On Thursday we had a talk at Balliol Left Caucus from Paul Sagar of Bad Conscience fame, on his pessimistic view of the position of the left and where we can possibly go from here. His point that I found most interesting referred to his dphil work on Hume, who in his political writings said that we should assume everyone in society is a knave—selfish, non-virtuous—and design institutions to prevent them from damaging others, as a kind of failsafe: that way we’ve covered the worst case scenario, even if we don’t (and shouldn’t) actually think that everyone is like this. Seems fairly sensible.

The thought from Paul was then that what seems to have happened now is that we want and expect people to be knaves, consumers in the capitalist system, and this forces the left continually onto the defensive. Why has this happened; why have we become so, well, knavish?