“I came to realize that ideologies had a narrative structure – that they were stories, in a word – and that the emotional stability of individuals depended upon the integrity of their stories. I came to realize that stories had a religious substructure (or, to put it another way, that well-constructed stories had a nature so compelling that they gathered religious behaviors and attitudes around them, as a matter of course). I understood, finally, that the world that stories describe is not the objective world, but the world of value – and that it is in this world that we live, first and foremost” – Jordan Peterson on writing ‘Maps of Meaning’.
In a previous blog, I suggested that there exists in the UK a right wing hegemony and I concur here with Peterson that this hegemony is a story with a religious substructure that provides emotional stability for people.
In this piece I do not want to address how this (right wing, patriarchal) story stays hegemonic in the UK, rather I wish to outline its core beliefs, its core values. I wish to make clear that it becomes ideological in that it neatly serves the interests of the wealthy and powerful as well as the poor and downtrodden. It does so by entrenching the status quo, and resisting change, from which the wealthy and powerful benefit enormously. The emotional stability it provides is its greatest strength, rendering it acceptable to those at the bottom as well as those at the top and helps to answer why it remains hegemonic.
The UK Conservative party does not enjoy total domination in votes cast, but the party does enjoy almost total ideological backing by the press and certainly uncritical ideological backing from broadcast media. I must make clear by this ‘uncritical backing’ I mean that the frame of reference, the basic tenets of the ideology, are uncriticised even if individual policies and actual behaviour of the members of ruling class are.
A core component of this ideology is the triumvirate of ‘Monarchy, Military and Ministry’, the glue that binds right wing cultural thinking together. By the ‘Ministry’, I mean the Church – mainly C of E but of course Catholic and the other Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Judaism), see box 1. This is part of what Peterson refers to as a story – with a very clear religious substructure to it.
|Box 1. Abraham. Abraham, Hebrew Avraham, originally called Abram or, in Hebrew, Avram, the first of the Hebrew patriarchs and a figure revered by the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to the biblical book of Genesis, Abraham left Ur, in Mesopotamia, because God called him to found a new nation in an undesignated land that he later learned was Canaan. He obeyed unquestioningly the commands of God, from whom he received repeated promises and a covenant that his “seed” would inherit the land. In Judaism the promised offspring is understood to be the Jewish people descended from Abraham’s son, Isaac, born of his wife Sarah. Similarly, in Christianity the genealogy of Jesus is traced to Isaac, and Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac is seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In Islam it is Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn son, born of Hagar, who is viewed as the fulfillment of God’s promise, and the Prophet Muhammad is his descendant. This is a story about patriarchal order which if obeyed results in rewards. Disobedience would bring punishment and chaos. Note that the name Abram means ‘The Father (God) is exalted’. Encyclopaedia Britannica|
I would also suggest that the Liberal Democrats is a right wing party in this respect, as its members and leaders also share those core beliefs. I suggest that right wing dictatorships and authoritarian regimes have often been characterised by the coming together of these three arms of the ideological and repressive state apparatus: Monarchy, Military and Ministry.
If you doubted this, just refer back to the attacks on Corbyn which focused on his perceived lack of support for the Monarchy and the Military. Godlessness is of course a mark of Marxism, another term applied to Corbyn.
I also provided a list of some beliefs and assertions that make up right wing ideology, which I argue have very wide acceptance. George Lakoff provided, in the United States’ context a helpful outline of a metaphor that binds right wing thinkers together, a metaphor that helps to set the frame for debates.
In this piece I am going to outline Lakoff’s metaphor and suggest that indeed it is a foundation upon which a right wing moral universe is created. Lakoff is not alone in addressing this issue of course and I shall refer to Jordan Peterson, Jonathan Haidt and Leon Trotsky on Freidrich Nietzsche, to suggests that at root the ideology derives from a male perspective, of a strong man, who will save us from ourselves and from the chaos that is life. The idea is so pervasive as almost to be universal which lends itself to hegemony.
The Family and Lakoff’s metaphors
To do that, we have to go back to the beginning of our experiences as human beings and that means our experiences in a ‘Family’.
Every single one of us experienced early life in a family. That family might be the ‘ideal’ of the nuclear family beloved of advertisers and conservative politicians. Or, it might be a ‘reconstituted family’ including second wives/husbands. Sadly, a few grow up in social services care experiencing a ‘family’ of a very different type. The solid nuclear family is presented as a natural one of ‘order and stability’ and is the very foundation of society. Other family types are presented as inferior, born out of chaos, unnatural and weakening society. The first is, of course, a patriarchal family with a man as its head, the others are less so – headed by single women or gay couples. This is experience is a founding experience for us all, one which we have to make some sense of and derive meaning from. From the outset, our family is the setting in which power operates in our lives, in which we perceive threats that arise from the exercise of that power and in which we then have to derive a meaning in order to deal with any perceived threat. This framework of Power, Threat and Meaning can give rise to mental distress in later life.
The family is an ‘agent of primary socialisation’ in sociological terms – this means we learn social norms, values, behaviours and attitudes as well as a host of other things such as language and modes of dress. The family is a foundational social experience and our experiences of families provide us with ways of thinking about how we should live together as couples, families and within wider society.
The link between our family experiences and our politics is not very clear for many of us. We may even think there is no link at all, and that our social and political views are arrived at after some due consideration and the application of rational thought. Jonathan Haidt calls them ‘post hoc rationalisations’ which come after our much deeper moral intuitions. In ‘The Righteous Mind’ (2012) he outlines a model for moral development based in part on genes, but crucially on social and psychological experiences.
Lakoff argues that the family provides us with at least two experiences which then act as unconscious metaphors for life:
1. The Strict Father.
2. The Nurturing Parent.
These two models of family life provide us with ‘frames’ – ‘mental structures that shape the way we see the world‘ (Lakoff 2004 p xv). Frames provide us with language and values, they shape our policies, the organisations we devise, what we consider is good or bad, moral or immoral. Lakoff’s work follows on from Ervin Goffman who discussed our use of frames in ‘Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (1974)’.
To oversimplify perhaps, this is to say that we all hold both frames, strict father – nurturing parent, in our heads but one may be more dominant than the other. We then approach political and social life and use these frames to explain and give meaning to what we are experiencing and to what we value.
Right wing conservatives tend to have a ‘strict father’ frame while those on the Progressive Left tend to have a ‘nurturing parent’ frame. Thus, issues such as social security will be seen by referring back to those frames, and in so doing we will use particular language such as ‘striver v skiver’ and invoke values that accord with those frames to explain and gain meaning for issues such as ‘social security’.
Lakoff’s point is that over the past three decades or so the conservative right have been able to get their frame accepted in the media, by political parties and even in the general population while those of the progressive left have been unable to articulate their frame – ‘the nurturing parent’. The right has done so by spending billions of $ in think tanks, universities, books, articles, research grants, professorships.
The Strict Father Metaphor
The story of Abraham and his relationship with God and his own family is a clear early example of this metaphor. Jehovah, Yahweh, can be understood as the archetypical strict father demanding obedience in return for favours, in even being a ‘chosen one’.
So what are the features of the ‘strict father’ ?
This frame is based on a set of assumptions rooted in a religious substructure:
|Box 2. Strict father 1. The world is a dangerous place and always will be, because evil exists. 2. The world is hard and difficult because it is competitive. 3. There will always be winners and losers. 4. There are absolute right and wrongs. 5. Children are born bad, in that they only want to do that which feels good rather than that which is right. 6. Children therefore have to be made to do the right thing. 7. This world therefore needs a strong strict father who can: protect the family in a dangerous world; support the family in a dangerous world and teach children right from wrong. These ideas are not contradicted in the Abrahamic Holy texts.|
These assumptions draw upon centuries of religious teaching, from patriarchal Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – that puts ‘God the (strict) Father’ at the top of the social and universal hierarchy.
Early capitalist development in Europe and in the United States was founded upon these principles and found expression in the laws enacted at the time, for example the poor law in England.
Children are required to be obedient, because the strict father has moral authority – originally derived from God – as the head of the house: this is patriarchy. The only way to teach obedience is through punishment for wrong doing until the child can internalise discipline to do what is right. A ‘striver’ has this internal discipline while a skiver does not. Without punishment, there would be no moral authority and the social order would collapse. Moral hazard is invoked as a justification for imposing strict social policies and for not introducing supportive systems. Moral hazard arises when individuals (skivers) or institutions (e.g. trade unions) do not take on the full consequences and responsibilities of their actions. In doing so, it is argued, they have a tendency to act less carefully than they otherwise would. This might result in someone else bearing responsibility for the consequences of those actions.
This idea was invoked at the inception of the NHS. It was argued that if people no longer had to pay for health care then they might take less responsibility for their health. Free at the point of delivery means people will not then take responsibility, because they don’t pay, and the NHS, i.e. taxpayers, would have to pick up the bill.
The morality of internal discipline has another affect. Discipline, which includes not spending on luxury, is required to be successful in a competitive difficult world; discipline results in self-reliance and prosperity. Wealth is a result. Therefore wealth is a marker of discipline and therefore wealth and morality become linked. Those who are wealthy – the 1% – deserve to be because of their internal discipline and self-reliance. Those who are on benefits deserve their poverty because of their lack of discipline and self-reliance.
This is, in part, essence the ‘Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.’
The strict father frame is often supported by referring to the economic theory of Adam Smith in the ‘Wealth of Nations’ and can be seen in its modern incarnation in such conservative think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs.
This frame is unconscious, part of our brain structure, and is not invoked explicitly in political discussions. When using the language that arise from this frame, the frame is invoked and reinforced. Conservatives know this, and hence do not rely on reason or facts to make their case – they invoke the language of the frame and talk about their values. In so doing, they reinforce the strict father frame.
When a previous Tory health secretary, Andrew Lansley, talked about the ‘responsibility’ deal he was invoking the requirement for all of us to exercise internal discipline towards our health, reinforcing the idea that children should learn to act in ways that are healthy and should learn to avoid ‘feel good’ but unhealthy lifestyles. If they fail to do so they should be punished by experiencing the consequences of their actions. The father’s (State’s) job is not to pick up the pieces afterwards. Corporations should be encouraged to support us in our actions but not forced to do so because in the end it is in our own hands to choose the right path.
This frame has now become hegemonic. It underpinned the beginnings of mercantile and industrial capitalism (Max Weber’s point in ‘The Protestant Ethic’) which when allied to Enlightenment dualism – separation of mind/body and man/nature – resulted in the control and ‘domination of nature’, another idea rooted in a religious substructure in the book of Genesis. Because it is patriarchal in nature – God/Order is always seen as male, then it controls women as well.
Doubt it? Just note the long struggle conservatives have with family types that are not patriarchal/nuclear as an example.
A strict father underpins the next core component of right wing ideology.
Monarchy, Military and Ministry – the ideological triumvirate.
‘Cry, God for Harry, England and St George!”
All three are interwoven and touch deeply the moral intuitions of loyalty, authority and sanctity, three of the 6 moral intuitions discussed by Jonathan Haidt in ‘The Righteous Mind’. The other three moral intuitions are are care, fairness and liberty.
Loyalty – to nation, to the crown, to the Regiment is of huge importance.
The source of Authority is also the Crown, God and the Nation expressed as ‘will of the people’ or parliament. All three must be obeyed. Obedience displays Loyalty.
God provides Sanctity, expressed through the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ updated by Monarchy through anointment by the church at coronation, and achieved vicariously by the military being commissioned by the Monarch and serving God and Country.
It is little wonder that many national events involve all three – God, Queen and Country, from the country church fête to the laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph. The weakest of the link, in a secular age, is ‘God’, however religious symbolism and metaphor weaves its way through our cultural life. The religious substructure Peterson refers to. There is no need to provide examples for they are legion.
These 3 are both symbolic of right wing thinking, as well as playing a role in reproducing the ideology. The Strict father metaphor is riven with the concepts of authority, of the need for loyalty, and of course sanctity in its moralising. All three arise within the Judaeo-Christian ethic which the arrival of Islam does nothing to overturn in its patriarchy, hierarchy, and military imagery found throughout the Abrahamic sacred texts.
The deep and long lasting imagery, metaphors, stories and cultures are an easy fit for capitalism in all of its guises. These are the very bedrock upon which the superstructure of right wing ideology can easily be built.
It is perhaps why any alternative story struggles.
Strict Father as Superman – Trotsky on Nietzsche
Leon Trotsky critiqued Freidrich Nietzsche and wrote ‘On the philosophy of the Superman’, an idea which seems to fit the strict father/patriarchal metaphor and the Chaos/Order moral meanings which seem to be universal (according the Jordan Peterson) especially in western civilisation. A side note here is that I do not have to hand the philosophies of the various indigenous peoples of the Americas, Australasia, Eastern Asia or of the Pacific Islands. Claims of Universality would have to be derived after examining those traditions.
“The social axis of his system (if it is permitted to offend Nietzsche’s writings with a term as vulgar in the eyes of their author as that of “system”) is the recognition of the privilege granted a few “chosen” to freely enjoy all the goods of existence. These happy chosen are not only exempted from productive labor, but also from the “labor” of domination. “It is for you to believe and serve (Dienstbarkeit)! Such is the destiny Zarathustra offers ordinary mortals in his ideal society, whose number is too great”(den Vielvuzielen). Above them is the caste of those who give orders, of guardians of the law, of warriors. At the summit is the king, “the highest image of the warrior, judge, and guardian of the law.” Compared to the “supermen” all of them are auxiliaries, they are employed in the “rude tasks of domination: they serve to transmit to the mass of slaves “the will of the legislators.” Finally, the highest caste is that of “masters, of “creators of values,” of “legislators,” of “supermen.” They inspire the activity of the entire social organism. They will play on earth the same role that God, according to the Christian faith, plays in the universe.”
Well, there you have it: Ministry (God), Monarchy (King) and Military (caste of warriors), a merry melange of authority and superiority in order to bring order to chaos. No mention of women, of course. This is about Supermen. There are too many ordinary mortals their ‘number is too great’, they are not ‘chosen’ a clear echo of Jehovah’s chosen people. This idea of being chosen, of thus being superior as a long Abrahamic heritage.
And in this next piece, Trotsky clearly outlines thinking that many modern day conservatives would recognise:
“However, it is not superfluous to remark that certain purely bourgeois ideologues have developed ideas in many ways close to those of Nietzsche; for example, one of the best known bourgeois thinkers, the English oracle Herbert Spencer. We find in him the same contempt for the masses (though with more moderation), the same praise for struggle as an instrument of progress, the same protest against assistance for the weak, who supposedly perish through their own fault. “Instead, the bourgeois encyclopedist declares, “of supporting the fundamental law of voluntary cooperation [!!], consisting in each advantage having to be paid for with money obtained through productive labor, they [we understand who is hidden behind this ‘they’ LT] strive to render a large quantity of goods accessible to all, independently of the efforts provided for their creation. Free libraries, free museums should be organized at the expense of society and made accessible to all, independently of their merits. Thus the savings of the most deserving must be taken from the tax collectors and serve to procure certain commodities for the least deserving, who save nothing.” We should recall here the polemic that opposed N.K. Mikhailovsky to Spencer because the latter didn’t want remedies to be found for the natural consequences of poverty and vice. Compare this demand with Zarathustra’s speech: “The earth is full of people to whom it is indispensable that death be preached.” They shouldn’t be helped; rather they should be pushed so they fall faster. “Das ist gross, das gehört zur grasse…” (this is sublime).
We see here very clearly, ideas about the undeserving poor should not be helped, that ‘free libraries’ are a tax on the productive and provide for the undeserving. Ayn Rand would surely nod in agreement here in this ‘devil take the hindmost’ attitude. The “same praise for struggle as an instrument of progress” can be heard in Boris Johnson’s speech about inequality being necessary for motivation and that top cornflakes rise to the top.
Trotsky claims Spencer’s disdain for the masses, his protestations against assistance for the weak, is based on a fear that that this would enable the weak to challenge the social order of bourgeois class relations under capitalism. I think he is right. Conservative fear of helping the ‘undeserving poor’, is based on the fear of the risk of upset of the natural order of things of which they are clear beneficiaries. It is why stigma, shame and blame are used to keep the current hierarchy in its place.
Chaos and Order
In ‘Maps of Meaning – The Architecture of Belief’ (1999) Jordan Peterson explores belief systems. He wanted to study and analyse the world’s religions, their ideas, in an attempt to describe essential morality in order to develop a universal system of morality. His key idea is the struggle between chaos (female) and order (male). Humanity is engaged in a struggle for the pacification of existence and nature (female) appears chaotic. Chaos can invoke strong emotions, which need to be regulated. At this point we can see the link with the strict father metaphor, for who other than father is there to control the chaotic emotions of wayward children? In the metaphorical world Father is replaced by God the Father in the moral world, and King or State in socio-political world. Thomas Hobbes had famously stated that life in the state of nature is ‘solitary, poor, nasty brutish and short’ requiring a strong government to avoid the evil of discord (chaos). This is recurring theme. Right Wing authoritarians often invoke such imagery – the ‘father of the nation’, the ‘dear leader’ the strong man to defeat socialism, communism and feminism.
“Something we cannot see protects us from something we do not understand. The thing we cannot see is culture, in its intrapsychic or internal manifestation. The thing we do not understand is the chaos that gave rise to culture. If the structure of culture is disrupted, unwittingly, chaos returns. We will do anything – anything – to defend ourselves against that return” Jordan Peterson, 1998 (Descensus ad Inferos)
Monarchy, Military and Ministry as three aspects of culture protecting us from something we do not understand – chaos and emotion.
Conservatives have a head start in that they readily invoke and can feel the 6 moral intuitions; they fear insecurity and chaos and will readily accept a strong figure who will ‘Get (X) Done! Just consider figures such as Churchill, Thatcher, and now Johnson. The latter’s ‘genius’ is to instinctively know that outlining in detail analytical policy does not rally the troops. Instead invoke a foreign threat (The EU, Corbyn’s Marxism terrorism and antisemitism) and offer a decisive clear path out of chaos. It is not an accident he talked about ‘faith and belief’ as this resonates well with those whose idolisation of the Monarchy rests not on any rational argument but a deeply held faith in the Queen, those who accept even if weakly the C o E and those who uncritically see the Military as Heroes. It is why the British have forgotten their colonial past and the part the Empire played in devasting the lives of millions, with genocide recast as trade and the civilising process.
Deep in the heart of conservatives is a fear. A fear of disorder, of chaos, of not knowing who is in charge. It is why change is threatening, for with change comes the possibility of chaos. Fear of change applies to fear of change of our history, of our national myths. Empire, Waterloo, Agincourt, provide emotional comfort and help to support our claim to be an unequivocal force for good in the world. A great example was Portillo’s demagogical speech to the Tory party in 1995. It is no accident that the most used war metaphors is that of the second world war arguably the most justified of our conflicts. Less is said of colonial military exploits such as Amritsar massacre, Boer concentration camps, partitioning of India, Mau Mau uprising and famines in India.
We know what we have, it might not be perfect and yes it might be hierarchical and unfair but it is order. It explains why it is almost impossible to use reason to unpick this story because it is not reasonable, it is emotive, it protects us from Chaos. Try getting someone to explain why they feel pride in the military or the monarchy – watch out for the visceral hatred engendered if those institutions are challenged, because the challenge is chipping away at the very personhood, the emotive need for order in a otherwise disorderly world. You will hear post hoc rationalisations about Monarchy – they are ‘assets’, they do a great job for the country – both are assertions which are arguable but not for the Monarchist. As for the military, any critique of the role of the British military in Empire and colonialism will not be met with historical argument and nuance but by again a visceral hatred of the challenger. Bourgeois historians take a naïve view of colonial history precisely because its provides an emotional crutch, for once you introduce nuance and critical perspectives then one has to acknowledge that this pillar of society might have crumbling foundations.
This is why there is right-wing hegemony – all you need to do is invoke God, Queen and Country in your slogans and speeches and you provide emotional stability in an otherwise unstable world.