Monday, May 06, 2013

The education of Melanie Phillips: does the left hate families?

Melanie Phillips grew up in a London East End family scarred by poverty, was a committed Labourite, received a sound formal education, and, as she tells it in her book, Guardian Angel: My Story, My Britain:
went to work as a journalist on the Guardian, the self-styled paper of choice for intellectuals and the supposed voice of progressive conscience. Those of us who worked there had a fixed belief in our own superiority and righteousness. We saw ourselves as clever and civilised champions of liberal thought.
I felt loved and cherished, the favoured child of a wonderful and impressive family. To my colleagues, there was virtually no question that the poor were the victims of circumstances rather than being accountable for their own behaviour and that the state was a wholly benign actor in the lives of individuals. It never occurred to us that there could be another way of looking at the world. Above all, we knew we were on the side of the angels, while across the barricades hatchet-faced Right-wingers represented the dark forces of human nature and society that we were all so proud to be against.
But then Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979. Thatcherites were not the usual upper-class squires, but people with backgrounds similar to Phillips’ own.  “They were promoting the values with which I had been brought up in my Labour-supporting family — all about opportunities for social betterment, hard work, taking responsibility for oneself.”

Phillips says she wrote with “ordinary people in mind,” folks who were just as skeptical as she was of “intellectual abstractions, fantasies or Utopian solutions:”
I always believed a good journalist should uphold truth over lies and follow the evidence where it led. Trudging round godforsaken estates as the paper’s special reporter on social affairs, I could see the stark reality of what our supposedly enlightened liberal society was becoming. . . I came to realise that the Left was not on the side of truth, reason and justice. . . Rather than fighting abuse of power, it embodied it.
. . . journalists on highbrow papers write primarily for other journalists or to impress politicians or other members of the great and the good.  They don’t actually like ordinary people — especially the lower middle class, the strivers who believed in self-discipline and personal responsibility. They dismiss them as narrow-minded, parochial and prejudiced.
Phillips focused on family breakdown:
I deplored the explosion of lone parenting, female-headed households and mass fatherlessness. . . There were whole communities where committed fathers were almost totally unknown. Children as young as five were becoming highly sexualised from the example of their promiscuous mothers.
Family breakdown was dissolving the bonds of society and civilisation itself. . . young men were fathering children indiscriminately and children were growing up in unbridled savagery and lawlessness to despise their mothers and disdain men and all authority.  What really horrified [the] professionals [Phillips interviewed] was these disastrous consequences were being ignored.
And she blamed the Left itself:
The idea that a woman could be mother and father to her children — more, that it was her “right” to choose such a lifestyle — led directly to the hopeless plight of often inadequate women struggling to raise children while the men who fathered them were, in effect, told they were free to do their own thing.  I was as perplexed by this as I was appalled. I had been brought up to believe the Left stood for altruism rather than selfishness, community rather than individualism, self- discipline rather than the law of the jungle and the survival of the fittest.  Instead, society was worshipping at the shrine of the self, and this was causing a rising tide of juvenile distress, crime, emotional disturbance, educational and relationship failure.
Of course for writing all this, Britain’s intellectual left attacked Phillips for her “unmatched depths of ignorance and bigotry,” for being the “queen of mean,” and they ostracized her. Phillips herself says she isn’t “ideologically driven,” and in fact hates the way “political debate has been polarised into warring camps, with each side circling its wagons and striking ever more inflexible, dogmatic and adversarial positions.”

 Her book pleads for more civil discourse. Phillips writes for a British audience, but her message seems suited to America as well.

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