Open letter to the BBC

May I have some guidance on what you mean in recent political coverage? What is your definition of “right-wing” (or “left-wing”) or “right-wing extremist”? BBC reports have used the term for a disparate variety of characters with little in common.

Thomas Hobbes observed:

“The first cause of Absurd conclusions I ascribe to the want of Method; in that they begin not their Ratiocination from Definitions; that is, from settled significations of their words”.

Therefore, if I am to write any more about politics, I need to understand what is meant; and (if I may be so bold) so must the BBC.

You use the same term for collectivist tyrants, for liberal individualists, for social radicals and social conservatives, and for those whose ideas neither you nor I know. This is irrational.

I, at least, could not be described as “right-wing”, according the paradigms in your broadcasts, unless you change the definitions, or have none; in which case who could be safe from accusation?

As the term “right-wing” appears to be your favourite political epithet (the search bar on the BBC website is an eye-opener) it ought to mean something. The term has been used to describe certain of the blood-soaked tyrants of the early twentieth century who had a common philosophy. However you also attach it to those with no philosophy; to those who would seek the violent overthrow of our already fractious society, and to those who seek peacefully, prayerfully to restore it; and to just about any insurgent political movement in Britain or abroad, whatsoever its ideas, at least if some of those ideas might not be shared by the journalist.

This is inconsistent, and it betrays a lack of thought. My concern is that you have not thought about it: labels are a way to avoid thinking. That is unworthy of the BBC and the high standing of its journalists.

To the task though – from the first examples, if fascists are “right-wing” then you have a definition: an ideology which abnegates all personal freedom and in which no one is treated as an individual but accordingly to an arbitrary collective identity imposed on them. That would describe fascism perfectly, by Mussolini’s own definition, and socialism too of course. Then again, last week the BBC consistently described Javier Milei in Argentina as “right-wing populist”, though his declared philosophy is the polar opposite: excessive personal freedom and repugnancy to all forms of collectivism. If he is not “left-wing” either, perhaps by such a definition he is a “centrist extremist”?

Alternatively, you might intend the term to refer to expressions of hatred against classes of people. That is the constant theme of fascists, and of all sorts of socialists too; the more extreme the ideology the more extreme the hatred. The only distinction between them is the content of the graves they fill.

Regrettably, politics is pervaded by hate-fuelled rhetoric, in every party (you should hear LibDems when they get going – they are scandalous). For my own part, I shun hatred, and would prefer respect for all. That is one reason I dropped out of local politics, when I just wanted to serve the public, not attack anyone. From your perspective that might make me a dangerous centrist, and from the perspective of our political class it makes me totally apolitical. I would be content with that.

This has not got us very far with the point of the exercise, which is to define the BBC’s favourite epithet. Stepping back, if the spectrum is between “right-wing” as hate-filled, murderous fascists and “left-wing” as hate-filled, murderous Marxists, that is a spectrum entirely within tyranny, and few people are on it. Where are libertarians, or Tories? Nowhere near that deathly scale, thank goodness.

The term “left-wing” is used of socialists, but even that usage presupposes a single dimension going towards or away from a fixed point defined by Karl Marx. This gives the man and his philosophy too much credit. Marx had one creed amongst countless thousands, and he should not be permitted to define the whole spectrum of politics. He has done enough harm as it is.

If there is no definition then, the word is no concept at all, and no one – not you nor I nor baying politicians – have any business attaching it to anyone at all. I know that journalists need shorthand, but in a respectable publication that shorthand needs some substance, and here there is none.

Hobbes put it bluntly:

“There is yet another fault in the Discourses of some men; which may also be numbred amongst the sorts of Madnesse; namely, that abuse of words, whereof I have spoken before in the fifth chapter, by the Name of Absurdity.”

An undefined label at which you can direct hatred is madness indeed; the sign saying “Kick me” that you feel free to hang on the back of a passing victim. Labels are the tool of the despot and the lazy. As a radical centrist, if that if how you would label me, I refuse imposed labels (including ‘centrist’).

I would hope then that if the phrase “right-wing” ever passes the lips of a BBC journalist or appears on its website, you can define it, and if you believe you can define it, I will read that definition with interest, and may publish it for the edification of all.

Dictators and liberators alike; collectivists and individualists; social radicals and social conservatives and those whose ideas you nor I know. Until I receive better explanation, I can only deduce that in BBC parlance, “right-wing” means “someone I would not invite to join the Groucho Club”.

(This has also been sent as a letter to the BBC.)

See also


Good Wit, Or Fancy; Good Judgement; Discretion

And this difference of quicknesse, is caused by the difference of mens passions; that love and dislike, some one thing, some another: and therefore some mens thoughts run one way, some another: and are held to, and observe differently the things that passe through their imagination. And whereas in his succession of mens thoughts, there is nothing to observe in the things they think on, but either in what they be Like One Another, or in what they be Unlike, or What They Serve For, or How They Serve To Such A Purpose;

Those that observe their similitudes, in case they be such as are but rarely observed by others, are sayd to have a Good Wit; by which, in this occasion, is meant a Good Fancy. But they that observe their differences, and dissimilitudes; which is called Distinguishing, and Discerning, and Judging between thing and thing; in case, such discerning be not easie, are said to have a Good Judgement: and particularly in matter of conversation and businesse; wherein, times, places, and persons are to be discerned, this Vertue is called DISCRETION. The former, that is, Fancy, without the help of Judgement, is not commended as a Vertue: but the later which is Judgement, and Discretion, is commended for it selfe, without the help of Fancy.

Besides the Discretion of times, places, and persons, necessary to a good Fancy, there is required also an often application of his thoughts to their End; that is to say, to some use to be made of them. This done; he that hath this Vertue, will be easily fitted with similitudes, that will please, not onely by illustration of his discourse, and adorning it with new and apt metaphors; but also, by the rarity or their invention.

But without Steddinesse, and Direction to some End, a great Fancy is one kind of Madnesse; such as they have, that entring into any discourse, are snatched from their purpose, by every thing that comes in their thought, into so many, and so long digressions, and parentheses, that they utterly lose themselves: Which kind of folly, I know no particular name for: but the cause of it is, sometimes want of experience; whereby that seemeth to a man new and rare, which doth not so to others: sometimes Pusillanimity; by which that seems great to him, which other men think a trifle: and whatsoever is new, or great, and therefore thought fit to be told, withdrawes a man by degrees from the intended way of his discourse.

See also


Soveraigne Power: The Hurt Proceeds From Not Submitting Readily

But a man may here object, that the Condition of Subjects is very miserable; as being obnoxious to the lusts, and other irregular passions of him, or them that have so unlimited a Power in their hands.

And commonly they that live under a Monarch, think it the fault of Monarchy; and they that live under the government of Democracy, or other Soveraign Assembly, attribute all the inconvenience to that forme of Common-wealth; whereas the Power in all formes, if they be perfect enough to protect them, is the same; not considering that the estate of Man can never be without some incommodity or other; and that the greatest, that in any forme of Government can possibly happen to the people in generall, is scarce sensible, in respect of the miseries, and horrible calamities, that accompany a Civill Warre; or that dissolute condition of masterlesse men, without subjection to Lawes, and a coercive Power to tye their hands from rapine, and revenge: nor considering that the greatest pressure of Soveraign Governours, proceedeth not from any delight, or profit they can expect in the dammage, or weakening of their subjects, in whose vigor, consisteth their own selves, that unwillingly contributing to their own defence, make it necessary for their Governours to draw from them what they can in time of Peace, that they may have means on any emergent occasion, or sudden need, to resist, or take advantage on their Enemies.

For all men are by nature provided of notable multiplying glasses, (that is their Passions and Self-love,) through which, every little payment appeareth a great grievance; but are destitute of those prospective glasses, (namely Morall and Civill Science,) to see a farre off the miseries that hang over them, and cannot without such payments be avoyded.

See also


Intellectuall Vertue

Vertue generally, in all sorts of subjects, is somewhat that is valued for eminence; and consisteth in comparison. For if all things were equally in all men, nothing would be prized. And by Vertues INTELLECTUALL, are always understood such abilityes of the mind, as men praise, value, and desire should be in themselves; and go commonly under the name of a Good Witte; though the same word Witte, be used also, to distinguish one certain ability from the rest.

These Vertues are of two sorts; Naturall, and Acquired. By Naturall, I mean not, that which a man hath from his Birth: for that is nothing else but Sense; wherein men differ so little one from another, and from brute Beasts, as it is not to be reckoned amongst Vertues. But I mean, that Witte, which is gotten by Use onely, and Experience; without Method, Culture, or Instruction. This NATURALL WITTE, consisteth principally in two things; Celerity Of Imagining, (that is, swift succession of one thought to another;) and Steddy Direction to some approved end. On the Contrary a slow Imagination, maketh that Defect, or fault of the mind, which is commonly called DULNESSE, Stupidity, and sometimes by other names that signifie slownesse of motion, or difficulty to be moved.

See also


One may smile, and smile, and be a villain

The hold that the worst of tyrants may have over his victim people is ever a fascination. Looking from afar at the rulers of Venezuela or Zimbabwe or Turkey or South Africa, a Briton, lapped in the benevolence, even if benevolent incompetence, that is the wont of government to us, we may be outraged that a tyrant may not only rule, but that so many of the people love them.  We know that Robert Mugabe never won an honest election in his life but elections there were, and millions voted for him and his party.

Presentation is all, for the greater part of the people will believe outward beauty is goodness and ugliness is evil, as Hobbes observes:

The Latine Tongue has two words, whose significations approach to those of Good and Evill; but are not precisely the same; And those are Pulchrum and Turpe. Whereof the former signifies that, which by some apparent signes promiseth Good; and the later, that, which promiseth evill.

But in our Tongue we have not so generall names to expresse them by. But for Pulchrum, we say in some things, Fayre; in other Beautifull, or Handsome, or Gallant, or Honourable, or Comely, or Amiable; and for Turpe, Foule, Deformed, Ugly, Base, Nauseous, and the like, as the subject shall require; All which words, in their proper places signifie nothing els, but the Mine, or Countenance, that promiseth Good and evill.

So that of Good there be three kinds; Good in the Promise, that is Pulchrum; Good in Effect, as the end desired, which is called Jucundum, Delightfull; and Good as the Means, which is called Utile, Profitable; and as many of evill: For evill, in Promise, is that they call Turpe; evill in Effect, and End, is Molestum, Unpleasant, Troublesome; and evill in the Means, Inutile, Unprofitable, Hurtfull.

In this frame of mind, the failings of a ruler seen as strong and better still if he is a handsome man, will mask any number of actual failings – until the police arrive at your own door.

In 1 Samuel 16, the seer is rebuked: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” All that said, five verses later the chosen king, David, is described “Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to.” Perhaps his healthy, outdoorsman appearance reflected his healthy outlook.  In any case the people of Israel were more likely to follow a king who would inspire by his very appearance.

Poverty, induced famine, violent repression, the end of everyday liberties, all are simple to blame upon others. People are not stupid in general, but prefer to believe comfortable, neat fictions rather than hard, complicated truths, and those who do not understand the actual causes that drive away prosperity, cannot place the blame other than where the tyrant’s words place it.

Ignorance of naturall causes disposeth a man to Credulity, so as to believe many times impossibilities: for such know nothing to the contrary, but that they may be true; being unable to detect the Impossibility. And Credulity, because men love to be hearkened unto in company, disposeth them to lying: so that Ignorance it selfe without Malice, is able to make a man bothe to believe lyes, and tell them; and sometimes also to invent them.

We have now a multitude of sources which can inform, but only if we listen and if they are in the right language, and only if they are controlled by those with a care for freedom and prosperity, which is rare these days. Liberty has been a watchword for centuries in the English-speaking world but not all nations will have the same understanding. If their rulers cry out ‘Liberty’ it is liberty for themselves, like the word ‘Libertas’ carved on the turrets of Lucca and on the shackles that held the city’s galley-slaves. Reason then is not to be relied upon to moderate or to throw down tyrants. It is enough that they should smile, and smile, and be a villain, if they portray an outward appearance to win hearts, and wily enough to shed blame elsewhere.

See also