The Right Pin-Up

I found it odd when it was pointed out to me here in wilds of Andalusia, working on building up Polo Andalusia, that the papers had decided to name me pin-up boy for the parties of the Right in Spain, especially under the surname of one of my maternal ancestors, Cecil Rhodes. (The headline El otro Rhodes translates as ‘The Other Rhodes.’)

However, it was another Rhodes they referenced: a ‘celebrity’ musician who plays classical music – by which I mean a person whose public profile as a musician has piggy-backed on his public profile for revelations (his own) about his private life rather than his talent – who has also moved to Spain. Apparently he has decided to wax lyrical in the media about his views on the political failings of the country he has just moved to. A cultural, or rather touristic, imperialism I personally find abhorrent….

That said, although the intention of this article was flattering, I could not find myself flattered by it… you see, my politics, which are usually a private matter, do not match those of the role they are proposing me to fill

The article, online here, says:

We need another Englishman similarly Hispanophile to admire.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison (pictured) is my proposal. He is English… of good type … graduated in biology and philosophy at Oxford and London… If Rhodes is immersed in our customs, what Fiske-Harrison likes is The Custom: bullfighting. He is a great aficiondao and a few years ago he published a book about the Fiesta, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight. Apparently, his mentor in bullfighting was Adolfo Suárez Illana [son of the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Spain after the death of Franco, and himself number two in the conservative Partido Popular, ‘Popular Party’, for Madrid.]

Fiske-Harrison is presented as “writer and bullfighter”, maintains a blog on bullfighting in English,, and is also a great aficionado of bull-running, and usually runs dressed in white and with an elegant red jacket looking like a character out of P. G. Wodehouse skidding into calle Estafeta in Pamplona.

Fiske is a patrician, a dandy, an enviable Englishman and also a lover of Spain. Fiske-Harrison is a taurine pro, perhaps the great English taurino of the moment.

Portrait of Locke in 1697 by Sir Godfrey Kneller

Flattering as this write up is, it is – not to be impolite – not me. My politics derive from the traditions of classical liberalism.

Not, I must add, progressive liberalism, because that phrase is a contradiction in terms.

Liberalism was born of the belief that perfection unachievable in this world and that all beliefs held at a metaphysical level are deeply dubious and so people should be given the space to hold them or not.

As the great French essayist Michel de Montaigne, who fought in the European Wars of Religion between Catholicism and Protestantism that killed three million out of a population of one hundred million, put it: “what Truth is this that these mountains bound and beyond them is a lie?”

This is the liberalism that in England was so well formalised in the moral and political philosophy of my relative, John Locke, whose Second Treatise of Government is the conceptual blueprint for the Constitution of the United States of America.

(It is interesting to observe in America at present how ‘liberal’ is a term of abuse for a half of the population who still adhere so dearly to that self-same document of national foundation, based as it is on the thinking of the ‘Father of Liberalism.’)

This liberalism is born of doubt on the very deepest conceptual level: not only do I not know what “the good life” – to use Socrates’ phrase – is. I doubt there is one. Our moral concepts contain internal contradictions which mean that the conflicting demands, for example, of our notions of liberty and justice, or liberty and equality, or equality and justice, will never be properly settled. As my old lecturer at Oxford, Sir Isaiah Berlin, used to say (misquoting Immanuel Kant): “from the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing shall ever be made.”

As a result of this inbuilt error, it is my inclination to shy away from influencing or deterring, enforcing or banning, almost anything which does not do provable physical harm to other people. It is this line of thought which gives us this other derivative from the Latin word for ‘freedom’, liber, i.e. libertarianism.

If the State seldom gets it right, and in some things by definition it can not, it should work on the rule of thumb of leaving things alone. Hence those classical liberals remaining today are sometimes referred to as ‘libertarian-liberals’.

(In my multiple, if sporadic, forays into journalism, from the left-wing press of The Independent and Prospect magazine to the right-wing pages of the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, these sometimes contradictory forces have even led to me rewrite my own personal philosophy: such as on gun control in the U.S.. I once argued for a limited version of it online here, and revised those thoughts it in the same publication online here a few weeks later.)

However, the destructive individualistic streak this true liberalism took under the influence of neo-liberalism I began to doubt, and that, combined with the -intellectual ageing process no doubt, has driven me towards a more conservative outlook on certain subjects.

To take just one example: immigration may indeed be good for an economy, and mass immigration may have an internationalist and basic humanitarian appeal, but I have come to believe that social cohesion and a sense of belonging is vitally important for a functional and contented human existence.

Also, and at a much more fundamental level, there is always the spectre of the great internal contradiction of liberalism: to tolerate the intolerant – in ideology, in religion – can be to nurture the very schools of thought that will destroy your free-spirited utopia.

So, before I get lost in the academic investigation of political theory at a level I have not pursued since I was a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics, what does this have to do with the political parties of Spain and in particular Vox.

Well, despite my friends in those parties – from toreros to politicos – I can not in good conscience claim I support all their policies, even though I think their description in the media as “Far Right” is simply wrong.

First, while I may believe that abortion is not just another surgical operation, akin to the removal of the appendix – it is without a doubt the ending of some form of independent life, but one which cannot grow without the biological ‘devotion’, for want of a better word, of the mother – I do not believe the State should rule of what women do with that independent life to which they play host. Society can disapprove of unnecessary abortion and exert its pressure that way, and the State can offer alternatives like adoption, but forcing a woman to give birth to a child – and therefore legally impeding a doctor from termination – is anathema to me. I would put my own self at risk of harm to give a woman the right to chose even though I might, relative to context, suggest other options.

(The urge for the State to interfere leads to so many unwanted outcomes for both ends of the political spectrum. As a senior judge once pointed out to me, the entire British problem about gay marriage could have been removed by making civil partnership the legal, State-enforced, contract required by all, and devolving marriage itself back to the religions where it belongs.)

Returning to Vox, their proposal to remove the autonomous community status from the Basque Country and Catalonia must be amongst the more stupid proposals by a political party of any persuasion. The armed struggle of the Basque people for independence has only just quieted down after much bloodshed on both sides and they want to reopen that Pandora’s Box. I do not deny Catalan separatism is wrong enough for even the E.U. to reject it, but why not leave it at that? The obvious solution is to enforce the Constitution as an inviolable document, not to weaken it. For if you offer change in one direction, you open the possibility of the change in the other as well.

Of course, bullfighting is a part of my life, and their support of that I welcome. However, it does not come unconditionally. Soy liberal. 

Alexander Fiske-Harrison


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