Posted on: November 3, 2023
This article was written by the author of The Political Right and Equality: Turning Back the Tide of Egalitarian Modernity by Matthew McManus.
The theme of this year’s “Human Rights Day” is Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All. That “all” is a key word when assessing the legacy of the political right. F.A Hayek famously described being a conservative as the belief that there were “recognizably superior” people in society who were more deserving, and so deserving of more. Given this, it should come as no surprise that many on the political right have regarded calls for equal rights for all with attitudes ranging from caution to hostility. From Burke’s famous denunciation of the “pretended rights of men” to Nietzsche’s acidic mockery of the “posion” of equal rights for all the right has been the intellectual vanguard of those who think equal rights are a mixed blessing at best.
In 2023 it can be very easy to assume the obvious desirability of equal rights for all. The Political Right and Equality: Turning Back the Tide of Egalitarian Modernity offers some explanations why, for many, it is not. The clowninsh behavior of a Trump or a Boris Johnson can occlude how the political right is more than capable of offering cogent and deep defenses of inequality and unequal rights. Burke declared that he endorsed the “real rights of man,” but insisted these were by no means the same for everyone-and denied that the lower orders should be entitled to the same political rights as the higher. Joseph De Maistre worried that the spread of rights to free expression and thought would erode the “dogmas” on which social order depended for its stability and longevity. Carl Schmitt looked on propnents of “equal” rights with amusement, pointing to the hypocrisy of any political community that declared for human equality while policing its borders. And today, a host of right and hard right populists lament how the universal calls for rights erode respect for national tradition and the pursuit of excellence.
In 2018 the political exponents of these views were in office around the world. The United States, Britain, Italy, Russia, Brazil, India, Poland and Hungary all saw surging support for right populists promising to build walls and lock up migrants. Sentimental cries about human rights be damned. Pundits and academics raced to develop new labels and concepts to explain what happened: conservative populism, post-liberalism, post-modern conservatism, national conservatism, and neo or post-fascism. For a time, many predicted that liberalism was headlong careening towards failure. While the tide seems to have withdrawn, it could be that we are in the eye of the hurricane. Only the future knows, and it isn’t telling.
The Political Right and Equality unpacks the origins of these sweeping events, and offers some diagnoses on how to restore the rising tide of egalitarian modernity. Progressives and liberals need to rediscover the universal and inspiring core of their convictions. The compromises of the neoliberal era must be consigned to the dustbin of history. Its time to once more fight to win liberty, eqaulity and solidarity for all.