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Monday 6 June 2022

A False Dichotomy

Left and right is increasingly being revealed as a false dichotomy. Particularly the divide between socialist and whatever it is that conservatives offer today. But it is still common for people to argue over whether an idea is left or right. Ideas should not be judged on whether they fit into your perceived view of left or right, but whether they are good, honourable and useful. 

Here is a great example, the Elizabethan poor laws

"Until the end of the 16th century, it was a given throughout medieval Europe that when food prices rose there would be a consequent surge in mortality rates, as people starved to death and diseases spread among the malnourished.

"The Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1598 and 1601 turned the situation in England on its head. Now when food became too expensive, local parishes were obliged to give cash or food to those who could not afford to eat. For the first time in history, it became illegal to let anybody starve.

The laws were clear and simple, and required each of over 10,000 English parishes to set up a continuous relief fund to support the vulnerable. This included the lame, the ill and the old, as well as orphans, widows, single mothers and their children, and those unable to find work. Occupiers of land (landowners or their tenants) had to pay a tax towards the fund in proportion to the value of their holding.

Overseen by local magistrates, the system’s transparency provided no loopholes for avoiding the tax. In fact, it encouraged a flourishing culture of charitable giving which provided almshouses, apprenticeships and hospitals for the parish poor to alleviate destitution.

With this proliferation of localised mini-welfare states, England became the first country in Europe by more than 150 years to effectively put an end to widespread famine. And it also enabled England subsequently to enjoy by far the fastest rate of urbanisation in Europe.

Between 1600 and 1800, huge numbers of young people left rural parishes to find work in cities, safe in the knowledge that their parents would be supported by the parish in times of need – and that they themselves would receive help if things didn’t work out. Long before the first steam engines arrived, the Poor Laws had created an urban workforce which enabled the industrial revolution to take off."

Many conservatives today would falsely call this policy socialist. Which, if you know a) that socialism developed later, and b) the left/right divide developed out of a later movement in the French parliament, is actually a bit funny. The Queen of England would not be too happy about being associated with French anti-Monarchist radicals (which is where the left and socialism originates). 

But such is the situation that conservatives find themselves in today. Some ideas are left, and others are right and they need to be attacked or defended like football teams. But this cause people to reject good ideas like this Elizabethan policy, this idea has the ring of biblical inspiration about it. 

We read in Leviticus 23:22 - "And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”

The Bible is neither capitalist or socialist. But if you apply this false dichotomy, that all ideas must sit in this left or right divide, then you have to pick which side this verse exhibits. Because it is allowing a form of welfare for the poor, this would mean you would have to lean towards socialists. However, no one can honestly read the Bible and say that it is socialist. The Bible is pro-monarchy, anti-equality, and incredibly patriarchal. But neither is it capitalist, because property could not be sold in perpetuity. 

However, it does present good ideas. Ideas we can learn from. Like letting there be a floor of poverty no one would fall below, as long as they were willing to do a little work. The Elizabethan poor laws poor laws did the same thing. 

Break out of that false dichotomy and review every idea on its own merits, especially in light of God's word. Because you will start to see there are so many good things we could be doing, if we just were willing to consider ideas that we would not normally be open to, because of their being associated with one team. 

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