Iain – Maybe you could explain something to me, What’s up with Scotland? I was there for the first time last summer on the NR Cruise. My lovely bride and I loved the place, at first. We thought Edinburgh — despite some of the usual Euro-grime — was just fantastic and we immediately hatched a fantasy of spending a year there someday. Then, it was slowly revealed to us that Scotland is becoming the land of kilt-wearing Marxists and environmentalists (hence, I suppose, all the green and red in their plaids). Fireplaces have been banned in Edinburgh and there’s a legalized heroin vibe coming off many a park bench and back alley. It’s the frickn’ birthplace of the good enlightenment for Pete’s sake! And yet, the Irish are going all free market while Adam Smith’s ancestral home is becoming haggis-soaked kibbutz. Okay, I exaggerate, a little. But seriously, what’s the deal? ~Jonah “Lie for a Just Cause” Goldberg, The Corner
Point of fact: you cannot soak something in haggis, except in the most metaphorical sense. You can bury something in, or cover something with, haggis (which is quite an image), but there is no soaking. It is, after all, quite solid. It also happens to be fairly tasty (it is a bit salty, but it has a solid consistency that every Celt and connoisseur of fatback can appreciate). But enough about haggis (for now).
Mr. Goldberg seems to be competing with Andrew Sullivan for the Historical Dunce award this year (it will be a tough decision in the end, but I believe Mr. Goldberg can still win), as if a moment in late 18th century Scottish intellectual history can be taken as being somehow definitive of the country’s people or culture. (I would note in passing that the reference to the Scotch Enlightenment at the “good enlightenment” reconfirms my thesis that modern conservatism is fundamentally incoherent and wedded to philosophical assumptions at odds with the ideals of the conservative tradition embodied in the figures of the Scotch Counter-Enlightenment, such as Sir Walter Scott, etc.) Also, bad kilt jokes will get you nowhere fast in a room full of Scotsmen. What, incidentally, do the Irish have to do with any of this? Is this some backhanded way of saying, “Hey, if even dumb, old Paddy can figure it out, then the Scots should have no trouble!”? I am part Scotch-Irish, and I think Goldberg has managed to irritate both the Scotch and the Irish in me.
Historically ignorant fans of John Adams might ask with similar incredulity how Massachusetts could have become so shockingly statist in its inclinations (though our Jeffersonian friends would insist that the Federalists were always up to no good). After all, wasn’t Boston the first home of the Sons of Liberty? The short answer to “what happened to Scotland?” might be: the last 200 years and the industrial revolution. In Scotland’s particular case, the political suppression of the Highlands in the mid-18th century paved the way for the supremacy of a Scottish elite reconciled to the Hanoverians and the development of the mercantile economy in the Lowlands. There followed the rise of the privileged position of the mercantile classes in Edinburgh and Glasgow, followed in the 19th century by the expansion of industry to the North during the era of Manchester liberalism, which all worked towards creating the gradual growth of both conservative and left-wing hostility to industry and the abuse of labour. Empire served as a major drain on the resources and manpower of Scotland for better than 200 years, and managed to divert what could have once again become an internal political challenge to central control into an advantage for imperial expansion; at the same time, this diversion of manpower ensured that the country stayed less developed than it could have been. Was traditional Presbyterianism responsible for cultivating a different social and political ethic from that of Anglicans and Dissenters to the south? Undoubtedly this had something to do with how Scottish politics evolved over the last 200 years.
In the 20th century, underdevelopment of Scotland, England’s internal colony ere long, has been a chronic problem and an abiding reason for the success of left-wing politics north of the Firth of Forth. In post-war Britain, the Tories have steadily been driven further and further south as the people who work in the industrial cities and the towns of the North have increasingly wanted nothing to do with them. Perhaps someone better versed in Scottish history could offer corrections or supplements to this summary, but I think it is a bit more compelling than Iain Murray‘s “cycles of collectivist fervor,” which strikes me as very strange.