‘Power to the People’

by Jay Nordlinger

This week in Impromptus, I’m doing a series on Michael Gove, the British education secretary. The series is an expansion, or “blowout,” as I call them, of a piece we had in NR: “Our Man in London.” Part I of the series is here.

Gove is a writer and intellectual, and he had a big journalistic career before entering politics ten years ago. I first wrote about him for NR in 2005, when he won his seat in Parliament. (That piece is here.) I noted that Britain had a long, long tradition of writer-intellectuals in politics. Sheridan, Burke, and Macaulay, for three.

Today, in addition to Gove, and many others, you have Boris Johnson, the brilliant, scandalous, and riveting mayor of London. He has a regular column in the Telegraph. Gove does not do a column. In my recent visit with him, I asked, “Why Boris and not you?” He shot back, “Because he’s more talented than I am.”

That is typical of Gove. He also said a little more on the subject, which I will report in the course of our Web series. (Gove and Johnson are friendly rivals, one gathers from press accounts.)

Here in the Corner, I wanted to direct readers’ attention to Gove as writer — to an article, not a book, which will save time. This is a piece he wrote in 2004, as he was chucking journalism to run for office. It was published in The Spectator and was titled “Power to the people.”

As I noted at the time, it contained passages reminiscent of the famous “credo” in WFB’s Up from Liberalism. Here is a bit, but the entire piece (which is not long) is well worthwhile:

Conservative values, which we abandon at our peril, are a belief in the maximum freedom for individuals, a recognition that wickedness should be countered by discipline not therapy, and an acceptance that the price of progress is a patchwork world.

A belief in freedom is the beginning of my politics. Buried in my soul, at a level too deep to surrender, is my passionate dislike of coercion, conformity and collectivism. I think the inherent dignity of humans depends on the free exercise of their will, and efforts to curtail, corral or conscript for the sake of a greater good not only stifle the human spirit, but also generally fail to achieve the good proclaimed.

To my mind there is a beauty in the quirky, the eccentric, the divergent, which one never sees in uniformity. And underpinning my conviction is the knowledge that progress, from Socrates through Galileo to Vaclav Havel, has depended on the defiance of consensus, on those who dare to be Daniels. The enemy of progress is the doctrine of knowing your place, the principle that your identity comes from membership of a group . . .