For a few moments, I am ashamed to say, a new theory being advanced by an American academic set me thinking. Peter Schweizer, who is a research fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has been studying the private lives and attitudes of liberals and conservatives.
Those with left-wing views, he has concluded, are less happy, less generous, more likely to commit suicide, greedier and more selfish than right-wingers. Those that are parents – and, according to Schweizer, many liberals are simply too narcissistic and self-centred to have children – are statistically less likely to hug their children. These and other thoughts are contained in his book, Makers and Takers, which has just been published.
It is tempting, in the manner of someone slightly bored at a dinner party, to follow Schweizer down the dark alleyways of his thought processes to discover where they take us. Could he possibly be on to something? Conservatives, with a greater faith in the individual, may instinctively be more optimistic than those on the left and therefore happier.
On the other hand, liberals look forward rather than backward and believe in some kind of social equality, neither of which qualities suggest misery or lack of generosity. Righties grumble about modern life, but then lefties have a miserablist dependence on state interference. So where do all those contradictions lead us?
George Bush has warned Iran that military action is still “on the table” if it fails to respond to tightening diplomatic pressure to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.
The EU is planning to announce the freezing of all overseas assets of the main bank in Iran. Sanctions are also to be tightened on gas and oil exports by Iran.
But the US President’s remarks on the last leg of his “farewell tour” of Europe raised fears at Westminster that Mr Bush is determined to take action against Iran before he leaves office in January if the sanctions fail to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Standing alongside the President after more than an hour of talks in Downing Street, Gordon Brown surprised EU council officials by announcing that the EU intends to intensify its sanctions on Iran, including freezing the billions of euros in overseas assets of the Melli Bank of Iran.
This weekend Italians go to the polls to elect a new government (nothing new there you may think given the country has had more than 60 governments, albeit not all as a result of elections since the creation of modern republic from the ruins of Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship and the abolition of the monarchy at the end of World War II.)
Controversial is not really doing Mr Berlusconi – who is favourite to return to power this weekend – justice. A former cruise liner crooner who rose to be the country’s richest man, a TV mogul, owner of one of Europe’s top football teams and two times prime minister, Mr Berlusconi has also been persistently accused of corruption – though never convicted – and some of whose closest advisers have been found guilty of bribery as well as collusion with the mafia. Silvio Berlusconi, who’s also known as Il Cavaliere, stands out as a leading politician who also controls a large chunk of his country’s media. A situation which many other European countries would probably not accept and has led to suggestions that if Italy were not a member of the EU already, it may well have trouble being accepted as a member today.
Understanding the appeal of such a politician in modern Europe is what we will attempt on the programme.
But Italy has a wider importance to the rest of Europe too. It’s one of the largest countries in the EU and an economy which is in decline. It adopted the Euro at its inception, but its public finances are in such a state some Italians would like to abandon the currency, which could have a serious impact on the prestige of the new money. Italy also faces a dilemma – in some ways similar to that faced by France – of deciding whether to introduce liberal economic reforms at the risk of jeopardising a quality of life many in the rest of world envy.
In this election, both the main candidates, Mr Berlusconi and his centre-left challenger, Walter Veltroni, are promising reform. But there is doubt whether they can deliver on those promises and also whether the electorate is really going to decide on these issues when most observers agree this election will really be about one thing – whether or not to return Mr Berlusconi to office.
* Edited by Our Words in Resistance. Full version found at the given link
* Alistair Burnett is editor of the World Tonight