a fascinating list, and includes such gems as Norbert Elias’ “Violence and Civilization: The State Monopoly of Physical Violence and its Infringement” (in “Civil Society and the State: New European Perspectives”, Verso, 1988).

Now I’m no fan of this kind of grand sociological narrative, and would rather that it had died with the Frankfurt School. But one cannot deny its influence on modern political thinking, and especially the current ruling classes of Europe who were weaned on this stuff.

The book and article list referred to above is no doubt mandatory bedtime reading for New Labour politicians, and possibly also the Tory front bench. The ideology is not in any way new, but there is today a modern spin being put on paternalistic social democratic ideas that were born of the “neo-marxist” left and evolved through the latter part of the 20th century.

“Elitist claptrap, from an ignorant hubristic,” says another Guardian commenter, and this pretty much sums it up. I’m just struck by how much overt support there is for Monbiot and the New Statism in the comments following his article. Monbiot has managed to unite many of the normally conflicting strains of Guardian/Comment is Free pond life, and that’s quite an achievement.